Magazine Article | April 16, 2009

Lower The ECM Fruit

This VAR expects 20% revenue growth by selling ECM (enterprise content management) solutions to accounting departments looking to reduce expenses during the down economy.

Business Solutions, May 2009
The economy isn’t hurting everyone. Wait, this isn’t a story about a repo company. It’s about BMI Associates and how the ECM VAR is managing to increase sales revenue this year. Indeed, whereas the VAR’s sales were flat in 2008, it expects 20% growth in 2009. According to Boyd Mortensen, president of BMI, the projected increase is due to a focus on a few key business groups. One of these groups is accounts payable. The reason is simple. “Many of our clients need to cut costs somewhere,” says Mortensen. “We’re showing them ways they can reduce manpower via automation.” That automation comes in the form of BMI’s document and data capture solutions, which can help an accounting department in many ways. In fact, Mortensen points to six common reasons that document and data capture solutions are compelling to accounting departments.

Six ECM Sales Pitches
According to the VAR, the first reason accounting departments respond to ECM solutions is the large amount of data on invoices that needs to be entered into a system. For instance, a typical AP clerk might spend 50% of their time entering data from invoices. To reduce data entry time, BMI installs the AnyDoc Software AnyDocINVOICE (see sidebar on page 36), a forms processing solution that will read information off any location on an invoice to automatically populate an AP system.

When it comes to developing sales pitches around this pain point, Mortensen says the size of the company he’s targeting will determine how to deliver the message. For instance, he says with a customer having an AP department of three data entry clerks, helping that group accomplish more via entry automation will resonate. On the other end of the scale, a company with an AP staff of 15 people might respond to a different sales pitch — staff reduction. “With a staff of that size, an ECM solution should be able to reduce the staff by half,” he says. That said, BMI avoids talking about reducing staff. Instead, such benefits are couched in ROI statements surrounding time savings. For example, if a company is spending 150 hours a week manually entering invoices, it can reduce that time by 90 hours — significant and compelling numbers to customers, particularly in light of the economy.

The second reason AP departments are a good target for BMI’s solutions is the time it often takes to get approval within companies to pay invoices. For instance, an AP department might receive an invoice that hasn’t been properly filled out. Therefore, the invoice might need to be sent to a manager for review and approval. Then, the missing accounting information needs to be put into the AP system before the invoice can be paid. This process can take place within one office or be spread across multiple locations and waste valuable time.

AP departments also commonly face visibility issues. An AP department’s customers basically are the vendors waiting to be paid. “Oftentimes, the vendor will call asking where an invoice is in the process,” says Mortensen. “Without an electronic system, the AP clerk has no visibility as to where the invoice is in the process.” He continues by explaining that with an electronic system, the exact status and stage of an invoice’s processing can be instantaneously accessed. So, not only is customer satisfaction increased, but AP staff can save the time it would normally take to hunt down an invoice via phone calls and copy requests.

Mortensen also points to a lack of space as another issue facing AP departments. “Many accounting departments using a paper-based system will store files for the current and past year in their office,” he says. “At the end of the year, those departments then shift the files and make room for the new year.” With an electronic system, no shifting of files is necessary, and the need for off-site storage of the files is removed.

The fifth way accounting departments can benefit from an ECM system is to make undergoing audits easier. Mortensen says that states commonly audit companies for sales tax compliance. Additionally, large partnering companies may audit smaller partners. Having an ECM system makes accessing the necessary financial information easy and reduces human error associated with misfiling information. When selling ECM solutions on this point, Mortensen doesn’t need to use a customer’s story as an example. In fact, BMI itself underwent an audit without having an ECM system and experienced the pain firsthand. “Now that we have everything electronic, audits are easy because we can just email the auditor things they want, as opposed to finding and mailing it,” says Mortensen.

Finally, the VAR says accounting departments often are asked by managers throughout a company for the costs of items throughout the year. This commonly happens when budgets are being created. With a paper-based system, the accounting department has to manually search for the information. However, an ECM system gives those managers the ability to perform their own research without burdening the accounting department.

Find And Target The Correct Decision Maker
To find customers with an ideal number of employees (BMI targets companies with more than 100 employees), Mortensen relies on ReferenceUSA, a service BMI accesses via its local library. Additionally, BMI has purchased lists in the past from Internet companies specializing in such offerings. However, Mortensen’s experience is that such lists are usually full of incorrect information and not worth the money. “The last list we bought guaranteed 90% accuracy, and it was about 50% accurate,” he says. “So, we got our money back. If you have a limited marketing budget, I wouldn’t spend it on such lists.” Instead, BMI relies primarily on tried and true cold calling. Once it’s identified a potential customer, the VAR typically focuses on getting in front of the company’s CFO or controller.

Regardless of your selling points, Mortensen says the decision makers often need to be convinced that the solution can do what you say it can. For instance, one customer didn’t believe that the OCR accuracy of AnyDoc could be as good as BMI was pitching. The reality, according to the VAR, is that OCR technology is advanced enough to allow companies to reduce data entry time by 60% to 70%. To help convince prospective customers of the benefits of an ECM solution, BMI relies on self-written case studies. “Customers respond well to us coming in and showing how we’ve helped past clients solve similar problems,” says Mortensen.

Indeed, customers have been responding well to BMI’s solutions. While the VAR hasn’t created a new innovative solution or developed a revolutionary marketing method, Mortensen has uncovered a niche market that’s eager for his ECM solutions. It’s important to use lessons like BMI as a reminder that there is opportunity for business growth during good times and bad. It’s just a matter of finding them.