Anyone involved in the export market knows sales invoices can result in endless collection problems unless they're designed to comply with business practices in the customer's country. Michael Plumley, CEO of Plumley Cos., in Paris, Tenn., a manufacturer of rubber goods for the automobile industry, knows that all too well. His goal is to design a sales invoice that will work with 80% to 90% of the export orders he ships to Japan, Germany, France, Australia, Canada, Mexico, and Great Britain.

Plumley believes his only chance of success is to tap into the hands-on knowledge of his employees from various departments, all of whom have encountered the unique characteristics of each export market. Among the employees he consults:

* Customer-service and shipping representatives. "Duty regulations differ in every country," Plumley says. "If a company wants to keep costs down, it has to figure out how to ship and invoice goods so it complies with those different rules." Case in point: Germany. "If we ship different products at the same time but list them on different manifests, we have to pay higher duties than if they were consolidated on a single manifest."

* Credit manager. There aren't any universal paperwork standards, even within particular countries. The challenge is to find out what foreign customers need from invoices.

* Sales manager. Every salesperson involved in export is a resource for tips on foreign customers' invoicing needs. "If we know about needs in advance, we can address them when we send out the invoice, and we won't have to wait until problems develop on the collection end."

-- Jill Andresky Fraser