Importing and exporting rebate data: Start manual, lay the foundations, then automate

Importing and exporting rebate data: Start manual, lay the foundations, then automate

You might be tempted to automate importing data into your new rebate management system. But experience dictates there’s huge business value in starting with a manual approach.Transparent, auditable, automated rebate management. It’s the ultimate goal for many distributors looking to maximize rebate revenue and free up finance professionals’ time. And it’s why more and more distributors are choosing to implement specialist rebate management software like our own.In doing so, there’s sometimes an expectation a new rebate management solution will output accurate rebate calculations and accruals from day one, with no human intervention required. All that’s needed is to automate the import of data, and you’re ready to roll.In our experience, there’s much more value in taking a controlled, step-by-step approach to importing data. The implementation is an ideal opportunity to review the current state of rebate data and rebate management, and lay down some solid business processes for the future.In this blog, we’ll explain why starting with a manual approach to importing and exporting data is the most effective way to reach a great operational solution.

Organization is the key to importing data

If you’ve come to the conclusion that you need a rebate management system, it’s likely you face the same challenges as many other distributors. That’s to say: rebate agreements and calculations are scattered across many different systems, including drawers and filing cabinets.The fragmented data is hard to track, leading to missed opportunities to claim rebate. In our experience, something like 4% of potential rebate revenue typically goes unclaimed, amounting to millions of dollars for some firms.To reach a point where you can successfully—and reliably—automate your rebate management, it’s critical to get all of this fragmented data imported into a central, organized location. For the purposes of this blog, we’ll assume that location is our rebate management system.

There’s value in manually importing data

The first step, then, is to import your existing data. It will likely include information about rebate terms, suppliers, customers, products, purchase and sales invoices, and more. You’ll need to export the data out of the different systems and places where it currently resides, and import your data into our rebate management system.You might be tempted to automate this data import process. But while automation should almost always be the end goal, we usually recommend taking a manual approach to importing data at first—for two reasons:

  • Firstly—and somewhat counter-intuitively—importing data manually means you can get up and running faster with the new software than if you were to wait for IT to implement the required integrations. If yours is like most organizations, the queue for IT projects is long, and it could be weeks or months before resource becomes available to work on automating your data imports. With manual data input, you and your team can get going right away.
  • Secondly, it not only gives you an opportunity to review your current data, but also a chance to analyze your current practices around rebate management. Taking a phased, methodical approach to data importing allows you to review the breadth and quality of your existing rebate data, review the calculations the system outputs against it, and validate that everything is accurate and correct.

If it all looks good at this stage, you could move swiftly on to automating further data imports. But in our experience, most distributors uncover a few underlying issues during this initial, manual data import phase. Surfacing them at this stage gives you an opportunity to improve your rebate management practices rather than simply replicating bad habits in the new rebate management system.

Importing data manually gives you a chance to develop good habits

It’s a worthwhile exercise because those bad habits may be having a big impact on your ability to maximize rebate revenue. For example, you may find that some orders are being classified using terms like ‘special’ or ‘other’, rather than against categories used to claim rebate. Those orders are often, and easily, left out of rebate claims—reducing the amount of revenue earned.Uncovering data issues like this at the start of your automation journey gives you a chance to iron out inefficiencies and get your team using good data import and admin practices. And with good, standardized rebate management processes, you can more reliably ensure that no rebate revenue slips through the cracks unclaimed.If you ensure you're only importing good data into the new rebate management system means it will also generate more reliable business insights. When the data is exported into finance analytics or management information systems, rebate data can be incredibly useful for forecasting, budgeting and formulating purchasing strategy. But if bad data is imported into the system, it’s a case of ‘garbage in, garbage out’.

Time to automate data import and export

Once you’re happy with the quality of the rebate data you're importing and exporting out of your rebate management system, you can move on to automating data import and export.At this stage, you’ll quickly see the benefits from having a reliable, automated system for rebate management. You’ll find:

  • You’re no longer dependent on key people to process rebate data—so rebate management still happens even when people are on holiday or ill
  • You can free up your rebate management team for more valuable tasks, like rebate analysis and strategy
  • There’s no longer any margin for human error, and your results are more reliable
  • You’re saving a significant amount of time that would have otherwise been spent on processing rebate data—which means cost savings
  • And, you have a greater visibility of your rebate data and maximize the earnings you make from your rebate deals

A step-by-step approach to importing and exporting data

There’s nothing stopping you from automating your data imports straightaway—but as we’ve explored, there’s huge business value in taking a more methodical, phased approach.If you start with a manual approach, you won’t need to wait for IT to do the integration; the finance team can begin importing data immediately and start seeing the benefits of automated rebate management. Plus, the sooner you start uncovering the underlying flaws in your business processes, the sooner your solution will be in good shape for automation.To find out more about how to get the most from automated rebate management with Enable, get in touch.

Andy James

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