Strategic planning

Benchmarking for success: use these financial metrics to guide your strategy

Updated: July 1, 2024 |

Jim Bullis

Head of Pre-Sales & Solutions, Cube Software

Jim Bullis
Jim Bullis

Jim Bullis has over 13 years of experience implementing CPM/EPM tools and other finance software, as well as consulting and supporting a wide range of clients from Fortune 500 organizations, to privately held corporations generating over $100M in revenue, to public sector entities.

Head of Pre-Sales & Solutions, Cube Software

Benchmarking for success: use these financial metrics to guide your strategy

As finance leaders, we know the power of numbers. Benchmarking is all about using those numbers to see how we stack up and where we can do better.

In this blog, we’ll dive into the financial benchmarks and metrics that really matter, why they’re crucial, and how you can use them to shape a winning strategy.

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Key financial metrics for benchmarking

Financial metrics are the backbone of strategic planning and decision-making for any finance leader. They provide a quantifiable means to assess your company's financial performance, identify strengths and weaknesses, and set realistic goals.

By benchmarking these metrics against industry standards, you gain invaluable insights that can drive operational improvements and enhance your competitive edge. Here’s a closer look at some essential financial metrics and how to use them to guide your strategy.

Profitability metrics

  • Gross profit margin: This metric shows the percentage of revenue that exceeds the cost of goods sold (COGS). It's a clear indicator of your company's production efficiency. A higher gross profit margin suggests better control over production costs, which is crucial for sustainable growth. To track this, calculate (Revenue - COGS) / Revenue and compare it to industry benchmarks to see how well you're managing production expenses.
  • Net profit margin: Net profit margin reflects the overall profitability after all expenses, taxes, and costs have been deducted from total revenue. This metric is essential for understanding the true profitability of your business. A higher net profit margin means your company retains more profit from each dollar of revenue, which can be reinvested for growth. Calculate this by dividing Net Profit by Revenue and benchmark it against industry standards to assess your overall financial health.

Efficiency metrics

  • Operating expense ratio: This ratio measures the proportion of your revenue spent on operating expenses. Keeping this ratio low is vital as it indicates that you’re managing your overhead costs effectively. Calculate it by dividing Operating Expenses by Revenue. Benchmarking this metric helps you identify areas where you can cut costs without compromising on quality, thus improving overall efficiency.
  • Asset turnover ratio: This metric shows how efficiently your company is using its assets to generate revenue. A higher ratio indicates better performance and efficient use of assets. Calculate this by dividing Revenue by Total Assets. Benchmarking the asset turnover ratio against industry peers helps you understand how well you’re utilizing your assets compared to others in your field.

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Liquidity metrics

  • Current ratio: This ratio assesses your company's ability to pay short-term obligations with short-term assets. It’s calculated by dividing Current Assets by Current Liabilities. A current ratio above 1 indicates good short-term financial health. Benchmarking this ratio helps ensure that you’re maintaining enough liquidity to meet your short-term obligations and avoid cash flow issues.
  • Quick ratio: A stricter measure of liquidity, the quick ratio excludes inventory from current assets. It’s calculated by (Current Assets - Inventory) / Current Liabilities. This metric provides a more conservative view of your liquidity position. Benchmarking the quick ratio helps you ensure that you can meet immediate liabilities without relying on the sale of inventory.

Leverage metrics

  • Debt to equity ratio: This metric indicates the proportion of debt used to finance the company’s assets relative to shareholders' equity. A higher ratio means more debt, which can imply higher financial risk. Calculate it by dividing Total Liabilities by Shareholders' Equity. Benchmarking this ratio helps you understand your company’s financial leverage and compare it to industry norms, ensuring that you maintain a healthy balance between debt and equity.
  • Interest coverage ratio: This ratio measures your ability to meet interest payments on outstanding debt. Calculate it by dividing Earnings Before Interest and Taxes (EBIT) by Interest Expense. A higher ratio indicates better financial health and ability to cover interest payments. Benchmarking this metric ensures that you’re not over-leveraged and can comfortably meet your debt obligations.

Growth metrics

  • Revenue growth rate: Tracking your revenue growth rate over time helps you understand how well your business is expanding. Calculate it by comparing the current period's revenue with the previous period and dividing the difference by the previous period's revenue. Benchmarking this metric against industry growth rates provides insights into your competitive position and growth potential.
  • Earnings per share (EPS) growth: This metric measures the growth in earnings available to each outstanding share of common stock. Calculate it by dividing Net Income by the number of outstanding shares. EPS growth is crucial for investors and reflects the company’s profitability and growth. Benchmarking EPS growth against industry peers helps you gauge your company’s performance from an investor’s perspective.

By focusing on these key financial metrics, you can gain a comprehensive view of your company’s performance, ways to improve financial performance, and ideas to strategically guide your business toward sustained success.

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Setting up your benchmarking process: a step-by-step guide

A well-structured financial benchmarking process provides a clear framework for leveraging financial metrics to drive informed decisions and continuous improvement. Here’s a step-by-step guide to setting up your benchmarking process, with detailed advice and explanations for each step:

Step 1: Identify key competitors

Identifying key competitors is crucial because it allows you to benchmark against companies facing similar market conditions. This offers a realistic gauge of your performance and highlights areas for improvement.

Start by listing your direct competitors—companies that offer similar products or services and target the same market segment. Use industry reports and market analyses to identify relevant competitors. This ensures that your comparisons are meaningful and tailored to your specific industry dynamics.

Step 2: Collect reliable data

Accurate and consistent data forms the foundation of effective benchmarking, ensuring meaningful comparisons. Gather information from industry reports, financial statements, and market research. Publicly traded companies often provide detailed financial data in their annual reports, which can be particularly valuable. The goal is to have a comprehensive and accurate dataset that reflects your performance and that of your competitors.

Step 3: Choose your analysis tools

Selecting the right financial benchmarking tools is essential for organizing and interpreting your data effectively. FP&A software like Cube can help streamline this process.

Cube allows you to integrate various data sources, compare metrics, identify trends, and generate insightful reports all in one platform. These tools provide clear, actionable, valuable insights, making it easier to understand where you stand and what needs improvement.

Step 4: Analyze and compare metrics

With your data and tools in place, start analyzing and comparing your metrics against those of your key competitors. Look for trends and patterns that highlight areas where your company excels or needs improvement. This step is crucial because it turns raw data into actionable insights. By understanding these trends, you can pinpoint specific areas for strategic changes.

Step 5: Implement changes

Use the insights gained from your analysis to make informed strategic decisions. Implement changes that address identified weaknesses and build on your strengths. This might involve adjusting processes, reallocating resources, or setting new performance targets. The key is to use your findings to drive tangible improvements in your operations.

Step 6: Schedule regular reviews

Benchmarking is an ongoing process. Regular reviews, such as quarterly or annually, help you stay on top of industry changes and track your progress. This continuous monitoring ensures that you can adapt your strategies as needed and maintain a competitive edge.

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Common financial benchmarking challenges (and how to solve them)

Benchmarking can be incredibly powerful, but it comes with its own set of challenges. Understanding and addressing these challenges will ensure you get the most out of your benchmarking efforts.

Here are some common issues you might encounter and how to solve them:

Data availability

Finding reliable and comparable data can be difficult, especially if your competitors are private companies that do not publicly disclose their financial information.

To overcome this, use a mix of data sources such as industry reports, market research, and financial databases. For private companies, you might need to rely on estimates and proxies based on available data. Engaging with industry associations or consulting firms can also provide valuable insights.

Comparability issues

Ensuring that the data you collect is comparable across different companies can be tricky. Differences in accounting practices, business models, and market conditions can distort comparisons.

Standardize the data as much as possible. Adjust for differences in accounting practices by normalizing financial statements. Use financial ratios and percentages instead of absolute numbers to account for scale differences. Also, segment your benchmarks by market conditions and business models to make fair comparisons against industry averages.

Market differences

Companies operate in different markets and regions, which can affect their financial metrics due to varying economic conditions, regulatory environments, and customer behaviors.

Adjust your benchmarks to account for these market differences. Create separate benchmarks for different regions or market segments if necessary. Use industry-specific data to ensure that your comparisons are relevant and accurate.

Keeping data up-to-date

Financial data can quickly become outdated, especially in fast-moving industries. Implement a regular data update process. Use real-time data sources where possible and schedule periodic reviews to update your benchmarks.

FP&A software like Cube can help automate data collection and updates, ensuring that your benchmarks are always based on the latest information.

Interpreting results

Understanding what the benchmark data is telling you can sometimes be difficult, especially if the results are mixed or contradictory.

Look at multiple metrics together to get a complete picture of your performance. Consult with other departments and use qualitative data to provide context to the numbers. Regularly review and discuss the results with your team to ensure that everyone is aligned on the insights and next steps.

Financial benchmarking best practices

Benchmarking is a powerful tool, but to truly benefit from it, you need to implement it effectively within your organization. Here are some actionable tips to help you leverage benchmarking for strategic success:

  1. Tailor benchmarks to your strategy: To align your benchmarking efforts with your overall business strategy, identify the key metrics that directly impact your strategic goals and focus on those. For example, if your goal is to improve profitability, prioritize metrics like gross profit margin and net profit margin.
  2. Involve key stakeholders: Collaboration ensures that you have a comprehensive understanding of the data and its implications, so be sure to engage various departments and stakeholders in the benchmarking process. Hold regular meetings to discuss benchmarking results and gather insights from different perspectives.
  3. Use benchmarking as a diagnostic tool: Benchmarking should not only highlight where you stand but also diagnose why certain metrics are off track. Use the insights gained from benchmarking to investigate underlying issues. For instance, if your operating expense ratio is higher than industry standards, delve into specific areas of expenditure to identify inefficiencies.
  4. Focus on continuous improvement: Benchmarking is an ongoing process. Establish a cycle of continuous improvement by regularly updating your benchmarks and reassessing your performance. Use the insights from each benchmarking cycle to set new targets and refine your strategies.
  5. Leverage technology for better insights: FP&A software like Cube can automate data collection, integrate various data sources, and provide real-time analytics. This not only saves time but also enhances the accuracy and depth of your benchmarking analysis.
  6. Communicate findings effectively: Ensure that the insights from benchmarking are communicated clearly and effectively across your organization. Use visual aids like charts and dashboards to present data in an easily understandable format. Tailor your communication to different audiences, ensuring that executives, managers, and frontline employees understand the implications and can act on the insights.

Conclusion: benchmarking for success

Benchmarking is your secret weapon for staying ahead of the competition. By focusing on key metrics and overcoming common challenges, you can make smarter, more strategic decisions that drive growth.

Ready to see how Cube can supercharge your benchmarking process? Get started with a demo today and unlock deeper insights for your business.

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