Writing the Order Right and its Immeasurable Savings for Promotional Products

You exchange promotional product orders by phone, email, fax, web, or even text messages. You plan to get information on color, price, shipping, and a dozen other things. Then you put that information into separate systems for purchasing, fulfillment, shipping, accounting, customer relationship management, and billing.

Then you hope everything works out.

Because of your professionalism, it usually does. But often only due to the amount of time that suppliers, decorators and distributors spent managing what likely was an imperfect order.

Lisa Horn at PPAI Publications takes an extensive look at how incomplete and incorrect sales orders sap money and productivity from the promotional products industry. It’s a huge problem, with multiple suppliers saying the majority of the orders their companies receive aren’t right and another supplier wishing for dedicated staff just to handle bungled orders.

The salary paid to people untangling the problems, plus the fact that those people are diverted from working on new orders, plus starts and stops -- and the worst-case scenario, fully making and shipping an incorrect order -- lay an astronomical cost on the promotional products industry. Horn’s piece doesn’t arrive at a figure, but millions of dollars in losses is the conservative starting point. One supplier says bad orders cost his company $13,000 a day.

The sheer volume and variety of promotional products simply create error opportunities. The industry doesn’t pump out the same air conditioner or water heater over and over. It makes a lot of swag. One item, by design, isn’t supposed to be the same as the next. Volume, variety and the corresponding error opportunities are part of the business.

But that’s not a call to accept poorly formed orders and the costs that go with them. It’s a call to fix it. When so many error opportunities are built into an industry, it should be impossible to receive, as one supplier did, an order that says nothing more than "Send me 36 towels.”

"The lack of proper purchase order systems that force distributors to go step-by-step and think of things such as setup costs, shipping, Pantone colors, imprint process and location, for example, can lead to things being omitted quite easily,” Ben Baker, the president of British Columbia-based distributor CMYK Solutions Inc., told Horn in an understatement.

"Essent recognized the problem with poor order quality in the industry over a decade ago and created technology that stops it from happening," states Eric Alessi president and CEO of Essent. "Essent business management and ecommcerce software is designed from the ground up to stop faulty orders from ever being created," Bryan Sheaffer Essent VP of Sales and promotional industry specialist.

With Essent software, the company sets the rules for generating an order, which is flagged or even put on hold if desired, if the business rules aren’t followed. If information is missing, the order will process accordingly, assuring an accurate, high-quality, well-formed order. A built-in product configurator uses an easy-to-understand survey to ask questions of the person generating the order. "If you want the order to be right, you need to ask the right questions," Sheaffer says.

Well-formed orders are also thanks to Essent integrating every facet of the supply chain into the process. Instead of providing information to separate systems for accounting, fulfillment, billing and more, users enter the information once into Essent Compass and have one system automatically communicate it to all parties through the Essent OrderTrax commerce network -- dramatically reducing error opportunities.

If there is a problem with the status of the order like not enough available inventory, for example, the order is flagged and processed accordingly.

"In practice it's straight-forward. Set the business rules, take the order requirements survey, and build well-formed orders," states Eric Alessi, president and CEO of Essent. "And you enjoy the immeasurable cost savings and customer satisfaction derived from that.”

Essent, in other words, establishes what Baker implicitly calls for: the "proper purchase order systems that force distributors to go step-by-step and think about things” so that everyone can save time and money. In practice it takes an integrated collection of tools to make order quality a reality and Essent is the only company that delivers it.