Every wholesale company will have their own process for managing orders, receiving inventory, picking, packing and shipping product and then invoicing customers. How a company manages these workflows will depend on which sales channels they use, how their company infrastructure is set-up and what systems they have in place to automate and manage each process. This is where back-end inventory and accounting wholesale software comes into play. Since most wholesale and distribution businesses operate in a similar manner, proper software will have functionality in place to streamline the order entry process, automating as many steps as possible. If you’re only familiar with introductory software for managing workflows, it’s difficult to visualize how proper wholesale software will increase efficiencies and manage processes. This functionality is standard in most sophisticated inventory and accounting (ERP solutions), with small differences and available features depending on the vendor. Below we take a look at a sample workflow:
A customer places an order for product from your company. This order can come through a variety of sales channels including electronically through eCommerce and EDI, via a tablet app from sales reps at a trade show, as well as over the phone or in-person. If you process a lot of volume through eCommerce, there are several options for automating the order, inventory and shipping information that flows between your eCommerce site and back-end wholesale system. Whatever the method, this action triggers the beginning of a more complex workflow. The system accumulates all sales orders in a review screen for further processing and allocates inventory towards each order. Previously defined system parameters allow users to visually see which orders are ready to ship, and which require further review depending on customer account information and available inventory. When placing orders online, customers have access to product information and availability. This information is also readily available when manually entering a sales order into the system while speaking with a customer over the phone or in-person. If inventory is not available, employees can place items on backorder. If applicable, customers can also submit credit card information online or over the phone and the system will pre-authorize the information before finalizing the order. The sales order review screen provides a place to review orders before they continue to move through the workflow.
If there is not enough inventory available to fulfill an order, users can create a purchase order directly from within the sales order screen. System parameters allow companies to set up a default or preferred vendor for each inventory item, with the ability to see all available vendors. To avoid creating frequent backorders, re-order levels are set-up within the system to automatically notify the appropriate person when stock levels need replenishing. Submission of a purchase order is purposefully a manual process even if re-order levels are set – this ensures that employees can confirm order information and review purchase orders in case specific pricing discounts are available before sending to the supplier.
There are several different options for receiving inventory into your warehouse upon delivery of a product. The first involves manual methods of counting items and entering them into your system. The second involves importing information into the system from an Excel spreadsheet and then checking against physical inventory. Lastly, employees can scan inventory items into the system with barcode scanning and product quantities will update automatically. If necessary, users can then manually override this information. When receiving items as part of a backorder, if the corresponding purchase order is associated with a sales order, the system will automatically allocate product to the order for quicker order fulfillment.
Picking, Packing and Shipping
If inventory is available to fill orders, the system generates a pick slip so that warehouse staff can begin picking items. This can be done manually, following a process in which staff pick items from shelves following a logical pick order according to the bin and shelf location on the pick sheet. Employees then put items on a cart and bring the cart to a packing station where they check items against the sales order and pack accordingly. Alternatively, employees can use verification barcode scanning at the packing station or mobile barcode scanning during the pick process as a means to double check against the sales order. Once the employee packs the items, the system will generate and print any required paperwork and share information electronically between shipping carriers in order to generate a tracking number and cost information.
When it comes to invoicing, the level of automation will depend on a business’ specific processes. Once an employee ships the order and dictates as such in the system, common workflows include:
- Automatically posting the invoice, changing the status and emailing the invoice to the customer, or
- Automatically changing the status, which then allows employees to manually review all shipped orders and invoice customers
When it comes to managing workflows, most wholesale distribution businesses will require similar functionality. As such, sophisticated inventory and accounting wholesale software that is designed to replace introductory systems will provide features to help automate processes and streamline the order entry, picking, packing, shipping and invoicing process. When working with potential software vendors, be open to the expert advice they will have to offer when it comes to managing workflows. With proper back-end software comes an increase in available functionality as well as opportunities to improve existing processes.