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ERP Systems: Effective Customer Credit and Collections Management to Ensure Strong Cash Flow – as Critical Now as Ever

Thursday, April 8th, 2010 by admin

I had a conversation with a wholesale distributor this morning with whom we’ve been talking for quite a while.  We first started some dialogue with them back in July 2009 about their initiative to evaluate and implement a new wholesale distribution software system.  We had gotten down to their short list and were scheduled to participate in a final on-site demo phase when they called to say they needed to put their project on hold due to other priorities and the economy.

During this morning’s conversation, I was told that during the recent economic slowdown they’ve had some combination of customers who have just stopped paying them to the tune of “several million dollars.”  As a result, they’ve decided they are not going to be in a position to reengage in their software evaluation efforts until at least the summer of 2011.

This story just reinforced how critical it is for all businesses, especially small to mid-market distribution and manufacturing companies, to engage in effective credit and cash flow management practices.  Companies using the Enterprise 21 system can establish a series of dashboards using the decision support functionality in the system to trend total open accounts receivable and past due accounts receivable over time.  This helps executives to spot potential issues before they become critical in nature.  Likewise, in another dashboard pane, management can review open accounts receivable by customer in total and across a series of aging buckets to see how its customers are performing relative to making their payments.  These functions allow for management personnel to take a quick view of accounts receivable overall and by customer to spot where additional interaction might be needed to keep things from spinning out of control.

From an operational perspective, Enterprise 21 also has effective credit and collections management functionality.  When a customer order is entered into Enterprise 21, the system immediately checks whether or not the customer has failed their credit check.  This is done by checking to see if the given customer’s total open orders plus outstanding receivables exceed their available credit limit and by checking to see if their accounts receivable aging has caused an exception based on specific parameters that are established on a customer-by-customer basis.  As an example, a customer could have a credit limit of $200,000, have total open orders plus outstanding receivables of $100 and could have just $1 aged into the over 60 days late aging bucket and have their next order placed on hold based on their specified credit parameters.

The same process of checking total open orders plus outstanding receivables is re-executed after the entry of each successive order line item as well.  So, the customer may not have been on credit hold at the start of the order entry process and may still have been fine through the first fifty line items of the order only to fail the credit check on the fifty-first line item.  Once an order goes on credit hold, an alert is sent to the appropriate credit manager to review the order and determine what needs to be done to be able to remove that order from credit hold.

From a collections management perspective, Enterprise 21 provides the functionality to monitor and manage the accounts receivable collections process.  Every night, the system evaluates outstanding receivables by customer to see what items have aged to past due plus a grace period (where you define what the grace period is, say 15 days), and the system automatically generates a series of collection calls to be made by the appropriate collections resource.  One can enter notes associated with the call and schedule a follow up collection call for that item based on the discussion with the customer’s accounts payable contact.  Should payment be received for that item prior to the next scheduled call, that item would automatically be removed from the collection call log so the person making the collection calls would not have to do so manually.

Through the combination of decision support dashboards to alert executives and management to trends in overall and late accounts receivable, visibility to overall accounts receivable in aggregate and by aging bucket by customer, and strong credit and collections management functionality, wholesale distributors and manufacturers using TGI’s Enterprise 21 ERP software have the tools necessary to manage customer credit and company cash flow effectively.


Enterprise 21 ERP Software with Integrated Business Intelligence Functionality Makes Decision Support Available to Executives, Management, and Individual Contributors

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009 by admin

There was a time when business intelligence solutions were reserved for very few business leaders.  Only those executives who really understood technology were willing to spend the money necessary to have a business intelligence system put in place that would take data out of their ERP software to populate a completely separate data warehouse for analytics purposes.

The time and cost to implement and make this functionality available made it cost prohibitive to nearly all small and mid-market businesses.  And for those few enterprises that were willing to invest in this technology, only a small core set of executives (read one to two players per company) would have access.

However, fully-integrated ERP software solutions, like TGI’s Enterprise 21, offer complete business intelligence functionality out of the box as part of the application’s core product offerings.  With Enterprise 21, each user can have his or her own unique series of dashboards.  Each dashboard tab can consist of up to four panes.  The data content and manner in which one views the data can vary from pane to pane.

Some users, for instance, may like to see raw data in a spreadsheet-like grid format.  Others may be more visual in nature and want to see the same data in a graphical format.  For those who want to view data in graphs, there are a variety of formats that one can choose from including line charts, bar charts, pie charts, area charts, and scatter charts.

In addition to displaying graphical and tabular data, Enterprise 21’s dashboards can also display gas gauges for rapid review of key performance indicators for the organization.  Maps can also be displayed including ones consisting of prospects and customers which are color coded based on odds or size of the given business enterprise.  Finally, for those users with security permissions to do so, financial reports which are produced from within Enterprise 21 can be displayed in dashboards.

One of the key advantages of the dashboards is that users can open the underlying data for analytical purposes.  In doing so, one can perform analytical drill down of data being shown across a series of dimensions.  For example, one might be looking at a graph of sales revenue over time.  This data can be sliced-and-diced across dimensions including drilling down by customer groups to as granular a level as a specific customer and product groups as deep as a specific product.  One might also want to review specific geographic regions or states, specific facilities, and specific sales regions, branches, and territories.  Through this simple description, it should be clear that application users can analyze core business data at any level of detail necessary to make well-informed business decisions.

In addition to sales-related data, all functional areas of the business can have their own series of dashboards including inventory management, warehouse management, customer service and sales order management, manufacturing, purchasing, and accounting, including financial reporting, accounts payable, and accounts receivable.  Furthermore, key external data such as new building starts and commodity market futures prices can be pulled into the system and trended for analysis purposes.

Because business intelligence functionality is built directly into the fully-integrated Enterprise 21 ERP software, TGI’s customers don’t need to invest in totally separate software solutions which it then has to implement and manage to gain these analytical capabilities;  rather, TGI customers can take advantage of complete business intelligence functionality as part of their investment in Enterprise 21.


Which are Your Most Profitable Customers? Leveraging Your ERP System to Analyze True Customer Profitability

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009 by admin

Strong ERP software systems can enable companies to more accurately assess true customer profitability.  While gross profit margin is an obvious measure of customer profitability, there are a number of other factors which can affect true customer profitability dramatically.  Executives and sales managers are encouraged to include the below gross margin costs in their overall customer profitability calculations.  An obvious place to start is to make sure you’re including all of the costs of promotions, allowances, and rebates that the customer qualifies for in the cost equation.

Next, consider the internal administrative costs associated with entering customer sales orders into your system.  These costs can vary substantially depending upon the methods by which your customers place their orders.  Do they email, fax, or phone in orders, or do they require a company representative to call out to them to get their orders placed?  Or, do your customers place orders via EDI transactions where there can be little or no manual interaction required beyond the initial setup of the transactions in the EDI translation solution being used?

Assuming you have a company representative speak with your customers to get orders placed in your system, you may have the opportunity to perform cross-selling or up-selling to those customers.  Likewise, the company representative can discuss with your customer contacts about products they may have ordered from you in the past and how they’re sourcing those currently.  You might be pleasantly surprised by how much information you can receive from your customers by merely asking the appropriate questions.  You can potentially find out from whom your customers are buying and the associated prices they’re paying your competitors for these items.

Does your customer access order status electronically through your Web site or via EDI transactions, or do they call your customer service personnel to inquire about the status of their orders?  One of the most interesting facts about enabling customer self-service has been that not only has this process resulted in reductions of administrative costs by companies, it has also produced increased customer satisfaction by enabling their customers to get the information they desire any time of the day or night, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

One of the costs that is frequently overlooked when analyzing true customer profitability is the rate at which your customers change their orders once they’ve been placed in your system. If you’ve enabled your customers to be able to change their orders themselves via the Internet or electronically via EDI transactions, this will result in reduced administrative costs over customers who communicate their order changes via email, fax, or phone which requires your personnel to make these changes manually in your systems.

Of course, your customers’ orders must be picked, packed, and shipped.  Are your customers ordering in bulk quantities where there are efficiencies gained through picking case or pallet quantities, or are they buying in eaches where individual products must be picked and packed for shipment?  Similarly, you may be making margin on the shipment of your products to your customers by charging the customer at standard transportation rates while you’re paying a reduced rate to your carriers.  Alternatively, you may be giving your customers free or reduced freight due to their status as a preferred customer or based on the overall pricing of the given order.

Once your customer receives its products, what is their frequency of returning products to you via RMA’s?  Some organizations may be charging their customers restocking fees in an attempt to offset some or all of the cost for the RMA processing while others may not.  Additionally, you may want to analyze how frequently your customer places a shipment variance claim with you where they’re claiming they’ve received less than the quantity you believe you had shipped them.

Next, there are costs associated with customers short paying invoices or taking unauthorized discounts.  Likewise, it costs you money to provide your customers with a professional, well-trained account management team that may include direct sales reps, indirect sales reps, inside sales reps, and sales management.  There will be costs associated with traveling to see your customers and sales related travel and living expenses for activities such as golf outings or other entertainment activities.

The bottom line is that strong ERP systems can better enable executives and sales management to more accurately assess the true profitability of their customer base by including all relevant costs to get a handle on the bottom line.


Executive Dashboards: Analyzing Key Business Data for Decision-Making

Friday, June 19th, 2009 by Alex Smith

Executives at organizations of all sizes require key business data to make informed decisions for future business practices, focus, and growth. As part of Enterprise 21’s decision support system, executives can readily gain visibility to key data and make informed decisions that will affect the future of their organizations by leveraging the analytical power of their personalized executive dashboards. In my experience, most executives, at a high-level, are generally concerned with similar key performance indicators (KPI’s) for analysis and decision-making purposes. It is important to note that while dashboards are an excellent way to gain visibility to key data, they are not intended for executives to get “bogged down” in detailed data; executives’ time is best-spent analyzing data and making decisions at a much higher level.

One common, useful executive dashboard is a graph providing sales margin by product or product group. This dashboard allows the executive to see margin as a percent of sales for individual products or group of products in a visual manner. If a distribution company, for example, has dedicated significant sales and marketing efforts to a given product but that product has a significantly lower margin than another product, the organization can decide to direct more sales and marketing efforts to the product with a higher margin (this assumes that both products have relatively equal order volumes, as you would not necessarily want to dedicate significant sales and marketing efforts to a product with relatively low order volumes despite a high margin).

A second executive dashboard that is commonly used by manufacturing executives is one showing manufacturing output by product by facility. This dashboard allows manufacturing executives to analyze the facilities that have the highest production output for a given product compared to other facilities producing the same product (assuming equal resources are available across each facility). Comparing production output for a given product across multiple facilities allows the executive to gain insight into what facilities are operating more efficiently than others. This information can allow the executive to initiate potential business process improvements at the lower producing facility or reallocate resources across facilities in such a way that a given product is produced only at those facilities that produce the product with the most efficiency, leading to reduced costs and increased production output for all products and facilities.

A third executive dashboard that, while not used nearly as frequently as it should be, can lead to significant growth in profitability and customer service is a gross margin by customer dashboard. If I were to ask most manufacturers or distributors who their most valuable customer is, most would reply that the most valued customer is the customer who orders the most products with the highest frequency. While high order volume, high order frequency customers are certainly important, the executive should also carefully examine those customers who are providing the business with its largest sales margins. Focusing on the customers who are responsible for the organization’s largest sales margins is important because these customers deliver the most profitability at the least expense to the business. Ensuring that the products these customers order are always available in inventory and establishing these customers as “high priority” can lead to improved customer relations and increased profitability with minimal expense to the organization.

In sum, executives who leverage key business data dashboards are armed with the necessary information to make well-informed decisions for future business growth, output, and profitability.


Extending CRM Usage to the Executive Level

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009 by Alex Smith

What if an executive could see into the future? What if an executive could see past the internal rhetoric to dig deep into the sales funnel or customer base and spot sales growth or dips well before they actually occur? Without question, this insight would dramatically impact the decision-making ability of the executive, as well as provide a more adaptable organization. While some may refer to this as the works of a fortune teller, the “crystal ball” exists today and is utilized by savvy executives in many small to mid-market companies. This crystal ball is far from voodoo or hocus pocus; it is the power of a strong customer relationship management (CRM) ERP software solution.

A business executive recently said, “I would give anything to be able to have visibility into my sales funnel and future revenue stream. In fact, I’d give anything just to be able to know what my sales representatives do each day and if they are actually making the sales calls they claim.” Given the amount of CRM capabilities that are available in the SMB market, this statement is surprising. While CRM was at its infancy stage years ago, the CRM packages of today are powerful.

In Enterprise 21, CRM is more than a module. It is fully-integrated into Enterprise 21 and reaches across the entire ERP suite. It is closely tied to online quoting and order management, accounts receivable, and even manufacturing and shipping. This holistic approach takes the usage of CRM from the sales force and extends it into the entire back office and the executive level. It allows CRM to become a tool for the entire organization.

When CRM data and usage is integrated into a decision support system, the daily activities of quoting, forecasting, and sales call reporting all become strong resources. These generic actions provide a consolidated view of the organization’s past and future activities.

In Enterprise 21, a CEO can see a wide range of information right from within his or her own personal dashboard. The dashboard not only provides information specific to the CEO’s needs, it provides it in the manner he or she desires and allows for further drill down or detailed analysis. This permits the CEO to view critical information such as sales funnel trending, anticipated revenue, and even a given sales person’s daily activities such as onsite sales calls, outstanding quotes, and newly entered sales orders. While this may be too much information for some, to the CEO who has four new hires, it may be just the information that is needed to know if a specific sales representative is delivering as promised.

CRM information can be extended even further to trigger alerts when changes occur in an existing customer’s buying trends. The worst customer is not the customer that constantly complains; the worst customer is the customer who quietly takes part or all of their business elsewhere without any notification or warning.

While Enterprise 21’s CRM functionality cannot change the customer’s communication style, the CRM module can warn of an unexpected drop or delay in a customer’s ongoing purchases or buying trends. While these CRM-based alerts are not necessarily a crystal ball, they are powerful and provide a means for facilitating proactive behavior on the part of the sales force or management team. Most importantly, the alerts and other dashboard information provide the information necessary to move the company from reactive behavior to much more successful proactive operations and communications.