Sales Order Disorder: 6 Tell-Tale Signs that your Sales Order Process should be updated

Outdated order processes are not only detrimental to an organisation’s profits, but affect staff engagement and diminish customer experience. In the UK alone, businesses lose £2.5 Billion each year as a direct result of poor customer service, source: Infobip.

Issues with the sales order process orders can have a significant impact in many parts of an organisation from customer services through to finance and fulfilment and all have the potential to impact on the overall experience for the customer. In many organisations the legacy processes for handling orders is no longer sustainable and a more modern and digital approach is needed.

Digitising and automating sales order processes can directly improve and enhance the experience of customers and staff alike by removing manual processes, providing end to end visibility and accelerating fulfilment. In combination, these improvements drive benefit directly to an organisation’s bottom line.

Tedious Tasks in Sales Order Processing

Large amounts of manual repetitive work when processing sales orders is not only time-consuming, but can be monotonous and prone to error. If customer service and sales operations teams spend large amounts of time manually extracting and keying data from orders into systems this could be taking them away from more valuable activities that can ensure a more optimal customer experience.

Channel Differences

Most of the organisations we talk to have a mix of different receiving channels for purchase orders that are being received. These may include paper, email, xml, and EDI (electronic data interchange). Often these aren’t governed by a single approach and process, and each channel may have differences in how it is processed and handled. For example, one organisation we recently worked with would print out emailed purchase orders to be manually entered into their order system. For EDI orders these went directly into the order system, which would then generate an exception report that was distributed to customer service representatives for manual resolution and re-entry. One particular customer of theirs would send orders in an excel spreadsheet, with multiple sheets and lines. The complexity of this and how to process it was only really understood by one member of the team.

So, depending on the channel the customer used for ordering, the experience would be different in terms of timing and how it was handled. With multiple nuances in the process, it becomes harder to scale operationally and much more difficult to plan for team holiday and sickness, particularly if one person in the team is the only one that fully understands part of the process, in the case of the Excel spreadsheet!


A report written by APQC , suggests that a top performing organisation will have an operational cost to process an order of about £3.60 per order, whilst a bottom performing organisation is likely to be in excess of £30 per order. That’s a significant gap and one that many organisations aren’t able to, or choose not to, measure. Whilst focusing purely on process costs can be a bad starting point for considering process changes, it’s likely that in automating processes to provide a superior customer service that cost reductions will also be achieved.

Handling Exceptions

In any sales order processing environment, there will be some exceptions where what is received is not as expected and may need ‘massaging’ through the process. How these exceptions are treated and managed through to conclusion will often highlight an efficient or inefficient process. In a manual and physical world, understanding the volume of exceptions, the types, where they are in the process, how long they take to resolve, and the operational impact is largely impossible as this information is not accessible. In a digital world, exceptions can be managed through the order processing system and are visible at all times. SLAs (service level agreements) can be put in place to ensure prompt action; exceptions can be distributed according to workload and exception reasons can be collected for further route cause analysis that may facilitate process changes to avoid them in future. Resolving exceptions is a timely manner is imperative to preserve the optimal customer experience.


It’s not only exceptions that should be visible, but all orders from point of inception through to end of process archiving should be immediately accessible as required. All too often there are gaps in the sales order process which means for all intents and purposes the orders can be invisible.

Typically, this manifests itself as piles of paper orders, orders attached to emails in a shared or individual mailbox, or an exception report from an EDI process that has failed to import successfully. Not only should it be possible to see an order at any point in time, but it should be simple to do so as well. Again, it’s fairly common to see ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and other internal systems that are not able to access order copies and users are forced into an alternative interface to search for an order. Not only is this onerous for customer services, finance, and other staff members, but this can also impact on customer service due to time delays to access critical information.

Lack of visibility may be as a result of shortcomings in the sales order process. Where a process is no longer fit for purpose, users will typically find a way round as ultimately the orders still need to be processed. It therefore follows that it is very difficult to actually ascertain what happens in a process. This is often referred to as ‘Dark Processes’ read more on dark processes here.

It’s where something exits a known process and then subsequently comes back into the process, without there being a defined route for it. As we have explored in our previous blog on this subject, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing and can often be as a result of users working out how to get something done, that the process or systems weren’t designed for. When these are fully understood, it provides an organisation with substantial opportunities to take advantage of Dark Processes and improve Official Processes.

Management Information

When engaging with organisations around sales order processing automation and the improvements we may be able to advise on, we often ask for any existing statistical and report data that may exist which can provide some insight into current operations. The response to this varies enormously from being provided access to rafts of data in internal BI (Business Intelligence) tools, through to Excel sheets of manually collated data from operational teams, to being told that no data is collected or available.

Whatever data is collected it should provide real insight and be actionable. In most cases, it doesn’t make sense that it is only the preserve of the management team either. This data can be useful to help teams understand performance levels, identify opportunities for improvement and brings people collectively into the process with the aims of processing orders efficiently and optimising customer experience.

To understand more how technologies like cognitive capture and process automation could benefit your sales order process, please contact us here.

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