What do you think of when someone says the word “automation?” For me, it’s robots in factories building cars faster than humans ever could. For you, perhaps automation brings to mind artificially intelligent algorithms spotting patterns in data and making decisions in fractions of a second. As a B2B supplier, maybe you associate automation with marketing automation.
But B2B automation doesn’t have to be about robot order pickers, self-driving delivery trucks, or artificial intelligence skynet-like programs. There are dozens of less science fiction-based opportunities for automation that can save B2B manufacturers and distributors time and money.
Automation in this context is the use of software tools, computers, and networks to complete tasks that would otherwise require human intervention. Let’s look at five ways that automation could improve your B2B ecommerce business today.
1. Reduce Errors
Manual data processing errors are responsible for millions of wasted dollars every year. To take just one example, B2B sellers who misenter amounts when manually creating purchase orders can cause chaos. It is straightforward to avoid this type of error with modern ecommerce applications, eProcurement platforms, and an integration layer between them. Requisition orders and purchase orders can be created and communicated without the risk of human error when buyer eProcurement platforms and seller ecommerce platforms are integrated for PunchOut catalogs, purchase order and invoice automation. No data entry or manual intervention is required when electronic documents are automatically generated and passed back and forth between buyer and seller.
2. Eliminate Workflow Friction
A great deal of friction is generated by B2B workflows that involve manually moving information from one point to another. From an ecommerce cart to an order management system to an invoicing program to a buyer’s eProcurement platform, for example. There is no longer a need in B2B ecommerce to be waiting on a buyer or seller to see, open, read, and respond to an email. Both sellers and buyers waste time moving information around between systems and people. Automated systems can do it faster and cheaper.
3. Build Better Relationships With Buyers
B2B buyers are increasingly enthusiastic about the benefits of integration and automation. Many buyers rely on eProcurement platforms, and eProcurement is significantly more effective when B2B sellers offer a straightforward path to integration for data exchanges such as purchase orders, order confirmations, invoices, and shipping notifications. Integration also creates an easier, more intuitive purchasing experience for buyers with PunchOut catalogs.
4. Get Paid Faster
Many B2B sellers process invoices manually. Their accounts receivable department creates an invoice and emails it to the buyer. And there it sits until whoever is responsible gets around to opening the email, manually entering the data into their system, getting approval, and – eventually – paying.
But, if a buyer’s eProcurement platform is integrated with the seller’s ecommerce platform, invoices can be created, delivered, and added to the buyer’s platform automatically. For some types of invoices, the buyer may opt to pay automatically, and for invoices that require oversight, the right person will see it and react more quickly.
5. Focus On What Matters
Many people worry that automation is coming for their jobs, and there is a kernel of truth in that. Automation will replace some roles, but most of us will work alongside automated systems that free us to focus on what matters.
For instance, automation allows salespeople to focus on making sales and bringing in new business rather than administrative time and paper pushing, which reduces costs while increasing revenue.
Automation is here to stay, and, in the next few years, artificial intelligence and robotics will transform B2B manufacturing and distribution. But, for today, there are many ways that integration and workflow automation could be helping your B2B business right now.