Top 3 Things To Look For In An Invoice Automation Partner

December 25, 2020

Travis McCallum

Top 3 Things To Look For In An Invoice Automation Partner

I was in the supermarket the other day buying groceries I needed for the next week’s meal prep. There was a specific checklist I had in my hands: eggs, bacon, bread, milk, bananas, jelly, etc. As I traversed the wide aisles in search of my items, I found myself drawn to shiny luxuries like brownie mix and soda pops… nice-to-have items not originally in my budget.

When I finally worked my way to the dairy aisle I was barraged with a variety of brands.  Should I get low-fat or whole milk? Did it make a difference whether I chose the Wal-Mart brand over Borden?  I quickly found myself overwhelmed with a paradox of choice.

Every business I know of in today’s modern technological landscape are bombarded with vendor requests from every direction.  “I noticed you didn’t have a website.  Let me build one for you.” “Are you getting enough customers?  I’ll bring new ones in your store.” “I know you already have a system in place for ‘X’, but I have something better.”

The first vendor you give a polite no. After the hundredth request spamming your email inbox and telephone, you just plain ignore. 

Yet independent business operations have long since expired in the globally connected world.  In order to succeed in growth and scalability, companies MUST get help from outside vendors. So now begs the question: how do you pick the right vendor, with the right solution, at the right time in the right place for you

For Chief Finance Officers (CFOs), there’s been no better time to innovate their company processes. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technologies can fully automate 42% of finance activities and mostly automate a further 19%, reducing costs in time and money.

Today we are addressing a very specific problem in today’s marketplace of technology. Invoice automation, a function in accounts payable departments whom process payments in the company.

Fashion an Informed Decision

Technology is scary. It falls into the realm of the unknown, something most of us tend to avoid. But entrepreneurs are inherently big risk-takers who understand the value of adopting the new and experimenting with the things that seem foreign. CEO Kevin Dancy says:

“Enterprises need someone to take the lead in breaking the data, and the risk management functions it informs, out of the siloes they sit in today. There is no one better placed than the modern CFO to take on this job — and no one with a more pressing need to make sure that job is done right.”

Here are the top 3 things to look for in an invoice automation partner.

#1 – They Know Your Industry

Good vendors know themselves and their products. Great vendors know their customers even better. 

Deborah was the controller at a Fortune 500 company in manufacturing and she was literally tackling hundreds of invoices a day with her accounts payable (AP) team. At the end of the shift, she was often left with a choice: did she let her staff go home with unhandled invoices that would pile up into the next day’s load?  Or would she make them work later to finish the job?

A good vendor would be able to tell Deborah how she can leverage invoice automation to eliminate turnover work and keep employees from staying late and racking up overtime pay. They would create a one-size-fits-all RPA solution with one dramatic flaw.  The good vendor missed out on the industry nuances and processes Deborah had to account for in her daily flow.

A great vendor would be able to link multiple packing slips to a single invoice and process a variety of invoice types from finished goods, raw materials or intangible items like tool repair. The number one decision you should ask a vendor is what their value proposition is. “Can you articulate my unique pain points and what are the gains I get from investing in your solution?”

Tell-tale signs your vendor is looking out for your best interests is to find its IA solutions demonstrated in the context of your industry. Look for case studies, testimonials and thought leadership that resonates with you on their website and social media.

Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight.

#2 - Their Process Works For You

My last apartment space was a great place to live. It had a beautiful balcony overlooking a wide lake in the countryside. But whenever I had problems in my living quarters and needed maintenance to help with a leaky roof from rainfall, it became a huge ordeal. First, I’d have to submit a ticket through their web portal, which meant I’d have to create an account and keep track of yet another login credential.

I lived in a big community so often my ticket would not get addressed for weeks on end because of a backlog of requests. Meanwhile, the leak continued to mold and every time it rained, it stained worse than the last.

I moved to another apartment as soon as my lease was up.

“Let your customers be your partners; let your vendors be your employees. What’s necessary in this transformation more than anything else is courage and a willingness to change.” – Safra A. Catz

When you consider your next vendor, you need to scrutinize their entire process from start to finish. What’s included in their sales approach?  Do they have a demo they can show you?  Is there a proof of concept (POC) or a mock-up you can see with the IA solution in your specific space? Then there’s the account management portion… how are your requests for bugs, feature requests, and feedback being handled

Perhaps the biggest question is: Does their process align with your existing one?  In other words, is the vendor adapting to fit you, or are they asking you to change your methodology to fit theirs?  If the answer is the latter then the vendor is not someone you want to work with (unless it’s your stepmom’s son, because family, right?)

According to Shibaji Das at UiPath, the top 5 questions organizations are asking:

“Automation is good, so long as you know exactly where to put the machine.”  – Eliyahu Goldratt

#3 They Take Ownership And Risk Beside You

Ever heard the phrase ‘It takes two to tango?’ or ‘Till death do us part?’  There’s a secret I haven’t told you about picking the right vendor.  The best ones are partners.  They are the ones that stick through with you from day one to the very bitter end. Your partners are more than just business associates. They treat you like a human being and not just a number in their portfolio.

Jennifer Grant, CMO of Looker shares an example of customer experience (CX) in action:

“One of the very first, simple, easy projects that we did around customer experience is that we created the process so that everyone in support and everyone who faces customers has a little bit of a budget. So if there is a moment that they identify where we can do something creative, interesting, fun, that they had the power to say, ‘You know I just had this conversation with one of our customers that I was supporting who mentioned he used to have this USCT T-Shirt cause that’s his alma mater and he lost it and he’s so depressed about it’, and so what did the rep do? She went and got a T-shirt and sent it to them and said, ‘you know what, we are in Santa Cruz, I got you that t-Shirt’”.

A good partner doesn’t conform to the hook-up culture with one-and-done’s. They know in IA that processes need fine tuning and maintenance. They are committed to the long-run capitalizing on opportunities to recommend beneficial upgrades to the RPA solutions. And not just in Accounts Payable but other areas of the organization too.

When things go sour, your partner won’t point fingers and play the blame game. They’ll graciously work on damage control and come up with a solution by doing the work that needs to get done instead of finding excuses.

So how can you know which partners won’t jump ship at the first sight of trouble? 

Due Diligence. If the IA partner is a good fit for your problems, and your initial meetings have been going well, then it’s time to do further research on them including basic company information, financial information, political or reputational risk and cyber risk to name a few.

Pro Tip: Speak with other customers your partner works or has worked with in the past.

When All Is Said And Done

There is nothing more agonizing than wasting valuable time on repetitive tasks that could be handled by technology like invoice automation. You now have a criterion to assist you in finding the right partner, with the right solution, at the right time, and in the right place for your unique needs. Remember the 3 things to look for: 1) Ensure they know your industry; 2) Their process aligns with yours; 3) They are all-in for the long run.

One final area to consider are all the soft skills of the relationship. It’s hard to quantify personality in any research, so sometimes you just must go with your gut and intuition. Find someone who is passionate and enthusiastic about their product and your company.

“Enthusiasm is the mother of effort, and without it, nothing great was ever achieved.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

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