As with starting any business, when starting a wholesale distribution company one of the most important considerations is the choice of what software to implement in order to manage your inventory, accounting and sales. When first starting out - when order and transaction volume is low - many businesses can get away with using manual processes and introductory systems such as QuickBooks. However, these types of processes and systems are specifically geared towards small and start-up businesses and so there will hopefully come a time when a more sophisticated all-in-one solution is required. Most often this comes as a result of an increase in order and transaction volume and a need for additional functionality such as inventory management, robust reporting or eCommerce. Upgrading to an all-in-one wholesale distribution ERP system will also provide opportunities for increased automation across departments, reduce the amount of manual work and data entry errors, and prepare your business for growth . Although every business will have different requirements and processes, as a wholesale distribution company it is important to consider the following in order to make the right decision about software.
Customers are the heart of any organization – without them you would not be in business very long. Even if your company does not have a complex sales process, managing existing and potential customers is important for maintaining and growing sales. Your business’ ability to reduce the amount of order and shipping errors, respond to customer concerns in a timely fashion and provide quality products when and where the customers want them will be what separate you from the competition. For this reason, it is important that you chose a software vendor that understands how you interact with your customers and provides the best tools for doing so.
The right tools for your business will not necessarily include an actual CRM system. Some software packages include built-in contact management tools that will provide enough functionality as is. These tools are designed to manage customers, vendors and leads and will include functionality for logging communication and tracking notes, automating the emailing of invoices and other customer information, and the ability to manage multiple company contacts and business locations. True CRM functionality on the other hand is designed for more complex sales processes. Common features include: additional functionality for tracking leads through a comprehensive sales cycle, setting statues, next action dates and appointments, sales dashboards to track follow-ups and an individual’s sales funnel, and the ability to manage marketing lists.
In addition to standard contact management and CRM functionality, there are various other tools that can aid in customer management. Examples include:
- Mobile sales applications for taking orders at tradeshows, while visiting customers on the road or in showrooms. These tools allow sales reps to show customers available inventory through attractive images and place orders on the spot. When integrated with wholesale distribution ERP software, this allows sales orders to be created at the time the order is placed, and will also allocate the inventory.
- Online Order Portal tools are designed for use by sales reps or B2B customers, and provide an easy-to-use 24/7 ordering system. Inventory and specific customer pricing is available for each customer account and past orders can be easily replaced or new ones created. Once again these systems are integrated with back-end ERP software so that inventory and order information is up-to-date.
As a wholesale and distribution business, proper inventory management can greatly impact your bottom line. The ability to fulfill orders, ship the right product, process backorders and customer returns, and track shipments is important to keep your customers happy and returning. In this day and age it is easier than ever for customers to buy elsewhere if they are dissatisfied with the service you provide. Relying on manual counts or spreadsheets can misrepresent inventory information and lead to product stock-outs. As a wholesale distribution business grows, inventory management is frequently the first indicator that new software is required. A system that reports on what product is available on-hand, what product is allocated to specific orders and what product needs to be replenished can reduce costs and save time. Proper inventory management software will allow you to:
- Scan barcodes when receiving and packing product to ensure you always have an up-to-date inventory count
- Integrate sales across multiple channels in order to allocate inventory to specific orders
- Track re-order points taking into consideration lead times
- Account for landed costs when managing the true cost of inventory
- Track specific lots or batches of items with lot tracking
These basic pieces of functionality can reduce the amount of time spent correcting errors, manually counting product and updating data across multiple, standalone systems.
Most software vendors will assure you that their system is scalable and can aid in the growth of your business. But what does that mean exactly? It is easy for vendors to claim that their system is scalable, if they provide upgrades every once in a while and are continuing product development. However, the best vendor will not only provide scalable software, but also invest in learning about your business and industry to aid in growth and provide guidance for doing so. It is important to continue to work with your software vendor after the initial implementation to evaluate whether or not the solution is being used to its full potential. A vendor that provides regular upgrades from a technology and functionality standpoint will allow your business to keep up with the competition, and new technology can aid in efficiencies and process improvements. In addition, some vendors will provide access to additional functionality on a module basis. These types of more advanced features can then be turned on at any point in time as your business grows and evolves.