Adopting new technologies can be daunting for both accountants and bookkeepers, and it is equally daunting for your clients. Change can be downright scary sometimes. So, when you are helping your clients adopt a new AP automation system, you can help them help their teams not only accept but also embrace the change.
Maybe they've done all the research, and made up their mind: they’re ready to switch from a manual invoice payment process to Accounts Payable (AP) automation.
You know the benefits - from streamlining time-consuming invoice processing to quickly and painlessly completing vendor payments. But things may be different when it comes to implementing an AP automation system in your clients' businesses.
AP automation overlaps with many different parts of your clients' operations as well as your own, such as accounting, management, leadership and operations. Even if perhaps you are the ultimate decision-maker, you need your clients to support the shift to a new system.
Adopting a new software platform needs "buy-in" from all stakeholders and you will need to address concerns from business owners and their teams. Everyone involved may bring different concerns to the table, and before you even start the process of implementation of AP automation, you need to get your clients' teams on board.
How can you get your clients started with invoice automation? Let’s go over what that might look like, step-by-step.
Before you start: Acknowledge questions and hesitations about AP Automation
In any organization, change can be a challenge. Many businesses encounter hesitation when a big change like new software is introduced. Here are some common reactions you might hear from your clients:
- “The system we have now is fine, why change it?”
- “What if our current accounting or inventory software doesn’t integrate with the new AP automation?”
- “At least we know this system. It’s safer to stay with the ‘devil we know'.”
- “What if we miss vendor payments as we learn the new system? Our vendors probably won’t want to change their invoicing process.”
Acknowledging these concerns is key as you start the process. Until your clients feel heard, they may have a hard time listening to your reasoning.
Selling stakeholders on the benefits of AP automation
Once you understand any concerns from your clients, here are the steps you can take to move forward in helping them adopt invoice automation.
1. Evaluate their current process
First, you may want to start by evaluating the current invoice payment process. Make the case to your clients that they already spend a significant amount of time on invoice processing — preparing them to understand how AP automation can streamline many of these steps
Consider laying out some of the common pain points in a manual AP process:
- Time and energy spent keeping track of invoices that arrive from multiple points (via paper, email, text, vendor portals, etc)
- Time spent coding General Ledger (GL) entries by hand, for many items that are ordered regularly
- Tracking down multiple approvals and signatures for invoices
- Waiting for paper checks to be printed, mailed, and received, which may delay vendor payment
- Hunting down old invoices in your filing system if they need to reference invoice data
You can also approach this conversation by role, specifying how exactly each department is impacted by a manual AP process.
2. Share the ROI of AP automation
Once their team can grasp the pain points of manual AP, follow it with the most fundamental question: How will this benefit their company?
Here are some examples of benefits of invoice automation you may want to describe:
- Automated GL coding: Invoice digitization and automation can increase the accuracy of GL coding, resulting in accurate, granular food cost data.
- Time efficiencies: By automating coding and workflows, your team can save time and apply it to other tasks.
- Integration: AP automation software can integrate with the rest of your back-office management tech stack, including your accounting software. It can also integrate with the Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), making invoice processing fast and efficient.
- Control: With one centralized platform for vendor invoices, you can check status, information, and payment details. You can also search digitized invoice data, allowing you to review your recorded invoices from anywhere.
You should be able to describe benefits on a high level, but also for individual roles. Remember, the resulting benefits of AP automation look different between different roles in their company. For instance, their managers may be far more interested in not having to code the same invoices every week, while their CFO or Owner may be interested in the time efficiencies gained through electronic payments.
3. Discuss the proposed budget
Once you’ve expressed the benefits, it’s time to talk about the cost. How much will the implementation of an AP automation solution cost? Their budget will include the cost of the actual software, as well as the implementation process and any additional training.
However, when you are presenting the switch to your clients, don’t stop at just the costs associated with implementing AP software. You can also focus on the costs of not implementing the software (and continuing with a manual AP process). Calculate the number of hours spent dealing with paper invoices or coding inventory items. Measure how many hours are spent printing, addressing and sending off paper checks. These operational costs should also be part of the equation.
4. Define specific goals
Next, identify the specific goals that will be achieved by adopting AP automation software. What will this change accomplish? If you are unsure where to start, reference the costs that you calculated in the previous step. Here are some example goals:
- Cut down the hours your team has to spend processing invoices by a certain percentage
- Free up a certain number of hours for your clients who deal with vendor invoices
- Increase their percentage of electronic payments to vendors
- Change their ratio of “on-time” or even early payments to vendors
5. Conduct a risk assessment & define the implementation case
Start your risk assessment with the risks already present in their manual system. Manual processes that involve multiple people can magnify the number of potential errors.
Once they implement an AP automation system, what will change? Of course, when anyone makes changes in their organization, they should also have a plan for how to handle any contingencies. Approaching your clients with a plan to mitigate potential risks can help smooth the transition.
6. Define the management plan
Finally, clarify roles and responsibilities around invoice automation. Who will be responsible for daily maintenance? Make sure that part of the discussion is communicating who will be responsible for what — and in the process, highlight what responsibilities will be taken off their plate.
For instance, with someone like your client's owner, you can summarize what they may have previously been in charge of. They may have had to approve any invoices over $500, and sign all paper checks before they are sent out. You can demonstrate approval workflows on a centralized system, and how they will no longer need to sign a stack of paper checks for vendors.
Understanding the benefits of client engagement
Your clients have a lot to gain from AP automation, but if they aren’t on board, they can also prevent full effectiveness. As you implement AP automation, it can actually help encourage overall engagement and “ownership” with your clients. The implementation process can be used by your clients to engage their teams and teach business and managerial skills.
In addition, invoice automation provides transparency for your clients operations. With insight into accounting and invoice payments, their managers can keep an eye on their own location or project-level finances.
With more accurate and prompt invoice payments, their managers may also enjoy better relationships with vendors and gain advantage in pricing or deliveries. With invoices digitized, their team may even be able to take advantage of some of the insights hidden in invoice data and find new ways to control costs.
Most importantly, your clients can spend their time doing more critical tasks than sitting down to code an invoice. Their employees can work on other areas that are key for overall success, such as implementing operational efficiencies or developing staff through cross-training.
While it may be hard for your clients to imagine right now what AP automation would look like, communicating with them about the benefits can help everyone reach for a more efficient system.
As Client Accounting Services Manager, Katie West from MCM CPAs summarized, “We’re always looking for technological advances and automation opportunities. We want to cut down the time we spend on tasks that can be automated so that we can offer that more advisory level of service. Working with our vendors to get us speedier delivery of payments helps us add a lot of value to our clients. It’s just helping us with this complete paradigm shift in the industry, because we’re not spending so much time doing these mundane data entry tasks.”
When asked about how her team feels about AP automation, Katie expanded. “We try to put all of our clients on there now,” she reports. “It just makes our user experience a lot better and a lot more efficient. If it works for the client, we’re using it.”
If you're ready to take advantage of AP automation to transform your invoice and payment process, we have all the tools you need. Plate IQ has you covered when you're ready to take the next step with integrations with the software you already use, including QuickBooks integration.