Inventory & Accounting ERP Software Blog

How to Recommend the Right Software to Your Boss

If you’ve been tasked by your manager to start researching new software systems, you know that this can be a difficult project. This is especially true if your boss has not given you a lot of information or direction. Are you working with a budget? What functions do you want the software to manage? Will a new system replace existing software? Trying to find and recommend solutions without a lot of information from your boss can be tough, and once you do find a couple of options, which one do you recommend? The system with all the bells and whistles? Or the one that is the best price?  We’ve put together a list of tips and tricks to help you recommend the right software to your boss.

Follow these steps to help you recommend the best software to your boss:

Gather Internal Information
Start Your Research
Present the Information
Involve Decision-Makers

Gather Internal Information
If your boss has not given you a lot direction on what to look for, you can easily perform your own internal research by speaking with your colleagues. It’s likely that you already know where each department experiences the most pain when it comes to existing processes and your colleagues may be more willing to share their true feelings with you as opposed to the boss. Ask your colleagues what causes them the most stress every day, on what tasks they spend the most time and if they have any concerns about existing processes. For example, do employees spend a lot of their time…

Manually entering data into multiple systems?
Correcting mistakes?
Looking for inventory items and keeping track of products?
Following up with customer accounts to collect payments for overdue invoices?
Pulling information from multiple systems for reporting?

Once you learn more about how employees spend their time, you will be able to prioritize what is most important in a new software system.
Start Your Research
Now that you know what is most important to your team, it’s time to start researching vendors that can help address some of the issues identified above. For example, if one of the biggest pain points is having to enter information into multiple systems, make sure you find an all-in-one inventory and accounting ERP solution to avoid duplicate data entry. When it comes to budget, if you don’t have a specific price range for the project, try to find a couple options on each end of the budget spectrum to be able to give an accurate comparison to your boss in terms of costs vs. benefits. While budget is important, so too is finding the right system that can help save time and money throughout other parts of the business. There is no point in making a change if it’s not going to provide any efficiencies.

Here are 6 more tips to help you find and research different software vendors.
Present the Information
Once you have gathered information on 4-5 vendors, turn the information into a presentable format to share with management. One of the best ways to present information is to turn software features and benefits into quantitative values. For example, how many hours will you save with automated reporting tools? How much faster will you be able to ship product with proper warehouse management and how will this impact sales? Will you be able to save on hiring more staff when order volume increases with an all-in-one system? It’s important to present the information in a way that translates into internal benefits for the company.
Involve Decision-Makers in Next Steps
Once you’ve presented the information to the management team and your boss, make sure to involve these decision-makers in the next steps. Narrow down your list to 2-3 vendors and continue through the sales process to learn more about each option. Be wary of jumping into a demo before the decision-maker is involved and all aspects of the business have been discussed. While most software systems in the same tier will be able to provide similar functionality for inventory and accounting, you want to find a software vendor that actually takes the time to learn about your specific business processes and how to help, instead of just trying to impress you with all the bells and whistles.
Read Now: Software Buying Guide
**Bonus Tip: Don’t Waste Your Time**

While everyone usually has good intentions when starting their search for new software, sometimes it’s a result of an immediate pain point or current issue, as opposed to a strategic investment. If you feel like this is the case, and that the decision-makers are not actually onboard to make a change, don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions to try to figure this out. Does the company have a timeline for implementing a new system? Who will be in charge of managing the implementation, training and go-live process? What will the result be if you don’t make a decision? Is the search a priority? Make sure you determine if your boss is actively looking for a system and engaged in the search process before wasting too much time researching vendors.

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How to Implement Business Intelligence Tools for your Business

As a small business, the hunt for ERP Software can be difficult if you don’t necessarily know what questions to ask. It goes without saying that you’ll want to know pricing, implementation timeline, and out-of-the-box features but what about specific business intelligence tools that can actually help your business grow? Many ERP systems including Blue Link ERP will offer important Business Intelligence functionality that is very useful to business owners.
What are Business Intelligence Tools?
Business Intelligence (BI) refers to any theory or technology that can turn raw information into something meaningful for business owners. The purpose of extracting the raw data and analyzing it is for the purpose of supporting decision-making and improving corporate performance. Some business intelligence tools that you might be familiar with are:

Excel spreadsheets
Report writers
Canned reports

One key part of BI is reporting. Having access to up-to-date reports that cover a broad range of information about your business is extremely valuable. Having these reports pulled automatically is an added bonus that can be accomplished if your ERP system creates them for you. If you are in the market for an ERP system, don’t glaze over the benefits of having some BI capabilities as a part of the software.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In order to overcome the barriers and reap the benefits of Business Intelligence, consider implementing an ERP system with BI functionality to manage all the data in your organization, and automatically provide you with insights and reports. Ultimately, businesses that install BI with robust reporting capabilities find they can compete more effectively in the marketplace, with additional insight into customer’s buying patterns and needs, and with more efficient financial management.

So, now that we know what BI is and why it’s important, let’s discuss four basic stages that a successful BI implementation will go through.
Information
Information refers to the data available to the organization. The smaller the company, the less data available. As software sophistication increases, the amount of information that can be stored also increases. Many companies will manage supplementary key business data in spreadsheets, contact manager databases, payroll systems, and other home-grown databases. These can, potentially, be harnessed together to provide the BI backbone – provided the data is reliable and accurate. However, managing this supplementary data in different programs also leads to disorganization. If your company is looking to have all the information in one place, to avoid double-entry and unnecessary manual processes, consider investing in an ERP system that centralizes data.
Technology
Despite a perception in the IT industry that the cost of technology is no longer a barrier to business intelligence for small or medium-sized businesses, that view is not necessarily shared by end-users. For these companies, the goal is to find a cost-effective solution that is affordable currently but still provides flexibility to be useful as the business grows. That being said, several aggressively priced alternatives have brought comprehensive BI technology within reach. For example, some of the mid-range ERP systems are adding dashboards that are configurable, with drill-downs and, frequently, at little or no additional cost.
Intelligence
The single most important aspect of any BI project is the determination of what needs to be measured, and how to measure it. As a first step, companies should perform an internal audit to determine what needs to be analyzed and reported, and how the findings will add value. Although it might appear that identifying these key success factors, and the consequent metrics, would be easier for a small business owner because the entrepreneur “knows the business inside out”, this is often not the case. Most entrepreneurs are experts in only one aspect of the business, not all of them. The owner with sales acumen may indeed carry all pertinent sales and margin analysis data in his head but would not necessarily be able to factor in cash-flow considerations. Conversely, the engineer who started a successful business will understand what’s critical in the product design and production areas but may not know what the salespeople have to do to succeed.
Implementation & Communication
Once you have assessed what information you have currently, what extra insights you need, and what specific reports and analytics you would like software to pull for you, it is important to prepare an implementation and communication strategy for introducing sophisticated Business Intelligence to your company. If you choose an ERP package with BI functionality, be sure to work with your vendor during your ERP implementation to understand how reports and data can be automatically sent to you.

It is also very important to communicate to employees not just how to use the system, but why it is valuable. Take time to foster employee buy-in by presenting the benefits of automated reporting and BI, and explaining how it will help the company – and most likely make some of their jobs easier!

Implementing change can be scary for you and your employees. Download our Change Management Guide to learn how to prepare your team for business changes.

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Software Maintenance Programs: Blue Link ERP 

Software maintenance programs refer to regular software updates, modifications, bug fixes, patches and the addition of new features to existing software solutions to increase performance. Depending on the software vendor, these maintenance updates may need to be scheduled between the vendor and your business, or they may happen automatically. A good software maintenance program not only keeps the application in warranty, but it also provides you with peace of mind that you’re always using the latest and greatest technology and that you’re always covered for bug fixes without having to pay out of pocket.
Why is Software Maintenance Important?
It should be obvious from the description above, but software maintenance is an important part of managing your business and operational systems. Having software that is always up-to-date helps you to react quickly to new opportunities and threats. Software maintenance programs will include regular upgrades that address common issues reported by other software users, as well as feature requests from customers and changing industry trends. As technology and the business environment continue to change at unprecedented rates, it is important that your business is always taking advantage of the newest technology and software trends and that your software matches the requirements of the time.

Learn More About the Importance of Software Maintenance

When evaluating different software options for your business, keep in mind that each software vendor will include its own version of a software maintenance program which can significantly vary in terms of services and costs. Therefore, it’s important to always check with your software vendor to make sure you understand what you’re paying for and what their software maintenance program includes.
Blue Link ERP – Software Maintenance Program
Blue Link’s cloud-based ERP software includes a maintenance program that provides customers with annual upgrades and keeps the application in warranty. Below we answer some common questions around our maintenance program.
How Often Are Maintenance Upgrades?
Blue Link maintenance upgrades are scheduled for once a year; however, you have the option to skip 1 year in the case of extenuating circumstances. By upgrading our customers every year, this ensures we are able to provide you with the highest level of customer service as our support team and developers don’t have to try to support old versions of the software based on outdated technology and fix issues that have been addressed with a newer version. It also means that you’re always using the newest and best version of our software. Even though you receive an upgrade once a year, internally, we are constantly updating the software, and so customers may be on a different version of the software depending on when their upgrade is scheduled/delivered.
How Are Maintenance Upgrades Scheduled?
We work with your business to schedule your annual maintenance upgrade based on what works best for you. Usually, this means you will receive your upgrade around the same time each year, and even though upgrades cause minimal business disruptions, we work hard to avoid scheduling upgrades during your busy season. To further minimize business disruptions, upgrades happen after hours and not during business hours and then you become a priority for our Help Desk team the morning after as an added service.
What About Customization?
One of the benefits of Blue Link ERP is our ability to customize the software to meet the specific needs of each of our clients. When it comes time for your annual maintenance upgrade, all customizations are reapplied to the newest version at no additional cost. This is an important consideration when choosing a software vendor as some will not upgrade your custom work or they will charge an additional fee to do so.
Is Training Included?
Because we are providing our customers with regular maintenance upgrades, there is no additional training required when you receive the newest version of Blue Link. Instead, we provide detailed documentation on what has changed from one version to the next and will provide supplementary training videos and documentation where appropriate.
What is the Cost?
For Blue Link hosted (cloud-based) customers, the costs of our maintenance program is built directly into monthly license fees. This means maintenance upgrades are covered as part of your regular monthly fees giving you a predictable cash flow.

Want to learn more about Blue Link ERP software? Download our Blue Link Buying Guide.

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Advanced Excel Functions for Small Business Owners

Microsoft Excel is a very powerful tool – a simple workbook with many possibilities. It’s used in businesses, schools and is one of the original tools for entering and analyzing data. As a small business, it might seem like a good idea to track all your data in Excel because it’s simple to use and cost-effective. But, it is not the best tool to use for sales leads or even tracking inventory because the more your business grows, the more likely that data is prone to errors. Entering 50 lines of inventory items per day may not seem so bad and will even give you enough time to double-check all the entries, but can you imagine having to manually enter 500 lines of inventory? You definitely wouldn’t have time to double-check each one and the idea of 0 errors, is highly unlikely. But, don’t completely get rid of Excel. Instead, use it in conjunction with an ERP software such as Blue Link ERP and you’ll be amazed at how you can automate your data analysis processes and use the below advanced Excel functions that are going to assist with your analysis.

Below we will look at 7 formulas, 4 of which are part of the spill formulae which means that if you enter anything into a cell that needs to be used from one of those formulas, you will end up with a #SPILL error. Essentially, these formulas are entered into one cell and spill into the other cells to populate them – as opposed to each cell containing a separate formula. Spill formulae contain the Sort, SortBy, Filter, and Unique formulas. It is important to remember that these formulas in the example are being used with lived linked data from Blue Link ERP allowing you to look at all your original source data in one tab and narrow it down to reflect a slice of it in another tab for easier analysis.

Advanced Excel Functions:

Sort and SortBy
Filter
Unique
Xlookup
Aggregate
3D totals
Flash Fill

 

Sort and Sortby
As a basic excel skill, you may be familiar with the option of sorting data by clicking on the right sort button at the top of the chart and sorting by that column. This will sort the whole data set whether it be alphabetically or descending values – whatever you decide. However, using this technique affects your live linked data which is not always the best when you want to analyze different aspects of it.

The Sort formula allows you to take a set of data and sort it using multiple components. For example, you can sort a whole table specifically using one column ‘amount’ and then also sort it by ‘descending amount’. This will help you to visually see your data in descending amounts as opposed to limiting the sort by only one circumstance. Doing it this way does not affect the live linked data from your original data set because it is a new formula on a different tab and, whenever you refresh or update your original data set, your Sort formula will automatically update as well.

You can also use the Sortby function which allows you to sort your data using a column in the original source data that you do not want to show in the result set. For example, let’s say you want to get a list of your sales and see products and quantities that are sorted by vendor but you don’t want to see the vendor in your result set, then the Sortby function is your new best friend.

Find the tutorial at 6:20 in the video above.
Filter
This function filters your original source data and only returns some of the rows. This is used as opposed to filtering right in the original data set because all it will do is hide rows which can get messy if you don’t realize some information is not shown. The filter function is great for accounts payable analysis and when you only want to see certain values but consider others. For example, in the photo below we’ve used the cell F7 as a point of reference for Excel to look at when sorting the data. If that number is 100, the data will only show numbers equal to or greater than 100 and if changed to 2,500 then we only see data that amounts to equal to or greater than 2,500. Just like the Sort and Sortby functions, this formula keeps your original source data clean and gives you the ability to analyze a slice of it.

TIP: If you wrap the filter function with the sort function, you can actually sort that resulting data by additional criteria. For example, you can sort by items over 2500 with a descending date.

Find the tutorial at 16:46 in the video above.
Unique
The unique Excel function allows you to return only unique values of a set of data that has multiple copies of a value. For example, use this formula when you want to see which specific products you’ve sold over the last three months. It is likely that when you try to see this manually, there is just too much data. If you enter =UNIQUE and highlight the data you want to see, it will only return one instance of every product code no matter how many times it appears in the original data set. Watch the video below to see further examples of how you can use this function.

Find the tutorial at 25:30 in the video above.
Xlookup
The Xlookup formula allows you to look up an item in one column and return the data in another column. You tell it what you want to look up, where to look it up based on a column, then tell it which column contains the results. For example, let’s say you sell home equipment including electronics, furniture, and paint. You can use the Xlookup formula to return ‘electronics’ every time you type in ‘TV’ as that is the corresponding department. This formula is a great replacement for VLookup which can be finicky to deal with as you have to meet certain criteria when using the formula.

Find the tutorial at 34:12 in the video above.
Aggregate
If you’ve ever worked in a data set where you want to sum, multiple or divide values but some of the values are text values as opposed to numeric values, then you’re familiar with the #VALUE! error. The aggregate function allows you to sum your data and ignore error rows – treating them as if they don’t exist.

Find the tutorial at 43:08 in the video above.
3D Totals
Let’s say you have sets of values in three different tabs. All values are in the same column (column D) and you want to sum all the values in each tab for column D. In this scenario, you can use the 3D total function. The 3D total function will allow you to select a range in one tab and by holding down the shift key and highlighting the other tabs it is theoretically highlighting all values in column D for all tabs. This will sum those values for you much quicker than manually summing each tab.

Find the tutorial at 49:05 in the video above.
Flash Fill
The flash fill function is as simple as it sounds. It will fill your data when it senses a pattern.

Find the tutorial at 50:41 in the video above.

We at Blue Link Associates use these advanced Excel functions for our own books and accounting at year-end as well as working alongside Blue Link customers to analyze and make sense of their data.

To learn how to live link data from Blue Link, watch this video.

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Do You Need Industry-Specific Software?

All wholesale and distribution businesses will have similar requirements when it comes to managing inventory, doing accounts payable and receivable, creating sales orders, calculating commissions, invoicing customers and purchasing product. However, even if you’re in the business of buying and selling inventory, there are certain situations where your requirements will be more industry-specific – for example, if you deal with perishable items or regulated items, if you also sell through eCommerce and retail channels, and/or if you have multiple warehouse locations. Therefore, when searching for ERP software to help manage your business, your priority should be on finding a system that can handle wholesale and distribution, and then you will want to consider a software vendor that can handle your business type and industry-specific requirements.
Business Type
Many wholesale distribution businesses also identify as a different business-type – for example, eCommerce, Retail or Import and Export. In this situation, you will want to look for ERP software that can handle the needs of your omni channel business – with wholesale and distribute at it’s core.
eCommerce
If your wholesale and distribution business also sells through eCommerce channels, you will need to find specific software functionality for managing your online sales channels. This could include your own site built on a platform like Magento or Shopify, an Online Order Portal for your B2B customers and sales reps, or integration with marketplaces such as Amazon. Look for an ERP solution that can integrate with ALL your sales channels and provides an all-in-one system for managing inventory. This means information is always up-to-date across your different sales platforms.
Retail
Many wholesale and distribution businesses will also sell through retail sales channels such as traditional brick and mortar retail or cash and carry. In this situation, while you will still need software for managing your wholesale operations and warehouse, but also specialized features for a point-of-sale environment. Once again, the right software will make sure information is synced across all sales channels.
Import and Export
For businesses that import and export product landed cost tracking is an important need. This helps you determine the true cost of getting product into your warehouse to help with purchasing and pricing decisions. You will also need the ability to manage specific documents, multi-currency and exchange rates.

Industry-Specific Software
Once you know which business-type best suits your company (or possibly a combination of business types), you want to then consider other industry-specific functionality that will be important in ERP software. Blue Link ERP provides functionality across a variety of wholesale and distribution industries including:

Apparel and Sporting Equipment
Baby and Children’s Products
Building, Construction and Home Supplies
Consumer Goods
Food and Beverage
Foodservice Equipment Supply
Industrial Products
Pharmaceutical and Medical
Salon and Cosmetic Products
Seed-to-Sale Cannabis Software

While all of the above industries will share software requirements (such as accounting, inventory management, and reporting), they will also have some specific requirements. Examples include:
Lot Tracking
Lot tracking (or batch tracking) allows you to track specific lots of products from supplier through to the end customer and can help quickly identify product in the event of a recall.
Product Matrix
Matrix functionality allows you to easily manage inventory in a matrix format for companies that have SKUs with multiple variables (color, size, finish, etc.).
Pharmaceutical and Medical
The pharmaceutical and medical device distribution industry has sophisticated feature requirements around tracking inventory, reporting to the FDA and DEA, managing barcodes and serial numbers and keeping track of licenses.
Service and Repair
For companies with small service and repair requirements either in-house or in the field, service and repair features allow you to track and schedule work, assign non-inventory items such as labor and schedule regular maintenance. This is a common feature for businesses that offer installation services or do simple repairs for warranty items.

 

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Benefits of Automation: Customer Experience

Imagine placing an order online and when it finally arrives, it turns out to be a completely different product than you were expecting. Disappointing, isn’t it? If you can find what you’re looking for somewhere else, you probably won’t order from that company again. As a wholesaler or distributor, if you’re using manual processes then you probably understand why mistakes like this happen. In a manual environment, you likely have different systems put in place that require the re-keying of data by an employee and this process alone can cause many issues and be prone to human error. But, you need to remember that your customer doesn’t see the back-end of your business and if their order isn’t correct or on time, they likely won’t be ordering from you again.  If manual processes are affecting your customer experience, it’s time to look into the benefits of automation to help your business grow and your customers stay. Blue Link’s ERP Software and built-in features such as ARM (Automated Routines Manager) are designed for wholesalers and distributors like you to assist with reducing manual processes, automating tasks and growing your business.
Why Customer Experience Matters:
It’s not unknown that the eCommerce industry is at its prime and continues to grow. During the Covid Pandemic in 2020, it was estimated that global eCommerce sales reached well over $4 trillion (that’s a lot of online shopping!). People didn’t have many in-person options during this time and some even enjoyed the convenience of not having to find parking spots or wait in lines. As the world returns to the “new normal”, we see stores opening again and people going out, but we don’t anticipate much of a decline in online sales as shown in the graph below.

This is important to recognize as a wholesaler or distributor because your focus on eCommerce should be one of your priorities. As you have probably experienced yourself, online shopping is a little different than shopping in person. Whether you’re out on a mission or window shopping, in-person sales have a lot to do with visible inventory and salespeople’s assistance. It’s usually no big deal if you have to wait a minute or two to ask a salesperson if they have a particular t-shirt in your size. Could you imagine waiting two minutes to find out if an online store had the inventory you are looking for? Absolutely not! As consumers, we expect online inventory levels to be up to date in real-time. This is a good example to explain that today, customer experience must be a consideration at every touchpoint a potential customer has with your company, including your website, your mobile applications, and your entire customer service process.  Automating your processes in the back-end is a great first step when putting a focus on customer experience.

Some benefits of automation that directly affects customer experience are:

Inventory management
Productivity and efficiencies
Reduced lead times

Inventory Management
As mentioned above, it is important to be able to see live inventory levels. When a company is using manual processes, and a customer places an order online, frequently, an employee is then responsible for manually changing the inventory levels on the back-end as well as on the website. Sounds like it wouldn’t take too long but if only a few employees are doing this and a few hundred orders are coming in, it can be a lot to expect them to input all the data in a timely manner let alone correctly. Manual processes are prone to human error and if even one mistake is made or an employee forgets to update the information, and a new customer is affected by that mistake, it could cost the company money fixing or replacing the order. Having proper inventory management software such as Blue Link ERP will allow you to integrate your back-end system directly to your website so that inventory information automatically flows bi-directionally between the two systems without any human interference.
Productivity and Efficiencies
It can get difficult to help out a customer if information about sales and service lives on different systems or even different spreadsheets. Automating the customer journey process with a contact management feature allows for anyone on your team (whom you want to have access to) to look up customer history, information and location all on one screen. This can shorten the customer’s call with the intention of answering the question or resolving the issue in the minimum amount of time possible. The proper system will also allow you to automatically send information to customers about their account status and can automatically email salespeople to follow up with specific customers about new promotions and products.
Reduced Lead Times
Right from the time the customer places an order on your website all the way to when they receive their order is considered lead time. Keeping track of lead time is a great way to measure efficiencies in your warehouse, especially with picking, packing and shipping. This is another area that can be easily automated with Blue Link’s Warehouse Management System (WMS) which includes barcode scanning to ensure the right product is picked and shipped every time, consolidated pick slips and bin/shelf location tracking making it easy for an employee to pick products following the most efficient route in the warehouse, and allows for integration with major shipping carriers which will eliminate the need to re-key data into multiple systems.

Switching from multiple systems and manual processes to one all-in-one ERP System like Blue Link means you will be able to manage all aspects of your company’s operations. Not only does automating manual processes save time and reduce costs, but it also assists with the customer experience allowing a seamless journey from purchase to delivery. Prepare your team for ERP software with our Change Management Guide.

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Manual Processes That Can Be Automated with Blue Link’s ARM

ARM stands for Automated Routines Manager and is a propriety Blue Link feature built directly into our ERP software and available to all customers. Although ARM can do many different things, the technology primarily helps customers automate what would otherwise be tedious, manual processes. ARM is a tool to read data, determine when data meets certain criteria and then perform an action based on the criteria (such as changing or updating a record, or sending an email). During our implementation process, Blue Link consultants will work with your team to identify any opportunities to use ARM, but customers (and Blue Link employees) are always creating “new ARMs” every day to further automate processes. Below, we share some of the popular ARMs that we’ve set up to help our customers save hours of manual work.
Save Time with ARM
With the help of the right software system and automation tools such as Blue Link’s ARM, your team will be able to reduce manual work and automate processes.

Instead of manually emailing invoices to customers, ARM allows you to automatically email invoices from the system to customers when the sales order status changes to “shipped”.

You can also automatically email other documentation such as shipping notifications and tracking information.
With ARM, you can automatically send multiple attachments to a single email address (such as an invoice and order confirmation information) or send information to multiple emails.

Automatically populate Blue Link’s F3 notes when a report (such as a quote or invoice) is sent to the customer. This saves you from manually updating contact records every time you send information.

The record that gets added to the write-back table is then used to make sure that employees do not send the same report repeatedly and provides a means to track communication between your employees and customers.

Automatically email customer Statements with Accounts Receivables based on certain criteria to help with the collection process. This replaces the manual process of reviewing all customer accounts and then emailing those accounts that are overdue. Instead, the system will find that information for you and then automatically send a statement to all customer accounts that are x days past due or past the due date.
Automatically send website orders (either B2B or B2C) directly to the warehouse to be picked, packed and shipped if they meet certain criteria. While you may sometimes want to manually review website orders before sending them to your warehouse, in certain situations, this process can be automated instead and the criteria set by your team could be based on factors such as inventory availability, customer credit limit, type of inventory on the order (serialized, lot tracked), etc.
Automatically change the status of an order based on criteria being met such as payment received. Instead of manually updating the status, once you receive payment the system will automatically change the status to “Paid”, “Ready to Ship” or some other example, for your team to continue processing.
Automatically email spreadsheets to specific sales reps with their sales activity, commissions, etc. This provides your sales team with timely updates on the status of their accounts and allows you to automatically alert them to opportunities.

 
Other Tools to Eliminate Manual Processes
Using SQL Reports is another great way to automate processes and eliminate manual work. While in some cases users could choose to use Blue Link’s ARM tool OR SQL Reports to accomplish the same task, in the real world, the following examples would be best using SQL Reports.

Track Employee Productivity

Using SQL Reporting tools, you can schedule daily reports that get automatically sent to the appropriate people with information on staff productivity. For example, how long it took an employee to pick/pack/process an order, the employee’s fastest vs. slowest times and how much free time they had during the day.

Prevent Bad Data

Using SQL reports can help you prevent bad data – either due to missing information, duplicate information or incorrectly entered information. The system will automatically email the correct person when information is missing or incorrect for a specific screen/task. For example, if the address field or phone number field on a customer account is missing, or if a salesperson did not correctly enter or complete an order.

Generate Recurring Reports

Automatically generate daily, weekly or monthly inventory reports on a specific date chosen by the user and send to a specific email or list of emails. This helps track inventory information such as pricing, costs, inventory levels etc. and allows your team to make proactive decisions to help aid with inventory management. You can also generate recurring reports to help manage other aspects of the business too.

The above are just some examples of the tools available to Blue Link customers to help automate processes and reduce manual work.

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Business Model Examples to Boost your eCommerce Game

No matter what you’re looking for, it is easy enough to jump online and find an online store that has it, whether in your country or not. A few extra dollars for shipping won’t break the bank or waiting an extra week is no big deal when you’re getting exactly what you were looking for as opposed to settling for whatever your local store has. It might get you thinking, how does that all work? How am I able to see products selling in a country halfway across the world? eCommerce sure has expanded the scope for consumerism and allows for the flow of goods to travel much more simply than a couple of years prior. Although eCommerce may have only become common within the last decade, it constantly changes and now with the use of technology, companies small and large need to be aware of the many business model strategies to remain competitive.

We won’t get into the history of eCommerce, but we will look into eCommerce-based business model examples that you should consider if you’re competing to sell your products in the online space. Depending on your business type, the product you sell and the markets you serve, these examples can be used individually, or you could combine them to really amp up your eCommerce presence and provide your customers with the best possible experience. Let’s look at a few and learn how they can grow your business.
Business Model Example #1: Brick and Click

Brick and Click is when a company integrates both offline and online presences to their business model. This means that they operate both in-person through a physical store (Brick-and-Mortar) and virtually through online (Click) eCommerce methods. By giving customers both an online and offline channel for shopping, you are able to satisfy the needs of many consumers, near and far. A good example of Brick and Click is Old Navy. Amazon on the other hand, during its inception, did not have a physical store and was not using a Brick and Click business model. But, they did recognize the importance of having both channels and are now operating Whole Foods physical stores and Amazon Go, cashier-less grocery stores. If Amazon, the eCommerce giant of the world understands the importance of having both channels, then you should too. So, what’s the big deal? Convenience. By using a Brick and Click business model, you give your customers options and when all moving parts work cohesively, you provide the best possible experience.
Even during the Covid Pandemic, we learn how important it is for companies to be dynamic and the need to cater to consumers at a moment’s notice. We also saw that companies who weren’t able to do this, unfortunately failed.

Now that you understand the importance of having both physical and online stores, we can dig into online sales tactics, such as social media.
Business Model Example #2: S-Commerce

S-Commerce or social commerce uses social networking websites such as Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest to promote and sell products and services. It is important to note that not only does the promotion of goods happen on social media, but the entire sales process takes place including completing the purchase right on the app itself. If you use any of these social networks, you have likely seen S-Commerce whether it be a company selling shoes as an ad or an influencer linking to their favorite brands. The Shop Now button on Facebook or the Swipe Up tool in Instagram stories are both examples of the beginning of the S-Commerce experience. Once you click those buttons or swipe up, you’re brought to an online store that is not redirected to the company’s website, instead, the shop lives right on the app.
Social Commerce is a $89.4 billion market right now. It’s projected to grow to $604.5 billion by 2027.

If you find it difficult to understand the difference between eCommerce and Social Commerce, remember that S-Commerce allows for the customer to make their purchase within the social media experience. eCommerce refers to selling a product on a website or a dedicated branded app (not a free, public social media app).
Business Model Example #3: Headless Commerce

You are already aware that your business has a front-end (what the consumers see) and a back-end (what they don’t see). When eCommerce first came around, it was common for companies to use a monolithic structure where you had to use the same hardware as you are using software. For instance, if you buy IBM hardware you must use IBM software which meant the front-end and back-end of the business are always connected. With the introduction of Cloud-based software, companies are now able to separate the hardware from software and thus separate the front end of the business from the back end. To explain simply, monolith structure requires all moving parts to be updated and released at the same time whereas with headless commerce, you would be able to change the front end of your business (photos of your products) whenever you want without disrupting anything on the back-end. Think of Target for example. They noticed that their customer base starts and finishes the buying process from multiple devices and by using a headless commerce business model, they are able to unify the customer experience across different devices and capture those customers before they moved on to Amazon or Walmart. A headless commerce business model not only allows for seamless website updates, but you also get complete ownership over site architecture, the ability to provide a much smoother customer experience by following an experience-led strategy and less work for IT teams as the SaaS provider takes on any risks in the back-end.

If you’re looking to start selling online, check out Blue Link’s Getting Started with eCommerce Guide.

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Managing Inventory Between Your Distribution Business and 3PL

Many wholesale and distribution businesses operate without physically touching any inventory, and, instead of managing warehouse space, they pay a 3rd party logistics company (3PL) to handle the receipt, pick, pack and shipping of product on their behalf. In this situation, product from the manufacturer and other vendors ships directly to the 3PL where orders are then fulfilled on behalf of the wholesale distributor – without the end customer ever knowing. This is a great tactic for small businesses who do not wish to incur the costs associated with managing and staffing warehouse space, and for businesses that sell across the country and can benefit from multiple locations strategically placed. Before you decide on a 3PL partner (or multiple), you will need to consider your options for inventory management software. Even if you are not physically managing inventory, it is still important to find a system that can work together with your 3PL partners. Below we explore some of your options.
Option 1: Inventory Management Software and Manual Processes
As a wholesale distribution business, irrespective of whether you physically manage inventory, you still need proper software in place to manage inventory purchasing and replenishment as well as sales orders, invoicing, accounting, financials, customer service, and more. When it comes to inventory management, you need to ensure that your 3PL partners have enough inventory on hand to fulfil customer orders and therefore you will need to track inventory levels, sales orders and purchase orders, and keep track of pricing, costs, sales history and margins. Some of this information you will then need to share with your 3PLs and vice versa. Therefore, one option is to find inventory management software to use in conjunction with your accounting system and manual processes. With basic inventory management software, you can track information in the system and then manually email and share data with your 3PL partners. When your 3PL partners ship an order, they would email you back the appropriate information for you to then update in your system manually. Because of the manual work required with this type of approach, it is best suited for smaller wholesale distributors with a limited number of transactions and SKUs. And remember, if your inventory management system is separate from your accounting system, you will end up doing even more manual data entry to keep all systems up-to-date. Let’s look at an example.
Example:
A customer wants to purchase product from you and so you’ve gone ahead and created a new sales order. Now, instead of sending a pick slip to your warehouse, you will email the appropriate 3PL a copy of the pick slip and potentially the packing slip too. This would alert the 3PL that you’ve created a new sales order and that their team now has to pick, pack and ship the order on your behalf.

Once the 3PL has shipped the order, they would email you back shipping confirmation details which you will have to manually enter into your inventory system
Then, once the customer receives the order/the 3PL has delivered the product, the 3PL will send you proof of receipt and confirmation that the order was shipped and delivered

Once you have proof of delivery information, you will then update your inventory system and your accounting system to then invoice the customer 

Option 2: ERP Software and Automated Processes
Option 2 involves using an all-in-one inventory management and accounting ERP system that can integrate with the systems used by your 3PL partners. Just like you need software to manage your operations, so do the 3PL companies of the world. Finding an ERP system that can integrate with other software provides more opportunities for automation – therefore, eliminating manual processes and the risk of human error.

Typically done through EDI, integration allows your system to connect directly to the system of each of your 3PL partners. This means that instead of manually sending and receiving information and then manually updating your software, the systems can directly exchange information with one another, and then automatically update data and status’. Let’s look at the same example used above.
Example:
A customer wants to purchase product from you and so you’ve gone ahead and created a new sales order. Now, instead of sending a pick slip to your warehouse, through EDI, your system would automatically communicate and send the appropriate 3PL an EDI file. This would alert the 3PL that you’ve created a new sales order and that their team now has to pick, pack and ship the order on your behalf.

Once the 3PL has shipped the order, they would electronically send you back shipping confirmation details which would automatically update your ERP and potentially trigger the changing of a status such as marking the sales order as shipped
Then, once the customer receives the order/the 3PL has delivered the product, the 3PL will automatically send you proof of receipt and confirmation that the order was shipped and delivered

This information would be received directly into your system, once again automatically populating fields of data and/or updating a status
You can also have the system set up so that updating a status will trigger a workflow to then invoice the customer

As you can see, integrating your ERP system with the software used by your 3PL partners is a much more efficient way of doing business. And, when you compare the costs and time associated with both options, you may be surprised to find that there is a clear case for electronically exchanging data – especially if you have a lot of transactions and a high order volume.
Learn More: Inventory Management Techniques
 

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How Sunset Software Affects Your Business

If you’re using sunset software, it’s time to think about getting rid of the old software and implementing something new. While the system you’re using may be good enough for some areas of your business, you are likely missing out on quite a few key tools that new software systems are able to automate nowadays, not to mention the risks associated with using outdated technology and a lack of support. It is also a good idea to think about how the system in place is affecting your processes and employees. Is everyone doing their jobs in the most efficient way or is there room for growth and cost savings? Smart business owners know the value of investing in software and understand how it can cut costs and increase productivity.
Sunset software refers to old software that is being phased out or retiring. It has not been able to be updated in recent years and/or is resistant to change either because the company has decided to stop support and development on the product, the company no longer exists, or the technology available at the time of inception has completely changed.  
30 years ago computer knowledge was minimal, 15 years ago we discovered how useful computers can be and how implementing software meant expedited processes and money savings. Since then, it seems every year, there are thousands of changes made to the internet, computers, and software. Change is everywhere, especially with technology. If you’re using sunset software, are you noticing slow run speeds or missing tools that seem to be available with all the new ERP software? Your business has likely changed throughout the years and you may have found the need for tools you didn’t think you would ever use. And if the COVID pandemic has taught us anything it’s that we need to be adaptable to change at the drop of a hat. Updating software is like updating your smartphone. Without updates you’ll notice slower speeds; some areas of the technology won’t work the same as they once did and a lack of support from the company. While it’s easy enough to update your smartphone or get a new one, system updates for your business’s software are slightly more important.
Risks Associated with Application Sunsetting
If you’re using sunset software you risk security issues, IT issues, upgrade issues and more just because of the lack of support. If your software provider is scaling back their human resources only a few people around will still know how to help you should you run into any of the above issues. Having ongoing support is imperative when you’re using software because if the operating system or your computer breaks you will be out of luck and will completely lose access to the software.

Another risk of continuously using sunset software is the missed opportunities associated with new technology. Not only has the available software’s changed but so too has the way you do business and the new processes you can put in place. A few examples are:

The ability to do EDI transactions
The ability to integrate seamlessly with a website
Barcode scanning from mobile devices using Bluetooth technology

How Cloud-Based Software Helps
Switching over to a cloud-based solution has many perks but one of the most beneficial one is the one-time opportunity to cleanse your data – an opportunity you should take advantage of! You’ll be able to remove duplicate content, choose one format for data information entering, and organize your contacts to your liking so that when you’re ready to go live, everything is in place for the most user-friendly experience (both internally and externally).

You may have already done some research on cloud-based solutions and found prices to be quite unexpected but as a part of monthly fees, most cloud-based solutions include year-after-year upgrades and maintenance of the software. This means if you’re running the same system for 15 years, you’re always up-to-date on the latest and greatest technology. Think of it as a competitive advantage because, with society’s reliance on technology, you’re going to want to be using the best software that can perform tasks commonly expected from today’s consumers (such as seamless integration with websites).
Benefits to Keeping Software Up-to-Date
Having software that remains up-to-date allows your business to grow at the same speed as technology growth. You’re able to take advantage of new technology such as AI (artificial intelligence), eCommerce, wireless barcode scanning, reporting and analytics and more). These recent technology advances may not have been around when you first started your business, but they can likely assist in the growth of your business. When you use the most up-to-date software, you also allow for better interactions with your partners and vendors by being easy and adaptable to work with. For example, if one of your customers wanted to share information between systems, you will easily be able to ensure the technology you’re using is compatible with the technology they’re using. If they have a 2021 version of their software and you’re using a 2005 version of your software, data exchange will not be simple.

Not only will keeping your software up-to-date allow for better interactions with your current clients but it will also allow you to discover other avenues of industries and sales channels. If your software vendor is always updating their technology, they are likely aware of most industry trends, and you can take advantage of their expertise. A great example of this is eCommerce. 10 years ago, as a wholesale distributor you probably didn’t care about selling online, but now (and especially with the Covid pandemic) having an online store allows you to remain competitive.

If you’re looking to transition to new software and are curious about pricing take a look at our ERP Pricing Guide.

 

 

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