I’ve always said that orders are the lifeblood of most companies. If someone is not ordering the goods or services you provide, then the rest of your problems will quickly go away, and so will your company. Orders can come directly from companies or distributors, and both can present unique challenges. Fulfilling orders in the quickest and most accurate way can give your company a huge competitive advantage and keep the orders flowing — ultimately keeping you in business.
Challenges in Keeping Up with Orders
We work with a large number of manufacturing companies that rely heavily on distributors to push their products out to the market. In the past, it was not unusual for distributors to maintain large inventories of products so they could ensure their customers were receiving their goods as quickly as possible. However, for many distributors, times have changed, and they no longer sit on large inventories of products because of the expense and risk that the products may become obsolete. The ability of their suppliers to fulfill orders quickly is more critical than ever. For the suppliers, getting these orders processed can be difficult and you may have a hard time keeping up for a number of reasons:
- Orders are unpredictable. It would be great if orders were received in a steady stream, all 100% electronic and without any errors, but that is simply not the case. Orders are generally received in peaks and valleys, with a large number coming in at particular hours of the day or during certain periods (e.g., month end, seasonal, etc.). Yet distributors and their customers expect them to be fulfilled as if it was the only order they receive.
- Orders have mistakes. Pricing can be wrong, material numbers can be incorrect and the shipping address may not be in your internal systems. Shipping the wrong parts can be costly, especially if it’s time-sensitive or if the part is customized to their specific needs. Sending the wrong part is not only costly, but can result in losing a valuable customer.
- Priority can be critical. Some products have to be shipped immediately, or have specific Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that must be met. If orders are received in a variety of ways, it can be difficult to track where they are and guarantee they will be prioritized properly.
- Lack of visibility in the process is critical. Orders can be received by phone, fax, email and other electronic means like Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), each with their own unique order format. It’s nearly impossible to have order visibility before the documents are entered into your ERP system with so many variations in format. How can you manage the lifeblood of your company when it’s almost impossible to track the orders as they come in?
- Staffing cannot increase when orders volumes do. Most companies do not have the ability to suddenly increase staff for order processing when unpredictable peaks come. How can you effectively manage this, while keeping your distribution channel happy?
Solving Challenges with Order Automation
Fortunately, technological advancements in recent years have led to the emergence of a wide range of automation solutions. These solutions are proven to keep products and services flowing by making traditionally manual aspects of order management electronic (reception, data entry, archiving). Orders can be accepted in any format, and data is then accurately extracted and verified, helping to reduce manual processing effort and speed up data entry time into your ERP application. Some of the biggest known advantages of this order automation advancement include:
- Orders can be processed significantly faster versus manual efforts, eliminating the need to increase staff or struggle when peak order times hit.
- Order data is verified before entry into your ERP system by comparing the extracted order data with the data in the ERP (like part numbers, pricing and customer information). This can greatly increase order accuracy and quickly identify errors so the order entry team can correct them with the customer.
- Full visibility of all your orders before they’re entered into your ERP system is also achieved. You will know how many orders are waiting to be processed, where the orders are from and the quantity of products ordered. This allows you the ability to quickly identify problems and bottlenecks to keep the supply chain flowing smoothly.
- You can easily prioritize orders by product, value, customer or shipping preference as soon as they are received. This can help you hit all of your SLAs, and guarantee that your customers are receiving the goods when they need them.
- You can also immediately notify your customer or distributor when the order was received and processed, keeping them informed at all times. This improves customer satisfaction and reduces customer order inquiries.
Improving Customer Service
All the benefits of order automation can also lead to improved customer service, and a true competitive advantage. Unless you have a company that is lucky enough to have no competition, keeping your distribution channel happy is critical to your success. Fulfilling their orders quickly and accurately will keep them coming back.
If your company is still taking orders the old fashion way, maybe it’s time to look at your options. The technology for order automation has come a long way, and the gains that many companies are experiencing are significant. Keep the lifeblood of your company flowing so you can enjoy the growth and success your company deserves.
As U.S. Chief Operating Officer at Esker, Steve Smith is responsible for all operations in North and Central America. Steve joined Esker in 2003 as the Director of Sales. Prior to Esker, Steve spent 17 years at Equitrac Corporation as the Senior Vice President of Worldwide Sales and two years in sales at Pitney Bowes. In 1984 Steve earned his bachelor’s degree in Marketing and Finance from the University of Wisconsin - Whitewater, USA. For more information, please visit www.esker.com.