The Art of Writing a Purchase Order – What Your Clients Need to Know

A common challenge with a lot of shops is the effort and time it takes to sort out a client’s purchase order.  You would think that because this is the instrument that they are using to communicate regarding their order, that some effort is put into it to ensure that the information is complete and accurate.  How much time and effort is wasted following and double-checking items on purchase orders in your shop?  Some shops have gone to charging a “PO Correction Fee” to get the correct information from the client.  I’m not sure if that is a sustainable practice, as eventually, I think the client will just want to hand off their same orders to someone else that won’t charge them.

I thought I would take a moment and list some of the most common problems with purchase orders and maybe shed some light on how to give some feedback to your client to proactively prevent these challenges from occurring.  Mistakes and oversights happen, and if more communication exists regarding challenges maybe awareness can help alleviate them from happening.

  1. Cloning.  Nope, we aren’t talking about cloning in a science-fiction movie sense, but rather cloning an original order to build the documents for a reorder.  Seems like a good idea for most people, but where the problem occurs is when New Information, such as shipping dates, shipping addresses, quantities, special instructions such as “sample needed”, or other items from the first order are not updated or deleted.  This can cause a lot of confusion, and if the order is just entered as it was sent in, a lot of problems on the back end.  To correct this, have a quality control discussion with your client and review these problems.  Have a few examples ready, and show them the time and effort it takes to change them.  Outline the potential financial disaster looming for both parties if the mistakes aren’t caught.  The solution is an easy one; it is as simple as having someone proofread the purchase order before forwarding it on to production.  All it takes is some effort.
  2. Pricing.  Most business relationships are based on agreement on a common set of rules to work with, and a pricing structure is one of them.  If your client has your price matrix, it should be easy to understand the document that they can use to build pricing for an order.  Whatever you have for charges or fees they need to be simple to understand, clearly listed, and up to date.  A common problem is the client’s not listing every charge on the purchase order for items that clearly should be present.  Some even forget to charge for one of the locations.  Your staff has to be on their toes and review all purchase orders as they come in for pricing challenges.  These need to be reported before the order is placed in your system.  Trying to get the alignment after the job is completed and invoiced when you are standing there holding your hand out for payment can be tough sledding.
  3. Timeframe.  A huge problem that shops face constantly is juggling production orders on their schedule.  Which job ships when, and what is more important?  For some reason, clients will send in a purchase order with 00/00/0000 as their specified in hands date.  When reached, they will say that they can’t pick the date and whenever it is ready will be fine.  However, we all know that they are the ones screaming the loudest when after ten business days that job isn’t complete yet.  They are also the ones that won’t review the order acknowledgments when the job is entered with the date that was created in the system so they are aware of what was specified.  A better plan is to educate the client on the reasoning behind using real dates that are based on when they would actually like the job completed.  Internally, these dates are reviewed against the production schedule and adjustments can be made to hit the date. If you can, always get your clients to use real dates!!
  4. Shipping Information – Including DropShips.  This one is a doozy.  I’m not sure why, but a certain percentage of clients always wait until the last minute to hand over this information.  I realize that they have to get it from their clients, but the timing is usually the biggest challenge.  A good rule of thumb to follow is that if you have enough information and the need to place an order, getting the final shipping information nailed should be included also in the purchase order.  An Excel spreadsheet with the drop ship information should also be reviewed for accuracy too.  It doesn’t matter how good of a printer you are if the box of shirts doesn’t make it to the destination on time or accurately.  Getting the right information into the hands of your shipping department is crucial.
  5. Matching Purchase Order Numbers with Inventory.  If your client is drop-shipping you the inventory to decorate, it’s always easier to receive the goods into your system if the purchase order number is on the box of shirts that come in.  You can match it up in your system with what’s on the order.  What’s difficult is when your receiving team has to try to guess what box of shirts belongs to what order.  A really great help is when the client’s printing purchase order number is referenced on the packing slip of the shirts that come in.  This makes it incredibly easy to receive and match up to the order in the shop’s system.  This can be entered in the “Reference” field.
  6. Clients That Make It Easy.  You know the ones.  Their purchase orders are perfect.  They contain all the information needed for the order and are always 100% accurate.  Usually, they are more technology based and have a robust infrastructure to support their sales team.  The leadership from these companies are usually industry veterans with tons of operational experience and understand that if their orders can go through your pipeline easier, they are the ones that will go to the head of the line faster.  Missing information, questions or anything that looks weird are just speed bumps that slow the order down.  They also spend a lot of time training their reps, and they have a good system for accountability.  These are the guys that you love to work with.

Purchase orders are such a key part of the everyday world that you would think more companies would devote a bigger chunk of their time to make sure that they get it right.  It is worth the time though to try to work with your client’s to understand that unclear or inaccurate purchase orders present a challenge to your shop as they are potential landmines, and also may increase your transactional cost just dealing with them.  The more time it takes you to sort out the purchase order, the less time you have to spend on other things that probably matter.


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