Streamline data interchange and reduce cost with B2B automation
B2B sales traditionally depended on close relationships between a buyer and the seller’s sales team. Orders were handled over the phone or in-person. B2B sales professionals were knowledgeable and buyers appreciated their guidance. They liked that their orders and payments were processed by someone they knew and trusted.
In the last few years, digitization and automation have gained ground as B2B buyers began to appreciate the benefits of automated procurement processes. Expectations have been shaped by consumer e-commerce and buyers want the same convenience from suppliers. They are less enthusiastic about in-person sales than they once were and most of the B2B selection process has been completed before the buyer ever contacts a sales rep.
Buyers have adopted eProcurement platforms in an effort to take control of unwieldy supply chains, and eProcurement is most effective when sellers offer data integration and workflow automation such as punchout catalogs. Buyers that rely on eProcurement choose suppliers capable of providing integration for data interchange and the automated communication of requisitions, purchase orders, invoices, and other procurement documentation.
Automation and integration are cheaper and less complex than they were just a few years ago. With the development of cloud gateways that facilitate integration between incompatible platforms, there is no need for time-consuming and costly custom integrations, allowing buyers to integrate more suppliers, more quickly.
But the advantages of automation don’t all accrue to the buyer. B2B sellers stand to benefit from automation too.
Take orders round the clock
Automation works all day, every day, including holidays, an advantage in a 24-hour global economy where buyers’ needs rarely align with your office hours. A buyer doesn’t have to wait until Monday morning to receive an invoice because automated workflows can send it immediately. A seller doesn’t have to staff their office 24/7 because purchase orders are received and ready to be acted on as soon as they are approved in the buyer’s eProcurement platform.
Use employee time more efficiently
Is processing purchase orders and creating invoices the best use of your employee’s time? Does it help the business to have an employee dedicated to moving documents from one email account to another? Surely their workdays are better spent on tasks that create real value for the business, building relationships with new buyers or generating more value from existing relationships. Document exchange can be automated, so that employee time is used more efficiently.
Make fewer mistakes
Automation eliminates the errors that are an inevitable consequence of manual processing. Sales errors have severe ramifications, ranging from damaged customer relationships to litigation. Unlike people, computers don’t get tired or daydream. They don’t lose focus or make avoidable errors when moving data between platforms. They complete their task as programmed every time, producing the same result thousands or millions of times without deviation.
Sell more, faster
What is the biggest bottle-neck in the sales process for your business? For many B2B businesses, it’s the speed at which they can process and fulfill orders. Time is lost to manual data processing, to double-checking to eliminate errors, to miscommunication between buyer and seller, to waiting for approval from management, to documents that end up in the wrong persons’ email inbox or spam folder, and so on. These delays add up to real money off the bottom line, and automation almost entirely eliminates them.
Work in parallel
Automation scales in a way that people do not because machines are better at processing in parallel. If a business wants to process more orders manually, they hire more people, and that’s expensive. Digitization and automation scale smoothly. A digital system that transfers purchase orders from an eProcurement platform to an eCommerce store doesn’t care whether it’s moving 5 orders or 5000. They are processed in seconds.
Take advantage of more and better data
Automated processes generate data that can be analyzed, revealing insights and business opportunities. In-depth analysis is possible because all the relevant data is captured. When documents are processed manually, they tend to end up in silos full of unstructured data stored in a format that is difficult to analyze. Automated processes centralize data and record interactions so that they can be filtered and analyzed, often in real-time.
Reduce malicious activity
Fraud is prevalent in eCommerce, and it doesn’t always come from outside the business. The manual processing of documents and data creates opportunities for fraud. Malicious employees might manipulate sales figures, inflate values and pocket the excess, launder money, generate fictitious orders, overcharge buyers, and so on. Automation reduces opportunities for fraud by ensuring that documents are generated and processed according to company policy, are difficult to modify or forge and are available for inspection and analysis.
How does a B2B business know that its employees are complying with internal policies and external regulations? Are they processing purchase orders, invoices and payment notifications according to company policies? Do they comply with mandated record keeping? Is sensitive data stored in compliance with privacy regulations and the business’s security policies. These questions are difficult to answer when data is spread across multiple systems that many employees interact with.
Automation allows business to create digital processes that encode their policies. They can be confident that automated processes won’t deviate or make mistakes. Data and documentation will always be handled in compliance with policies and regulations.
New technology and evolving expectations have increased competition in the B2B market. Buyers demand greater operational efficiency and cost-effective procurement, adopting eProcurement platforms that streamline buying and supply-chain management. They expect suppliers to comply with their preference for eCommerce integration and automation, so the impetus for integration often originates with the buy-side.
However, forward-looking wholesalers, manufacturers, and distributors have recognized that automation benefits their business too, and are meeting buyers half-way with automation-ready eCommerce applications and sales teams who understand the benefits of platform integration.
Written by: Brady Berhman
Brady Behrman is the CEO and founding partner of PunchOut2Go. As an entrepreneur with experience and proven track record in building technology businesses that focus on client success innovation, Brady and his team help organizations of all sizes around the globe adapt to the ever-evolving, complex B2B Commerce & eProcurement technologies.