As a business buying and selling inventory, you likely receive orders from a variety of sales channels. This could include online orders, orders from your retail brick and mortar locations, orders from sales reps in the field and B2B orders from other retailers and distributors. To manage orders from multiple sales channels, many SMBs have employees dedicated to order entry – the manual process of entering orders into your order management software. However, if your order management system is not integrated with your different sales channels and other business departments – including inventory, accounting, financials and shipping, you’re wasting valuable time and money. Instead, consider implementing an all-in-one ERP solution with proper integration between your different sales channels, to help you automate the order entry process. After all, automation is one of the main benefits of ERP software.
ERP for Order Management
With ERP software, instead of having to manually enter information into multiple solutions, you have one system to streamline your entire operations. This means that you no longer have to reconcile data between your order entry, inventory management and accounting systems, or manually check inventory in your warehouse or in a spreadsheet when trying to create a new sales order. ERP software allows you to create a sales order based on real-time inventory information stored in the system. This makes it easy to quickly create an order while on the phone with your customers – without having to double-check inventory availability. But what about when creating orders from different sales channels? For example, orders that come from your website, outside sales reps or walk-in customers? This is where integration is necessary to succeed. To automate the order management process, you first need to make sure that all your different sales channels and systems are properly integrated.
Any good ERP system provides functionality for eCommerce integration, which allows the software to communicate directly with your existing online sales channels (including your eCommerce store, marketplaces such as Amazon and vendor portals). If your website is built on one of the popular platforms available in the market today, such as Shopify, this means you will need separate teams to help with the integration. You might already have multiple teams working on your Shopify site – one team who deals with the development and design of your eCommerce store and another team that helps with marketing, your rank in Google and SEO. If you have a development team available, you can engage them to write the integration to your ERP, or you can work with an integration partner with experience in the industry. When you do integrate your existing website with a system like Blue Link, information on your website and ERP system will flow back and forth. For example, when an order is placed online and payment made, it shows up in Blue Link’s Sales Order Review screen for further processing or gets automatically sent to the warehouse for pick, pack and ship depending on how you have the system set-up. This, in turn, updates inventory quantities and the order status in Blue Link and on the website and notifies the customer of the order.
[See Blue Link’s Sales Order Review Screen in Action]
Point of Sale
If you operate a storefront, cash and carry type business or deal with walk-in customers, point-of-sale software makes it easy to quickly ring up customers just like you would at any retail location. You can scan barcodes, add product from an inventory search, or pull up the customer’s history to create a new order. To reduce the added complexity of integrating your ERP solution with a front-end POS system, look for ERP with built-in POS functionality such as Blue Link. Blue Link’s point-of-sale features are fully integrated so that orders placed in-store are reflected in Blue Link for proper inventory management and processing. Instead of reconciling inventory at the end of each day, the system updates in real-time to help with inventory replenishment and warehouse management to help keep track of all orders.
B2B Online Order Portal
For B2B customers, a typical eCommerce site might not be good enough. Unlike selling directly to the end-consumer, selling business-to-business comes with its own set of unique requirements. For example, when trying to sell B2B online it’ important to keep in mind the following:
- Do you only want customers with an existing account to be able to place an order online?
- Do you have different customer pricing that you want to be reflected online?
- Do you want to restrict customers from seeing pricing information until they are logged into their account?
- Do you want to restrict your customers from seeing total available inventory, and instead, show product either as available or not?
With these differences, you must distinguish any online B2C orders from B2B. And unlike your B2C website, you don’t necessarily need your B2B site to have all the same bells and whistles from a marketing standpoint. Therefore, if you can find a software vendor that includes a built-in B2B online order portal, this will save you the hassle of having to integrate with yet another 3rd party application. When the portal is already a part of the software, orders and inventory information can automatically and seamlessly flow between both systems.
An added benefit? Online order portals are a great tool for sales reps in the field. Using a laptop or tablet, sales reps can quickly lookup inventory and create an order for customers while onsite.
EDI & Electronic Orders
To set-up and automate EDI and electronic orders, you will first want to survey your customers to determine which of them are able to send you an EDI 850 purchase order or, if not, send you a structured electronic file such as an XML file or CSV file. Once you have a list of customers and file types, you will need to enlist the help of your developers or an integration partner to set-up the different connectors between each source – with each connector being a different client/interface that has to be connected to. When the integration is set-up properly, with Blue Link, it will automatically retrieve any inbound orders from your customers and push them into the system, creating a sales order. From your perspective, new orders from your customers just “appear” in Blue Link’s Sales Order Review screen with the status you specify (i.e. “New”), alongside orders from other sales channels such as those listed above.
As you can see, there are many different options for automating the order management process. Whether you sell online, through retail channels or through a team of sales reps, proper integration between your ERP and these different channels is necessary for automation. When trying to find an ERP software solution to manage your business, find a partner that can provide as much functionality for managing the sales order process out of the box. While it’s likely that with any ERP solution there will still be some integration required from a 3rd party, if you can eliminate this as much as possible by working with a vendor who provides an all-in-one solution, it will save you a lot of time and money in the long run. Once you have your different sales channels and integrations set-up properly, you will be able to automate the sales process and continuously receive orders from customers without manual intervention. For those customers who are not able to place orders electronically, or still prefer to communicate by phone or email, you will have to have employees key the order in manually. However, with all the other automation that you have set up, there is no reason why your employees can’t easily keep up with demand, while still focusing on their other tasks.