I was standing in line yesterday buying groceries. The person in front of me was not only paying in cash, but they also pulled out a mix of nickels and pennies to hit the exact change number.
I looked at this and thought, “That’s really a simple sale.” The clerk says, “You owe us $45.42,” and the customer puts the exact amount on the counter. Or swipes their card. There’s nothing more to collect. No late payments. No reason for the store to call the customer weeks later.
This easy transaction doesn’t hold true in other businesses. For example, if you’re a business services company and you have weekly sales ranging from $1,000–10,000, the customer isn’t paying with exact change. Or swiping a card. This leads to all types of challenges for collecting payment ranging from creating invoices, following up, and reconciliation.
For now, I wanted to share some of the research we’ve been doing that examines what exactly happens after a sale is made in a traditional B2B format.
The big question we wanted to explore: How difficult is it for companies to go from “You owe us $X” to having that amount safe in the bank?
Here’s what we found:
This is the average number of days to create and send an invoice.
What can go wrong here? The salesperson has been focused for months (maybe years) on talking to the right people, moving things up the ladder at your customer’s organization. Landing a yes from the person who signs the contract isn’t the same as identifying who the invoice should go to. Questions the sales rep may not have answered: Does the customer require the invoice to be mailed over? Is email ok? What’s the procurement process?
The average number of systems needed to create and process invoices.
What can go wrong here? Finance teams usually have something like Quickbooks or Xero + a CRM + a payment processing system + Excel Spreadsheets + notes on their email calendar + physical notes on their desk. This becomes chaotic, hard to keep track of, and important steps can be missed in the process.
It’s a challenge making sure these softwares (and physical notes) are talking to each other and also making sure the separate teams (sales and finance) are in regular communication.
Average number of days sales stay outstanding in Accounts Receivable.
What can go wrong here? Some of this is out of a business’ control. You may sign a larger client at Net 30 and they’ll pay at the 60 or 90 day mark because that’s what they do with all of their other vendors. The reason: Honestly, a lot of times it’s just because they can. Or they have no incentive to pay faster.
But a lot of these delays can be controlled by a more efficient process.
For example, here’s an all too common Net 30 sales scenario:
Day 1 — Sale made
Day 17 — Invoice sent out. The Accounts Receivable has hundreds of others to keep track of and send, maybe they only do this at the middle and end of the month.
Day 47 — Call the customer to remind them there's an outstanding invoice.
Day 60 — Call again, find out the payment is in the mail. We wait.
Day 65 — The customer’s check finally arrives. CFO breathes a big sigh of relief. One more day late and making payroll was going to be a bit of a challenge.
65 days before a company can finally celebrate money going into the bank.
I don’t know about you, but we think this process should go a whole lot faster. You made the sale. You shouldn't have to stress about cash flow.