When it comes to measuring the success of an e-invoicing and accounts payable automation project, there’s one metric that matters more than any other, and that’s the proportion of suppliers who adopt and use the solution to submit their invoices.
As Director of Seller Digitization at Tradeshift, Bogdan Agache knows a thing or two about the art and the science of convincing suppliers to engage with a change to their business processes. Bogdan gave us an insight into how he and his team have been able to refine the supplier onboarding process at Tradeshift to help organizations achieve their digitalization objectives at speed and scale. And it all starts by giving suppliers technology they actually want to use.
Read on to learn more about Bodgan and his insights into the supplier onboarding process.
My team and I are responsible for connecting suppliers to the Tradeshift network and enabling them to transact with their customers through the Tradeshift platform. We’re primarily supplier focused, but we’re also in regular contact with buyers, both from a relationship and a technical configuration point of view.
If you look at our industry, it tends to be divided into two types of organizations. Either they have strong middleware, or they have a strong platform. I always give the example of SAP, where the supplier will have to create a new account every time they want to connect with a customer. It’s irritating and creates friction.
Tradeshift is relatively unique in our industry in that we have both. There’s a real advantage that comes from having the ability to connect to any customer you want on a single platform and then have powerful middleware doing a lot of the integration work for you. Most large organizations see the advantage of this approach, but for many, the ‘aha’ moment only comes after a few years of experience.
Suppliers come in all shapes and sizes, so there’s no single answer to this. How we approach integration will typically depend on two factors, the size of the business and the nature of their relationship with their customer. Larger suppliers will often require some level of technical integration that may require support from our team. A lot of these companies will have their own digitization strategies in place, so we adapt our integration approach to reflect this.
For smaller suppliers with lower transaction volumes, it’s often more appropriate to use our Web UI to connect. Integration is largely self-service here, but we provide training modules and support to help them address any challenges as they occur.
My team includes around 30 engineers responsible for technical integrations and around ten people working on self-service.
We generally work with a mixture of IT people and people involved in the invoicing and finance process. Having that mix is important.
Whilst what we’re doing looks like an IT project, it’s really a business transformation project delivered via technology. Take EDI, for example. It’s not really a technological innovation, it’s a business process. IT teams see a problem and find a technical solution. You need to have people involved who understand how supplier onboarding processes should work and whether certain processes even need to exist.
Keep it simple. A lot of large organizations we work with have very complex supplier onboarding processes. So they will often end up implementing solutions that are more complicated than they really need to achieve their objectives.
When rules governing invoice submission become too complex, suppliers will start to get frustrated as more of their invoices get rejected. After a certain point in time, many will simply look for ways around the issue. If huge volumes of invoices are getting rejected, then it generally means that the rule is set at too high a bar.
Keep your eyes on your objective. If you want to achieve high automation, then is it absolutely necessary to have 100% of the information in order to process an invoice? Or could you still process an invoice that contained 80-90% of the information?
Don’t spring changes too early. We often see buyers making regular changes to the rules governing invoice submission. Sometimes this will happen very early in the process when suppliers are just getting used to using our platform. Businesses change. Rules change. Do those changes really need to affect the relationship you have with your suppliers? Could you delay those changes a little until suppliers have been onboarded and have had time to familiarize themselves with the process?
We’re seeing suppliers on our network actively going out and promoting Tradeshift to customers who are not already using the platform. They’ve seen the benefits of connecting with one customer, and now they want their other customers to do the same.
By the same token, suppliers often approach us proactively to ask if we can connect them with different customers who are using our AP automation platform. Many of the buyers who use our platform are also using it to connect with customers and send invoices. For me, that’s the single most powerful piece of evidence that we’re fulfilling our objective to create a network experience where both the buyer and the supplier generate genuine and tangible value.