Ariba Network Customer Management: Standardizing Business Practices across Accounts

There’s a lot of focus on Supplier Management in SAP Ariba. But another facet in that relationship is Customer Management. Sometimes, just as with suppliers, your Ariba customer accounts can become unwieldly and time-consuming. Here’s what to do.

The other side of the Supplier Management coin.

Just as companies have suppliers, suppliers can have large numbers of customers that also need to be managed across the SAP Business Network (formerly the Ariba Network). That Ariba Network Customer Management includes connecting with your customers, meeting their enablement requirements, and providing catalogs for their buyers.

Unsurprisingly, those customer accounts can have the same types of organizational issues that companies have with their network of suppliers. That’s because, just as suppliers have different needs and goals, so do your customers. That can lead the supplier’s sales department to make exceptions to the rules. Those exceptions can result in more manual processing, errors, and a lack of accurate tracking.

When do you need customer management?

CCP Global is generally hired by a client for Ariba Network assistance under two basic scenarios:

  1. By a company to help them manage their suppliers on the SAP Business Network.
  2. By a supplier to help get them enabled on the SAP Business Network so they can begin transacting with their customers through the Network. This often includes customer catalog enablement and integration.

But there’s a third scenario, that speaks more to proper onboarding and keeping your customer management consistent and fully automated.

If you’re a significant supplier in your industry, you generally have a lot of customers that need to be managed on the Network. Just as with supplier management, there can be issues of non-compliance that result in more errors with orders and payments.

Tracking data is also incomplete, which makes it difficult to accurately track spend and other important business metrics.

Non-compliance scenarios might include:

  1. Exceptions to terms and conditions for specific companies.
  2. Exceptions to automated invoicing.

These exemptions can result in wrong or missing part number, wrong unit of measure, or wrong price. On the invoicing side, if a customer won’t accept invoices through Ariba, they have to be posted manually, which, again, makes the process more error-prone.

Existing vs. New Customers

It’s fairly easy to see why exceptions are in place for an existing customer. If this is a company you’ve done business with for a long time, it’s normal for them to want to keep the process flow the same as it’s always been.

With new customers, it can be tempting to make exceptions to lock in the sale and get them on board as a client.

But there comes a point where those non-compliance issues can become overwhelming. If your process is resulting in just too many errors and too much manual paperwork management involved then a plan to fix the problem needs to be put in place.

How to Make Procedural Changes

Existing Customers

To fix the issue with an existing customer, the focus needs to be to figure how they became non-standardized.

That historical knowledge can help determine if there is a simple solution to some of the issues. For example, unchecking a box or changing a number or turning off a rule in the system. This research may even uncover financial advantages to the customer, such as faster credits to their accounts.

The supplier can then craft talking points to approach their customers that would highlight the advantages of fuller automation.

If that supplier is a significant, trusted supplier in their industry, that makes it even easier. They can leverage those longer-term relationships in making this ask.

And one more point: they can tout the industry advantages to the customer as well; that this could also improve their relationships with their other suppliers across the Ariba Network.

New Customers

Since there are no existing issues to “fix” with new customers, the focus needs to be on avoiding non-standardization from the very beginning of your relationship with a new customer.

Training is key in this case. The object is to help sales people, who may have done things in a certain way for many years, understand why standardization is important and how to make that clear to potential customers.

Depending upon the circumstance, one possible solution is to develop a playbook with a decision tree so when the sales people talked to new customers they had a checklist. That is, a guide to ensure the best performance and compliance. This script can make it easier for them to stay within the guidelines for compliance.

The Change Management Factor

Change is hard, and changing the way that sales people sell, and customers invoice (or order, or whatever), can result in pushback from both parties.

That’s why good change management practices that encompass leadership, communication and training are the key to getting users and customers on board with the company’s best practices.

Here are some change management tactics that have been proven to work if consistently applied:

  1. Understand their concerns: Try to understand why they may be reluctant to change. Addressing their concerns directly can help them feel heard and valued, which may make them more willing to consider new practices.
  2. Communicate the benefits: Help them understand how the new practices can benefit them and their business, such as with increased efficiency, improved accuracy, and faster deliveries.
  3. Provide training and support: This can include training sessions, user guides, and ongoing support.
  4. Be patient: Change can be difficult, and it may take time for customers to fully adopt new practices.
  5. Lead by example: Show customers how the new practices work for other customers in similar situations. Seeing the success of others can help reluctant customers feel more comfortable with the changes.

How an Ariba Service Partner can help

Ariba Service Partners are THE experts when it comes to all facets of Ariba. They have deep knowledge of processes and how to improve them so you can get the maximum value from your system.

At CCP Global, we have one of the oldest and most robust SAP Ariba Application Managed Support programs in the industry. One of our most popular packages is our Supplier Support Package, offering full support for your activities across the SAP Ariba Business Network.

Suppler Support Package for Ariba Network support

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