How Sales Order Automation Can Help You Handle a Retiring Workforce
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How Sales Order Automation Can Help You Handle a Retiring Workforce

By Brent Halverson, President & CEO of ecmarket, Creator of Conexiom

Brent Halverson, President & CEO of ecmarket, Creator of Conexiom

Retirement approaches for many of the baby boomer generation and with this departure comes an ominous hiring crisis. As these industry veterans retire, manufacturers, and distributors around the globe are facing a serious talent shortage, leaving them with a major skills gap in their workforce.

"Optimization is the key to resolving this time challenge"

According to a 2014 Census report, the population aged 65 and over is projected to double between 2012 and 2050, from 43.1 million to approximately 83.7 million. Baby boomers began turning 65 in 2011, making them largely responsible for this increase. With this increasingly diminished talent pool to replace your aging workforce, it has become crucial that you perform what is known as a brain dump. It’s imperative that you extract the wealth of information your senior employees have gathered during their decades of work before they leave for retirement. Not doing so could mean critical product and customer knowledge is lost, damaging customer retention and your future business growth. After all, long-term employees will undoubtedly have accumulated invaluable, undocumented information and techniques over the course of their career. With years to develop close partnerships, your CSRs will have an in depth understanding of your customers’ needs, while your sales reps will have collected unparalleled product knowledge to support your detailed product lines. This type of expertise takes a long time to achieve and if you can’t decipher the details before their departure, you risk losing this intelligence, only to exchange it for inexperience that could damage your organization’s customer service standards. But, with all the coordination and development involved, who in your organization has the time or resources to record a generation-worth of knowledge?

Making the Most of Your Employees’ Time

Optimization is the key to resolving this time challenge. Investing in technology that eliminates bottlenecks and improves efficiency can quickly accelerate business processes and liberate staff time for new initiatives. For manufacturers and distributors, one area primed for this form of acceleration is sales order processing. Currently, many of these companies process customer orders by hand. This means their CSR teams must compile purchase orders as they arrive, manually processing each one individually before re-keying the same information for a second time into the company’s ERP system as a sales order. With hundreds of lines of data to enter, not only this is a slow and highly inefficient use of staff time, it can also be extremely expensive and prone to costly errors. In contrast, eliminating this manual entry and automating the sales order process has been shown to accelerate the order-to-cash cycle by up to 95 percent. In the process, operational costs are reduced and considerable resources are freed up to devote to collecting the crucial knowledge you need from retiring employees.

So, with these potential benefits (the reduction in costs, the improved efficiency, and the ability to dedicate staff time to cultivating effective knowledge transfer), why haven’t all distributors and manufacturers already automated the sales cycle?

In the past, to introduce an automated process, customer orders had to arrive in one standard format to be translated into a sales order in the company’s ERP system. While solutions like Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) offered this automatic translation, they required a significant commitment of time, money and collaboration with customers to implement.

Yet many of these customers had neither the technical resources nor desire to change the way they do business. Whether using email, fax or mail, each company had their own distinctive internal processes to navigate when sending orders. It is therefore understandable that they were reluctant to duplicate effort, processing orders through their system and then re-entering the same information a second time into a shopping cart or web form. Asking them to do so would have been completely unacceptable if companies wanted to retain their customers’ loyalty.

The Solution

So, faced with hundreds of orders arriving daily in different formats and an increasing need to divert resources to critical legacy projects, how can manufacturers and distributors bridge the gap between customer convenience and their need for optimization? A sales order automation solution. Allowing companies to treat email and printed orders like standard electronic documents, these solutions capture critical line data and feed it directly into your company’s ERP system as a sales order with little to no need for intervention from your staff. This order information is then automatically routed to the appropriate departments with complete visibility.

However, it is important to bear in mind that not all sales order automation solutions use the same technology. It is therefore crucial that you thoroughly evaluate your options to select the one that best meets your needs. For example, solutions that use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) scanning to capture data will not deliver the same accuracy as their non-OCR counterparts. While small companies may have fewer orders to ensure each one is processed correctly, larger organizations with greater order volumes will probably want to invest in superior, non-OCR technology.

These non-OCR solutions provide 100 percent accuracy ensuring orders are entered exactly as they’re received with zero manual intervention required. By implementing such a solution, error-prone manual entry is entirely eliminated, reducing the workload for your CSR team. Key staff members can then refocus their energy away from keying in orders and coordinating error resolution onto establishing a smooth intergenerational employee transition.

Ultimately, while extracting and recording your senior employees’ key knowledge may seem beyond your company’s current reach, optimizing your business processes will help you dedicate the required resources to develop this crucial project. Thanks to today’s technology advancements, it is possible to automate processes such as the sales cycle. With the right solution in place, sales order automation can significantly improve the efficiency of your order-to-cash cycles, reducing manual entry, cutting costs and liberating key man-hours. Since less, or no manpower is needed to manually re-key customer orders, your soon to retire CSR team will be able to divert their attention to other crucial tasks, including training and documenting the customer and product knowledge that makes your company stand out.

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