Business-to-Business (B2B) selling has traditionally been very different from Business-to-Consumer (B2C) models. B2B models use a different set of marketing and sales strategies, and notably different is the financial model on which B2B works – the model of a credit-based monetary system.
While e-commerce is dominating existing business industries, including B2C scenarios, more people are migrating towards digital payments. Yet in the commercial B2B space, over 67% of the payments are done in the form of checks. The industries are yet to adapt to the new age methodologies with regards to payments. The US Federal Reserve study conducted in 2013 found that the number of checks written between 2000 and 2012 declined by more than 50%; it still does not match with the existing scenarios. According to Bank of America, for a particular check, the cost of printing, mailing, paying for the postage, and the labor adds anywhere between $4-$20 per check. The covet of business to keep their status quo and a few more days of holding onto their cash, in turn, disrupts the smooth flow of liquidity for the accounts receivables of the business they are transacting with and directly affects Order-to-Cash (O2C) cycle. Adding this up with scenarios where a company raises disputes for a transaction – the important dispute management mechanism of the O2C comes into play to solve the problem.
The insights in the forthcoming sections seek to throw light on the challenges faced by analysts in the scenario of a dispute under the dispute management mechanism, also known as Deduction, in the Order-to-Cash cycle of a business. They aim to solve problems faced by dispute management analysts of a company.
When it comes to managing liquidity for operations of a business, willingly or unwillingly business owners are dependant on their clients to oblige to their promise-to-pay – to make room for the company to convert credit to cash in time. This cycle of how a company converts an order and applies cash to their ERP is called the order to cash cycle.
A typical O2C cycle begins at the very instance of when a company gets an order:-
In an ideal world, the entire process would be a simple cycle where the client would be satisfied with the product or the service received, and the company would be satisfied with the payments secured – in time. However, this seldom happens. Each stage of the order-to-cycle is prone to issues – internal or external. Unless the company has a fool-proof mechanism in place to deal with these scenarios, the process of converting credit to cash hampers the smooth flow of cash for the company, this directly affects its financial health, thereby affecting the steady flow of liquidity as well as profitability.
Dispute management has been a critical component of order to cash. A dispute, alternatively known as a deduction claim, arises when an invoice is raised and sent to the client – which the client does not pay in full and raises a dispute for the transaction. On a high level, the collection analyst responsible for recovering the amount, then raises a new invoice with the amount settled between the company and the client and asks the client to make the payment and then closes the account after the payment is received. A short paid invoice is often related to shipping or a tax issue. No matter how terms are defined, deductions are a bane for accounts receivables for a company. According to one research firm, deductions can add up in a big way, and some businesses have reported deductions as much as 10 percent of the company’s gross sales.
The entire O2C process takes place in multiple phases and has various teams are involved in making sure that the product or service gets delivered to the client. But in an ideal world, it is inevitable to make sure that each phase gets executed flawlessly, and all the goods and services are delivered correctly. Let us have a look at various reasons in order to cash cycle where things might go wrong leading to a dispute between the company and the client:-
In any of the scenarios as above, the customer would raise a dispute and claim deduction on the invoice. It is not unknown that a company spends a significant amount of resources and money to maintain an efficient Order to Cash cycle. A better flow of events would lead to a better liquidity rate for the company, along with healthier finances and profits.
However, scenarios such as disputes or deductions lead to a negative effect on profitability and require resources to resolve them.
After a client raises a deduction claim, the dispute management mechanism employed by the company takes over from the collections team after they fail to get the payments cleared. Dispute management is usually handled by the collections analyst who is familiar with scenarios of claims and also expertise in dispute resolution. Let us look at how a deduction claim gets processed after getting to the collections analyst:-
The deductions process is an essential step in the order-to-cash cycle. It is only after the deductions step if any raised, the order-to-cash cycle is complete. The need for a deductions process is to streamline the dispute management mechanism of the company. Optimization is necessary as disputes, whether valid or invalid, is ultimately a kind of client engagement and, if not done correctly, leads to a tarnished brand name and loss of reputation.
The deductions process leads to verification of a dispute by a customer, and if the dispute claim is deemed valid, the analyst takes further actions. However, it is important to note that a deduction claim reduces the total amount of sales for a company and leads to lower profit. And more importantly, in case of an invalid claim request, it would lead to loss of significant resources and time value for the company.
But then the question arises why do brands and businesses use resources to validating a claim if it leads to lower profit and loss of resources? The answer lies in maintaining brand value and better client relationships. A client, even with an invalid claim, would find it satisfactory if the company tells him that his claim is invalid rather than a company which does not answer to his claim request. A sharp dispute management system helps in establishing strong credibility for the brand, accountability for the employees, and confidence in potential clients.
Over time, with the help of advancement in technology, dispute management and deduction claims process, like any other business process, has evolved tremendously. Let us look at how deduction claims and how companies deal with them has evolved-
The traditional process has always been an old-fashioned and manual way of dealing with disputes and deduction claims. However, collectors are the ones who have been handling deduction claims in the absence of a separate dispute management mechanism. The traditional manual method of dealing with deduction is a time-consuming process. Let us have a look at the challenges faced by analysts who are involved in resolving the dispute traditionally:-
When the world was moving towards outsourcing business requirements, business owners found a new way to tackle the problem of the manual deduction process – outsource them. Companies started to hire contractors who would make collectors’ jobs easy by taking over crucial manual tasks, which took a lot of time. Let us look at how outsourcing worked with regards to the deductions process:-
As easy as it may sound to outsource a crucial step – which indeed took a lot of resources and time. And even though it solved a few problems for the collectors – most notable being making sure that collectors focus on collections and not deductions, there were still persistent problems with how the dispute mechanism worked for a company and how companies were dealing with deduction claims. The key concerns that were faced by companies when they outsourced the deductions process were:-
After the collapse of the outsourcing model, the industry started to move towards the use of technology in solving their day-to-day problems. Automation was one such technology solution that was applied to solve the daily problems for dispute management and deduction claims.
Use of automation was found to be extremely convenient for the companies and solved the major problems with respect to deduction claims:-
A dispute and subsequent deduction claim by a client by itself have a significant impact on the company. It takes a considerable amount of time and resources to validate the claim request, and if found valid, the company would have an impact on the profits and ultimately balance sheet for the fiscal.
Days Deduction Outstanding (DDO)
A key metric used to calculate how efficiently an organization can resolve its open deductions is the DDO rate.
Days Deductions Outstanding = Amount of open deductions/Average amount of deductions occurred within X where X is the period.
A lower value of DDO is most preferable in business since it is indicative of the fact that Deductions Management teams are performing more efficiently and resolving disputes at the optimal time.
However, on the other hand, a higher value is indicative of an inefficient deductions resolution process, which requires more effort by the deductions team to solve the problem. A higher volume of the unsolved deduction is not profitable for any organization.
There could be multiple reasons as to why a company is dealing with roadblocks per se on deductions. Some of the reasons can be:-
With how the finance departments function today, it is not unforeseeable that the accounts receivables department is under tremendous pressure to execute policies and convert credit to cash and bring in payments to help the company with managing DSO and DDO. Collections analysts, in particular, are under pressure to maintain a reasonable conversion rate.
But with an increase in the number of disputes raised every fiscal, it has become increasingly important to manage this effectively and to maintain a good client relationship and a higher brand value for the company.
As AR teams are dependant on unstructured channels within and outside the company to deal with cases of deduction – they have to cross-function and communicate with business units such as sales, marketing, and outsourced departments such as logistics vendors. Due to the AR department having a limited amount of information in hand, they have to dedicate a significant amount of resources – full-time FTEs, time, and energy to make sure that the deductions get managed efficiently. Research has shown that on an average, over 85% deductions are valid, meaning only 15% are invalid deductions claims. Another study by Oracle shows that every year, up to 5% deductions and disputes are unresolved written off.
Earlier, the analyst used to work on disputes and deduction claims on an ad-hoc basis. However, with a rise in deduction claims and disputes, the analyst has to analyze which deduction would he want to work at – prioritizing his work-list. It is crucial to have a priority list – analyzing which deduction case will have a higher impact on the key metrics and deciding which dispute should be taken up.
Since working on a particular dispute does cost resources, if the deduction is of low value, it brings in no return to the company. Suppose a company X spends $10 to solve a dispute. And let’s say the analyst receives a deduction claim of $5. While resolving the claim request, the company would be losing $5. So in such cases, the dispute is better to be written off.
After an analyst gets a deduction claim, the next step is to collate documents from various sources. After the documents are backed up and linked, the analysts go on to validate the dispute and the deduction claim.
A lot of manual research work is required to validate a deduction claim. Often analysts have to shuffle through multiple documents while researching a deduction to find its validity. Undeniably, this again, is a very time consuming and tedious task, since after that each invoice has to match with the document – whether it be a purchase order, sales order, proof of delivery or bill of lading.
The use of a backed-up document comes handy when the client requests a deduction of a particular amount, say $50, for a missing item in delivery. Now after the claim gets raised, the analyst will have to verify the request by checking the bill of lading (BoL) and Proof of Delivery (PoD) document. If the amount and the line items match the claim, then the deduction is said to be a valid deduction. If the documents do not match the claim, it is said to be invalid.
Trade Promotion is a type of marketing campaign directed at wholesalers or retailers rather than at final consumers. In a trade promotion, wholesalers or retailers get special price discounts, subsidized or free display racks, or stands, gifts, or other incentives to increase the visibility of the product.
In a nutshell, Trade Promotions are a type of discount in a B2B scenario. Trade promotions are a critical element of a business’ marketing strategy and a necessary lever for revenue enhancement, especially in the CPG industry. However, Trade Promotions Management is a challenge faced by most of CPG/FMCG companies around the globe.
For example, let us look at a real-life scenario. If you go to a supermarket and see ten jars of Nutella on the front shelf and one jar of that-ordinary-chocolate-spread on the last shelf, psychologically, you are 10x more likely to buy items in the front rack than the former.
An inefficient promotion settlement process can damage the business’ relations with retailers, adversely affect sales in the long-run and defeat the very purpose of trade promotions. An intelligent Trade Promotions Management system is essential to realize the value of a business’ trade promotions.
Every time there is an invalid dispute, analysts have to manually type and send the denial correspondence with relevant documents attached, these can be documents such as claims, POD, BOL, to big-box retailers. And this process gets even more challenging when hundreds of correspondences are lined-up for hundreds of customers.
As a result of this, the entire process of sending correspondences to the customer is a highly manual, prone to human error, and turns out to be a little too time-consuming. This process has a domino effect on the customer, it leads to poor customer relationships, irregular, and at-times no follow-up, and low deduction recovery.
The use of a centralized repository shot into focus with the use of a shared services model. With different teams working together within the organization, it provides better efficiency. It leads to an improved customer satisfaction rate with the help of consolidating credit operations in one single talent pool with a lesser number of people. This model helps in having a consistent credit policy and a streamlined reporting pattern.
Making use of sharing policy and sharing the write off with credit functions helps in maintaining a cross-departmental approach towards managing liquidity for the business. This policy directly affects in managing order to cash cycle. According to one research, organizations that have been sharing write-offs with credit function led to a 35% more credit cycle time for credit approval and 20% quicker billing data.
Deductions are not a stand-alone process. The process as a whole is dependant on other departments for easy access to documents, like the cash application department, sales department, A/R team, logistics, and others. Integrated Receivables (IR) simplify cross-functional departmental work. For example, if a deductions analyst needs a purchase order, he would have to collaborate with the sales department to get the document. If PoD or BoL has to be retrieved, the analyst would have to work with the logistics department.
The major problem with the deductions team in cross collaborating with so many business operations is to get accurate and real-time data. The integrated solution is the way to work with different teams seamlessly. With the help of that, the deductions team can collaborate with different teams on a common platform.
When a deductions claim is handed over to an analyst, before handing over, there is a range of touch-point with the customer. In the traditional process of manually handling deductions, multiple loopholes exist within the system that focuses more on the financial part of than the customer experience. Poor customer experience may lead to the tarnishing of the brand value of the company and might lead to the spread of negative word of mouth.
To avoid this negative experience for the customer, companies use a streamlined process for deductions, which helps in maintaining the integrity of the process of a dispute as a whole and makes the process more customer-centric than finance-focused.
When it comes to deductions, analysts have to make decisions that impact their daily work, their priorities, how they are going to proceed with a specific case. Machine learning is essentially useful in using previous scenarios and situations in making future decisions. Insights gathered by various agencies show that machine learning has been beneficial in making wiser decisions that help maintain key metrics for dispute management and deductions claim such as DDO, deduction recovery, and deduction recovery time.
With the advancement in technology, more and more businesses are moving towards the adoption of technology to make their business more efficient. The use of artificial intelligence, order to cash cycle has become more and more effective and more streamlined. The deductions process, in particular, has been much more simplified and automated.
With the use of AI, analysts now do not have to spend time in manual document aggregation as it will be done automatically with the help of intelligent engines. Automation has led to saving much time previously lost in manual tasks.
Intelligent systems now exist which can directly link back-up documents to individual line items – by merely coming various attributes as required. The use of AI in this field has helped saved much time for analysts and significantly reduced human error, which was possible earlier.
Earlier analysts used to shuffle through numerous pages to find whether a deduction claim is valid or not. However, with the use of ML and AI, the analysts now can entirely leave this task to the system – which uses attributes from back-up documents in a central repository to validate a deduction. Automation makes the deduction research ready and makes it easier for the analyst to act on the deduction.
A large number of deductions in analysts’ basket leads to a dilemma for the analysts. Analysts have to decide on the deduction they would want to work. Intelligent systems can directly segregate high priority deductions and make it daily work more accessible for the analyst since time spent on low priority task gets reduced significantly.
With the help of AI and ML, companies can now integrate the deduction as and when it arrives with the Trade Promotion Management system helping in easier and faster trade promotion settlement. The use of technology has enabled automatic matching and disposal of line-items a lot easier and without human interference.
Artificial Intelligence leverages technology to minimize manual methods of correspondence. Automated correspondences are the new trends in the field that send messages to clients and internal teams with a single touch and solves the problem of analyst writing hundreds of emails each day to thousands of clients.
The deductions process has traditionally been at loggerhead with other methodologies within the order-to-cash cycle for a company over the usefulness. Over time there has been a substantial increase in the rate of deduction claims and disputes. Business owners have started to realize that dispute management and deductions are a critical component of the order-to-cash cycle. Companies can no longer afford not to take this seriously since it all depends on deductions on how financially stable a company will remain in the future. With technology coming into play in the accounts receivables space, deductions have not been left untouched. With the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning, the deductions process within the A/R department can be made much more effective and productive, leading to overall better DDO rates and financial stability for the company – along with maintaining an excellent customer experience.
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HighRadius Deductions Software acts as a powerhouse for proactive deduction management to prevent bottom-line erosion. It provides automation, process standardization, and a platform for cross-departmental and customer collaboration. It supports deduction management by providing some key features like back-up document capture which captures deduction data from customers and supplies the information required for resolution; auto-capture proofs of delivery (PODs), bills of lading (BOLs) from carrier portals & emails; structured deduction resolution, collaboration & approval workflows to streamline the communication and approval process; along with automatic deduction correspondence, and automatic data push to customer portals. The result is a proactive deduction management operation that recovers revenue normally lost to invalid deductions.