Chris Sanders, Credit Management expert, explains why connecting sales and billing, and automating processes, is key to business success.
Businesses today are rightly obsessed with NPS (Net Promoter Scores). It’s the most concise measure of customer satisfaction.
Examine NPS scores (or customer SAT scores) for functions within an organisation, and the sales team consistently comes out on top. Billing professionals will be way behind.
But of course, that’s the case. The salesperson is always ‘on your side’, fixing challenges and fighting the customer’s corner – they’re trying to sell stuff!
And as sure as night follows day, if there's a problem with the bill, that same salesperson will say, “Don't worry about it. I'll sort it out.” But the customer doesn’t appreciate billing complexity – some damage to the relationship will still have been done, no matter how helpful the salesperson has been.
Worse still, often the reason the bill is wrong will be because the order was wrong – the order submitted by… the salesperson.
The order was wrong because salespeople like talking to customers. They don’t like doing paperwork, filling in fields and sorting out admin. If, like many of us, they put it off to the end of the month, the salesperson might even have forgotten what they are billing for.
Of course, I’m painting what might be unfair stereotypes here, but the fact remains, salespeople are motivated by selling – not the rest of the delivery process. Even in today’s Customer Success economy, where whole-life engagement matters, salespeople have their eye on the next deal…after all that is where their commission is.
In particular, many salespeople don't appreciate that if they get something wrong, it's going to filter all the way through to the end of the process. Billing teams won’t make things up – they will do exactly what they’re told to do by people earlier in the process.
There are two priorities here.
First, we need to change sales teams’ behaviours. We need to turn the worst salespeople – the ones who get a deal and just throw the details over the wall to the rest of the business – into accountable client managers. This may involve training; but I personally think that adding credit performance (e.g. percentage of customers in dispute, or in debt) to internally-published league tables is a good starting point: no salesman likes to be at the bottom of the league table, because they're naturally competitive.
Second, businesses should be optimising their processes with RPA (robotic process automation). If you put bad data into a system, it will generally get compounded. By the time that data proceeds downstream all the way to a bill, it’s not only wrong, but it’s often very hard to work out why it’s wrong. Billing teams end up becoming expensively pointless forensic accountants. Instead, use RPA to validate data as it arrives, to throw up queries to salespeople if appropriate, and to minimise the manual re-entry of data, which often introduces errors. This streamlining and the application of guiderails (even moments as simple as converting free text boxes into dropdown menus) will all serve to reduce complexity and exceptions which must be manually handled. Bluechain, for example, digitises key elements in the billing process, at the same time making billing more seamless and accessible for the customer.
But none of these improvements will happen without communication, accountability and alignment around the goals of the business as a whole (rather than each department).
If you are a billing professional and you haven’t spoken to your sales teams in ages – or vice versa – it’s time to build those relationships anew.
Chris Sanders, FCICM has consulted on billing and credit management for businesses on four continents, including leading turnarounds and post M&A integrations of the function in multiple major enterprises across many industries. He developed and managed the Chartered Institute of Credit Management's Quality in Credit Management Programme for 12 years and serves on CICM’s Advisory Council.