Cash flow is the lifeblood of any business – without it, the business will eventually fail. A consistent cash flow can only be attained if your order to cash cycle is fine-tuned. For B2B companies, in particular, ensuring all account receivables are collected in a timely manner is essential to increase liquidity. However, often times businesses do not pay enough attention to their order 2 cash cycles until they hit a roadblock.
So what is the order 2 cash cycle, why is it important to B2B companies and how can an order to cash platform help? We have all the answers for you, so read on.
What is the order-2-cash cycle?
The order-to-cash cycle encompasses the series of activities involved in making a sale, starting with receiving an order and culminating with the point of payment and invoice receipt. Although the process may seem relatively simple, it is actually a lot more complex. Companies often focus all their attention on securing an order from a client, but B2B payments are not given the attention they deserve. This makes the order to cash cycle longer for the business, delays revenue generation, and impacts the overall financial performance of the business.
The usual stages of an order-to-cash cycle include the following-
- Order entry – Entering the order, collecting and storing all related data
- Credit – Analysis of customer’s portfolio and risk assessment before deciding on a credit limit
- Order fulfillment/ returns – Checking product availability, confirming the order, dispatch, tracking delivery, and managing returns when necessary.
- Order billing – Calculation and verification of bill
- Collection – Accounts receivables collection, cash generation, and reporting, and bad debt write-offs
- Cash application – Cash posting, deductions management, account reconciliation, and discrepancy resolution
- Dispute management – Third-party complaints and customer disputes management
As evident from the stages listed above, the order to cash cycle does not end with the payment receipt. It involves certain critical activities even after the accounts are reconciled.
The order-to-cash process needs to be refined, but it can be difficult to find a comprehensive solution that can optimize this procedure. However, businesses today are learning to utilize technology in this area too. With a host of integrated software solutions, companies are learning to improve the various activities involved in the order-to-cash process.
Why is the Order-2-Cash cycle important to B2B companies?
Unlike other business functions such as marketing or sales, the order-to-cash process does not operate on the surface and is more of a background process. However, this process still has a huge impact on the company’s performance. Not just that, it can impact a business’s customer relations too. An optimized order to cash process improves the customer’s journey from the moment the order is placed. As the process involves every function after this point, including order confirmation, dispatch, and even returns, a well-managed O2C cycle ensures a hassle-free experience for customers.
The entire process from order placement to invoice receipt involves several teams within a company. Departments including marketing, pricing, sales, finance, warehousing, collections and more, should work in sync with each other to ensure efficiency of O2C process. This expansiveness of the order to cash process is what makes it so complicated. With so many functions and teams involved, making changes to the process becomes a true challenge.
The order to cash process affects various operations throughout an organization, from supply chain management and logistics to inventory management and more. An optimized order to cash process means that all of these different operations involved are working at an optimum level. On the contrary, a bottleneck in any one of these business areas will affect the entire order to cash process.
One of the major reasons why optimizing the O2C process is essential is it’s role in a healthy cash flow. The O2C process determines the cash flow in the business through invoicing and accounts receivable functions. Any significant delays in invoicing or collection can affect other areas of your business’s finances like accounts payable, salaries, business loans, probable acquisitions, or any other activity that relies on the company’s liquidity.
Although there is an evident need for a digital solution that can optimize the order-to-cash cycle, it is not possible to have an off-the-shelf software solution that can take care of the entire process as one. This is because the process can be dynamic. There is no one-size-fits-all approach here, as the O2C process can differ for different industries, products, companies, locations, or customer segments.
An order to cash platform that has the capability to unite all related functions is seen as the ideal solution. An open platform provides the flexibility needed by the O2C process through integrated applications and technologies.
What is an order to cash platform?
An order-to-cash platform is a technological solution that allows for a streamlined process for B2B businesses to bring all the functions involved in the O2C cycle together. This is possible through integrations of various applications that readily exchange data to ensure the entire process runs smoothly from start to finish. These seamless connections ensure payments are collected faster and disputes are resolved quickly, so that customers can find a reason to remain loyal to the brand.
The best way to optimize the order 2 cash process is by ensuring that the related functions can easily exchange data and information for every transaction. For this to occur, technology is a crucial factor. Interconnected applications that allow different functions to have access to real-time data boosts productivity in the order to cash process. Technology also has other benefits, like digital invoicing capabilities or accounts receivable automation.
An organization that runs on a platform-based structure can brave these challenges by building platforms that utilize the power of both the human workforce and the technological tools. They combine modular data and technology architecture to create scalable solutions that are handled by agile front-end teams.
An efficient and modern O2C platform should have a front-end team, an underlying support team, and a modular infrastructure of applications and tools. This entire ecosystem needs to be flexible to instantly pivot to meet both the organization’s and the customers’ changing demands.
The front-end team in an O2C platform is a multi-functional team that directly deals with the customers to ensure seamless orders and payments while delivering a frictionless experience for the customer.
Supporting the front-end team is a well-defined structure of agile teams that work on the back-end using digital tools and applications and effectively manage end-to-end processes to deliver the order to cash services.
At the base of it all is the technological infrastructure that completes the ecosystem. The tools and applications are necessary to manage all the different functions related to the order 2 cash cycle. Examples of such applications and capabilities include CRM software, customer service platforms, AR automation platforms, automated workflows, among other things.
How can an order-to-cash platform help your business?
A comprehensive order to cash platform brings numerous benefits to your business – right from analyzing data, increasing sales, and providing automated transparency to customers at the time of invoicing to payments. An O2C platform can provide a unified processing capability that helps deliver faster turnaround times for customers and the front-end teams.
A unified O2C platform also ensures data consistency and accuracy across the various functions in your business. The flexible modular architecture of individual applications and platforms enables repeatable processes. It also ensures that you can add new applications and platforms to the ecosystem as the need arises.
Key benefits of an order-to-cash platform for businesses
An order-to-cash platform can address many of the pain points that a business faces in optimizing its order 2 cash cycle.
- Client facing platforms help deliver value to interactions with customers and help enhance the customer’s buying experience.
- AI and machine learning-powered platforms help identify common challenges faced in the O2C process by detecting patterns
- Modular data and technology architecture helps deploy new applications easily as and when required
- A platform that allows for easy integration with all the related applications can reduce the complexity of the O2C process and help you respond to customer needs better
- Data moves in both directions among interconnected applications, enriching the connections between various functions and departments. Such integration of data streams creates greater transparency in the whole process for all users
- Workflow management is made easier through automation and accessibility to data
- Integration to various accounting software like MYOB, SAP, Pronto, Attache, etc. can bring together all your financial operations for greater visibility into the process
- An effective O2C platform can also help increase employee satisfaction by reducing the amount of repetitive work through automation and minimizing complexity
How to implement an order to cash platform in your business
Now that we understand why a cash 2 order platform is beneficial to your business, it is also important to know how you can implement one to manage your B2B payments and the O2C process overall. Like all other initiatives you take in business, deploying an O2C platform for optimizing your order 2 cash cycle requires measurable goals before anything else. Having your goals set will give direction to your efforts.
For most organizations hoping to optimize their O2C cycle, there are three measurable goals in general.
- Reducing the cost per order – This goal is usually measured in terms of the labor cost involved in fulfilling each order or the number of orders fulfilled per employee. It may also be assessed in terms of the share of automated transactions. Essentially, the lower the cost of labor or the greater the number of orders handled by each employee, the better. Similarly, if the share of automated transactions is greater, the process is considered to be heading towards optimization.
- Reducing the number of days’ sales outstanding – Almost every business area can benefit from process optimization, which seeks to minimize the time needed for processing. In this case, our focus is on minimizing the amount of outstanding sales. The shorter the duration from order placement to completion, including account reconciliation and dispute resolution, the more efficient is your O2C process. Capabilities like e-invoicing, accounts receivable automation, automated workflows, automated cash application, etc., can help reduce the cycle time.
- Increasing customer satisfaction – The majority of the improvements that a business can make are usually focused on enhancing the customer experience and heightening customer satisfaction. The O2C process is no different in this regard. By minimizing errors in invoicing, delivery or pricing, and closing deals faster, customer satisfaction can get a boost.
When designing your order to cash platform, three essential characteristics can ensure efficiency and effectiveness. These three characteristics are –
The platform’s architecture has to be such that it easily integrates with your existing internal applications, external applications, and any new application you may need to add in the future. Integration is the key to success in an O2C platform. An effective order to cash platform allows both internal applications of the organization and applications used by third parties to run together seamlessly.
This ensures that the ecosystem created is barrierless and that there is free, unrestricted data flow wherever necessary.
Introducing customer-centric solutions can make your order to cash platform far more effective. Leveraging technology to offer customer-facing solutions, like self-service capabilities, order tracking, payment requirements, and such can help improve the customer experience further. It can also reduce the order 2 cash cycle time as the manual intervention required is minimal.
The O2C platform cannot be the responsibility of a single team or a single department. As the process itself involves multiple functions throughout the organization, the responsibility has to be shared among various teams. So any time an issue arises, it should be clear who is responsible for tackling it. Also, there has to be a process owner to distribute responsibilities across functions. This will ensure that the platform is not fragmented and there is no scope for confusion or mistakes, irrespective of the volume of client interactions on the O2C platform.
In implementing an order-to cash platform in your business, you may face a few common challenges. Some of the most likely challenges that almost every organization faces in its efforts to optimize the order 2 cash cycle are –
- Getting buy-in from all the relevant functions and top executives. An O2C process owner can bring all the functions together to agree to the initiative unanimously.
- Creating end-to-end solutions that create tangible value for all. All business functions and stakeholders involved need to benefit equally from the solution.
- Convincing decision-makers to invest in the initiative, as the ROI is certain but slow. The gains from this initiative are only seen over time, but the revenues generated once the ROI is realized are usually ten times greater than the investment.
- Training employees for the disruption that the O2C platform will bring about. Organizations that take on change management initiatives before implementing O2C platforms are better positioned to handle the transformation.
Receiving B2B payments on time is only one of the many advantages of having an effective O2C platform. Optimizing the order 2 cash cycle in a business can bring better cash flows, increase process transparency, and enhance customer and employee experiences. With new insights from the integrated data across applications, more informed decisions can be made in sales and other areas of the business. If done right, an order to cash platform can be an invaluable addition to your business.