The Situation: You Need Robust ERP and CRM
You are running your wholesale distribution business on an enterprise resource planning (ERP) software system, which manages your order entry, customer information, inventory, purchasing, and accounting. In this competitive era, following up with customers, tracking leads, and closing sales efficiently is the driving force of most wholesale distribution businesses. As such, you conclude you probably also need customer relationship management (CRM) software to get the most out of your sales personnel. With good CRM software you can make sure you’re managing your leads, prospects and customers effectively, and delivering this information to your ERP system to also manage your business as effectively as possible.
The Problem: Should You Purchase 1 Integrated ERP CRM System, or 2 Systems?
There are some products that claim to offer both ERP and CRM functionality in one integrated package. However, although ERP systems and CRM software can share some features, they really serve different core functions. The software industry views these as different market applications, and different software publishers lead in each segment. If you buy an ERP system that offers a built-in CRM capability, chances are that the built-in CRM functions lack some of the features of a stand-alone CRM system. On the other hand, purchasing distinct ERP and CRM systems risks lack of good integration and communication between the systems. This can make your salesforce’s job more difficult in having to work with two separate systems.
How This Problem Was Addressed Prior to 2020
Historically, the biggest and most sophisticated distributors bought separate ERP and CRM software systems and took on the job of integrating the systems themselves through customization. Smaller distributors that lacked the capability to manage multiple enterprise software systems either did without CRM software or settled for stand-alone CRM solutions not tied-into their ERP software. This disadvantaged the smaller distributors who were, as a result, not able to get the most out of their sales efforts.
What Changed? What Advantage Does Web Architected ERP Software Pose for CRM Integration?
With the advent of web architectures, the problem of integrating two enterprise software applications ERP and CRM becomes much simpler. The historical challenges of ensuring the data from the two systems are stored in the same database and the two applications run on the same or compatible platforms have become significantly more manageable. Today, larger companies now routinely use vendors such as Salesforce.com for their CRM software while running their ERP on systems from Oracle or SAP, for example.
What is the ERP/CRM Answer for Small and Mid-Sized Distributors?
Similarly, for smaller distributors, this ability to pick the best of breed for each application has now become possible. The more advanced ERP vendors selling to the smaller distributor have recognized that distributors want more choice and are integrating their ERP software with multiple CRM solutions. This gives small and mid-sized distributors the ability to optimize both their ERP and CRM choices just as larger players have done for years, albeit with a lot of effort in the past. The key in taking this approach is to ensure that the integration between the ERP and CRM systems is robust and done well.Look for an ERP system that is natively engineered around a web-architecture, which means that the integration with a web-architected CRM system will be relatively straightforward.
Today’s Smarter Web Architected Systems
Software systems that are built on web architectures (like Accolent ERP) can “talk” to each other more easily, because they’re designed to operate in a common web environment. With web architected products, a salesman can have a CRM application running in one tab of his/her web browser and the ERP application in another tab. You should look for integration that allows contacts’ information, sales quotes, customer notes, customer sales history, etc., to be integrated and easily managed between the CRM and ERP systems. If this is done well, sales personnel should be easily able to track leads, prospects and sales pipelines in CRM and seamlessly access customer data and sales histories in the ERP software system.
Ease of Use
By linking a CRM solution with your ERP software, your sales personnel, already familiar with the many CRM products in the market, may not have to re-learn how to use the built-in CRM features of an integrated ERP/CRM product. Additionally, you can keep sales personnel – who are not always very diligent in maintaining records - out of your customer data. You don’t want a salesman who’s rushing to make another call to inadvertently change the contact or ship-to information for your largest customer -- which means your warehouse can’t fulfill the customer’s order properly. Sales personnel can operate in CRM to process leads and go to your ERP software to generate quotes or to take an order or convert a quote to an order.
Although a variety of ERP and CRM software products exist, each product is slightly different and tailored to different audiences -- pick one that is most appropriate for your distribution company’s size and industry. Focus on the ERP piece first, which is far more complex. With web-architected ERP software like ADS Solutions Accolent ERP, you have many CRM choices.
A Further Option - A Built-In CRM
Recognizing the problem facing distributors, some ERP vendors have built-in CRM functionality into their ERP solutions. See for example Accolent ERP's CRM functionality. While these built-in solutions often have less functionality than stand-alone CRM solutions particularly in the areas of managing blast email campaigns, they are far stronger in their ability to access and integrate transactions and customer sales and account histories that are already in the ERP system. Look carefully at these options before you decide to go down the path of integrating two different systems.