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How To Present to Executives: AP Automation for the C-Suite

Accounts payable is often misconstrued as a back-office function—a bogged down team that is constantly putting out fires. Because of this misconception, it rarely receives the attention from C-suite executives that would drive budgeting and focus on any large scale system improvement project, such as accounts payable automation. However, if you’ve spent any part of your career working with AP, you know that the value the accounts payable team contributes goes far beyond that endless backlog of vendor payments. The information processed by AP is the center of your company’s reporting and forecasting and plays a key role in its financial success.

AP’s unique position within the company brings with it a myriad of challenges – error-prone manual and paper-based processes, lack of visibility, and ultimately fuzzy financials and inaccurate forecasting to name a few. Learning how to present to executives helps the AP team prove the real value of AP automation to the C-suite.

You’re probably already aware of the numerous accounts payable automation benefits; that’s why you’re looking for information to get the conversation started with your executive team to introduce AP automation! The trick to building a surefire business case for the C-level executives is focusing on the facts. Clearly outline the pros and cons, fine-tune your messaging, and work with each of your stakeholders to make sure they understand how to improve the AP process with an accounts payable automation project, and why it’s important.

Research & Scope

The parameters of your research are the linchpin of your entire campaign for AP automation. Before you even begin assessing vendors, it’s important to scope your project: what exactly does your company need? There are several different types of solutions, and the impact on your business varies between each type. While all solutions have their unique benefits, it’s essential to select the right tool that your company will benefit from most. Implementing a supplier portal or dynamic discounting platform may seem like it’ll help you save money down the road, but if your internal AP processes are still disorganized, you’ll miss out on a significant portion of the benefits.

Once you know the type of solution you’re pursuing a project for, you need to assess the various providers available on the market. Before reaching out to any, do a thorough background check on the vendors. What are their history and focus? Does the solution fulfill the needs you’ve outlined in your project scope? What is their reputation like in the industry? And, when you do engage with the vendors that match your criteria, don’t be afraid to ask tough questions. What is their speed of deployment? What is the depth of the solution’s effectiveness?

Know Your Audience

With the right research in your back pocket, it’s time to start thinking of the presentation. First things first, define who your key stakeholders are. With large projects, the decision-making party can sometimes grow to include too many people, which can draw out, delay, or ultimately kill a project altogether. Keep your decision-maker party small. In most companies, the key project holders are executive management and information technology (IT). 

Regarding your company’s C-suite, especially the CFO, you’re trying to make the financial case. Your presentation should support a credible ROI, low risks, and address the “why” for finance (spend management, reporting accuracy, operational efficiency. etc).

For the CIO and IT department, the messaging is different. Most IT teams are already stretched thin with existing system and on-going project management tasks. You want to reassure IT that you won’t be tying up additional IT resources with a lengthy project and ongoing maintenance. Plus, if your project can free up IT resources for core business projects by eliminating the need for old, outdated systems currently in place, your proposal suddenly looks even more desirable.

But before approaching executive management or IT, rally the support of the AP and Procurement teams. They’re the ultimate end users, so having them on board will help keep the project afloat from start to implementation. In your vendor selection process, keep in mind the tool’s usability; the AP team is far more likely to be on board with a product that’s easy to use in their day-to-day activities.  The new normal proves the need to be prepared for the unexpected, including quarantining and natural disaster, by having AP automation in-place before it happens. Failure to keep up with technology can mean being left behind.

Build a Credible ROI

The point of investing in a financial technology such as accounts payable automation is to prove that your investment will break even with the original cost and eventually save the company money over time. With the right numbers to crunch, you’ll know exactly how to calculate an accounts payable project ROI that is rock solid.

Start with calculating the total costs of the project and ongoing ownership of the solution. That includes subscription/license costs, upgrades, maintenance, and support from any third parties involved.

Next, quantify the unknown costs; this could include product limitations and on-premise upgrades. You might not be able to predict the future, but a potential vendor should be willing to help fill in the poorly defined gaps of costs in a contract.

Next, quantify the savings. Include both objective savings (headcount, removal of old systems, elimination of errors, early payment discounts, etc.), as well as the soft, yet substantial savings (time saved for approvers, improved price variance management).

Once you have the numbers to crunch, your next step is to organize and demonstrate the math of your ROI calculation in a clear and tangible method. Clearly outline the costs, savings, and timelines that you researched. If possible, use an ROI template that has been used in other AP automation projects and delivered proven, credible ROIs. The key is to calculate an ROI with numbers you can stand by; show your math so that any of the stakeholders could walk through your process and calculate the same results. Knowing how to present to executives is the first step toward adopting progressive technologies to remain competitive today and in the future, proving the value of having the AP team step out of the back office.

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