If you’re a cooperative managing accounts through a network of distributors, dealers, or resellers, it’s likely that you’re spending an inordinate amount of time and resources sorting out a host of issues, including billing errors, manual data entry, cash flow, delivery delays, data insights and on-time payments. Much of this is due to the fact that, when dealing with so many different entities, you’re also dealing with multiple systems, networks and processes.
Although transactions might seem straightforward, the reality is that, in a multi-enterprise system, transactions are really a series of detailed interactions that need to be handled between diverse company systems. These systems may struggle to collaborate and interact without causing chaos. Unfortunately, that struggle is not always successful and chaos does ensue. And we all know that besides leading to inefficiency, waste and errors, chaos can also lead to a disruption and disintegration of the relationship between all of the parties involved. Rather than shared goals and synergies, many multi-enterprise commerce networks are still mired in process silos that are inefficient and, all too often, unintegrated. If your company is operating a multi-party model, you know that this can lead to specific contract issues when it comes to national accounts. To build and maintain confidence at the national account level, your customers need to know that a contract price for a product will be the same, whether that product is bought in New York City; Ames, Iowa; or Modesto, California. Contract non-compliance and price disputes are often the chief causes of concern for national account managers.
So how do you streamline an inefficient, resource-intensive national account program without increasing your overhead? How do you eliminate the friction that complexity can cause? You need to establish an automated, centralized billing solution; one that makes all transactions paperless. But more than that, you need to have a solution that also provides visibility into all transactions and contract pricing, offers reporting analytics that will enable all parties to manage their cash flow and spend more effectively and ensures that all of the data and information history is stored and accessible via an easy-to-use Web portal.
Ideally, you should have a solution where all parties (and only those parties) in the network are connected through a single system—manufacturers, dealers/distributors/resellers and national accounts. Since all pricing and contract information has already been entered into the system, price file validation and contract compliance occur immediately at the point of purchase, or when the PO is submitted online. When the supplier sends invoices via EDI, XML, flat file or other format, the system normalizes all data and creates an e-invoice which will be automatically matched against the PO and ASN (advanced shipping notice), with the goal of increasing accuracy and reducing exceptions. Should an exception appear at this point, it is forwarded to the correct party which allows disputes to be resolved quickly. Once the matching is complete and/or the dispute is resolved, the invoice is then automatically routed to the right approver at the national account for faster processing and, therefore, faster payment. And since distributors and national account customers can track both invoices and orders, there’s less disruption due to phone calls from distributors wondering when they will be paid and from customers questioning delivery information.
What about the data? Well, the reality is that, besides data on the status of an individual invoice, there’s often “gold” buried in the historical data, and a successful solution will allow you to mine that data to generate valuable insights. As a manufacturer, imagine if you could quickly recognize the hot products, top performing dealers and emerging areas of demand. How would that affect your manufacturing and sourcing plans for the future? As a dealer, imagine if you could match your inventory to demand based on a number of variables, including seasonality and individual account purchasing history. How would that free up your working capital and staffing decisions? As a national account, imagine if you could plan your spend based on actual historical data rather than working on a spend-as-you-need basis. How would that affect your forecasting and overall finance functions? Everyone benefits from visibility into transaction data, both current and historical.
The beauty of this type of solution is that everyone wins when processes are streamlined, roadblocks are eliminated, manual touch points are removed and analytics help to make important business decisions.
—NCBA CLUSA Gold Level Associate Member and Business Sponsor Corcentric provides financial process automation solutions for buying groups, purchasing cooperatives and their members. This article was written by Corcentric Senior Vice President of Sales Dave Lindeen.