Converting Customers Through cXML

Commerce extensible markup language (cXML) is a protocol that is used for the communication of documents that may come from different procurement software suites. It’s a handy way for companies to exchange data and is extremely useful in the case of businesses involved in Procurement PunchOut. PunchOut itself is a protocol that allows for managed sessions across the internet to ensure communication using cXML as the standard.

Understanding cXML

cXML was developed by Ariba in February 1999, according to It was designed on the XML standard, which allowed for a simple text storage system for data that could be easily converted among multiple parties. While cXML is useful, it is still controlled wholly by Ariba. All parties are free to use and distribute cXML freely, but the copyright only extends to use. Modification of the standard and republishing is not permitted. Because of the easy availability of the standard, it usually comes with most sell-side solutions out of the box. Additionally, it comes with its own language in Leverages XML, allowing for extensible code to take advantage of particular use cases.

Breaking Down the PunchOut Catalog

Procurement can happen in a wide range of software suites. Businesses usually determine which system works best for them and implement their procurement records using that software as their front end. In the past, manual files used to be the only way for businesses to update their procurement records. As companies started to embrace software that automated a lot of their work, the manual recording made way for software-to-software interfaces.

Today, the idea of a PunchOut Catalog is accepted as the best method of allowing procurement software to communicate with a vendor’s website. A business can enable purchasers to buy goods online directly inside their procurement software via synchronized cXML communication. The system that utilizes synchronized cXML is known as a PunchOut Catalog or a PunchOut Website. The name stems from the ability of a buyer to enter the vendor’s website from inside their own procurement software, “punching out” to the vendor’s site, and having the system update automatically on completion of the transaction.

Why cXML is So Important to the PunchOut System

cXML forms the core communication methodology of the PunchOut system. Without cXML, there would be no standardized method for procurement software to communicate with each other. Thanks to the widely accepted use of cXML, the PunchOut system allows for a buyer to perform actions on the vendor’s site, submit the order, and get a purchase order that’s readable within their own procurement system. 

Electronic Order Transmission

Businesses that don’t yet have a PunchOut system for their commercial sales have to resort to sending soft copies of purchase orders. As it stands, many online order systems already send purchase confirmations via email. Several eCommerce sites have built-in systems that generate receipts or purchase orders and forward them to clients via email. The problem here is the same one that existed before the invention of cXML, namely that these documents need to be entered into the buyer’s procurement software manually.

Using cXML to Interact with Purchasers

While it’s not impossible to generate cXML purchase orders and send them out to buyers, automating the process makes it a lot more efficient. Manually translating a purchase order into cXML opens the door to the same problems that a PDF copy of a purchase order creates. Naturally, the way around this is to implement a method for the automatic generation of cXML data based on existing purchase orders.

Purchasers require real-time feedback when they put in an order. While your PO emailing system can send a PDF to the buyer, they don’t have a solid record on their files until they update their received orders. cXML allows them to collect an instantaneous receipt that the transaction has occurred and allows the system to be updated automatically with the amounts and values that the buyer gets. cXML removes any entry errors that may arise between the generation of the PO and the entry of the details into the customer or the recipient’s system.

Developing a system that generates cXML purchase orders requires delving into the information your buyer needs and extracting that data, then compiling a cXML file with the data included. While some fields are apparent such as the purchase order number, other fields tend to be fluid, depending on the recipient. Some businesses prefer that the “Ship To:” field contains the business name. Others require the ordering personnel’s name to be included in this field. Sorting out these minor issues is simply a matter of approaching the receiving company and determining their protocols. 

Implementation times will vary, depending on the type of company and the volume of products the company produces. As a b2B supplier, being honest and upfront about the amount of time it will take to implement the new system is in your best interest. The conveniences that cXML provides for the company, as well as the accessibility it enables for buyers, makes implementing the protocol something that all commercial suppliers should invest in. Before the system goes live, you should also run it through some rigorous testing to ensure it functions as expected. Generating the customer purchase order should be the highest priority. Internal purchase orders can continue to be manually entered into the system until the business implements a cXML conversion system for the company’s purchase orders as well.

Customers and Purchase Order Technology

B2B suppliers use purchase orders to track the supply of items. In the past, businesses that had to rely on paper-based purchase order systems tended to limit their use. For trusted suppliers, they sometimes eschewed the receipt of purchase orders. This methodology is a terrible practice and could lead to problems later down the road, especially if the business was to be audited. When companies moved away from paper-based systems and started using procurement software, a lot of the issues with purchase orders persisted. They were still sent physically or electronically and needed to be entered into the systems manually.

With the advent of cXML, the problems of entering data manually into purchase order systems were resolved. Businesses could either not interface with seller sites directly with electronic cXML communication to procurement software nor get cXML files that could be imported to the business’s software manually. It’s because of the widespread use of cXML that converting customers had started being a significant concern for B2B suppliers that haven’t switched over to using the system as yet. A cXML system addresses two significant concerns for enterprise-level buyers successfully: reliability and ease of doing business with the company.

Reliability Through cXML

cXML presents an opportunity for suppliers to update buyers as soon as the purchase is made. Since a company implementing a system to export purchase orders into cXML format can do so automatically, the time lag between the buyer clicking the purchase button and the cXML being delivered to them should be minimal. Compared to a potential time lag of up to a week with the manual translation of purchase orders, instantaneous transmission means that there is little need for a business to worry about if their request was being processed or on hold. This reliability offers peace of mind to buyers. Additionally, it is likely to increase the chance of that purchaser doing business with the company again.

Making For Easier Purchasing

Purchasing and procurement departments can be busy places. Orders are coming into their office from the business, and everything needs to be done as soon as possible. With all the demands on their time, the procurement staff has very little left for entering purchase order details. However, if they don’t, reports generated for the end of the month will likely be inaccurate. To save them the hassle of doing this themselves, they tend to focus on companies that can offer a more straightforward way to update their records, usually by sending cXML files. 

Tying It Together

A business that makes life easy for its buyers is one that can expect their customers to keep coming back to them. cXML not only makes that possible but gives buyers confidence in your order processing. While the ideal situation would be using a PunchOut Catalog to streamline the ordering process, implementing a cXML system for sending files to buyers is a step in the right direction.

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Samantha Wallace

Samantha Wallace

Samantha Wallace is a veteran tech writer and editor who has worked in several eCommerce companies. She has been covering technology online for over five years. She is the Content Advocate for

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