The Situation: You Need Robust ERP and CRM

Your wholesale distribution business runs on an ERP (enterprise resource planning) software system, which delivers, among other things, sales management, eCommerce, order management and processing, inventory control and tracking, purchasing management, and general ledger and accounting. You also need CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software functionality to manage all your salespersons’ customers and prospects. Many good ERP systems offer some CRM features. A good ERP system could have CRM features that allow salespersons to manage customers and prospects, track leads, create calendar tasks and capture all interactions with leads, manage sales pipeline, close sales effectively and run outbound email marketing campaigns. Even with this level of CRM features, stand-alone CRM systems can go far deeper with automated email templates and other features. This is the case because though ERP and CRM share many features, they are different and serve different core markets. To successfully grow your business in the very competitive wholesale distribution market you really need both ERP software and CRM functionality.

The Problem: Should You Make Your Salespersons Use the CRM Features in Your ERP or Purchase a Separate CRM System?

Most good ERP solutions offer extensive CRM features  that cover the core capabilities of CRM software. There are also stand-alone CRM software solutions that are well known and have established market presences. And typically…. most sales teams are strongly attached to their known and preferred CRM solution. So, to get the most out of your sales team, do you need to purchase the separate CRM solution they prefer? Implementing a separate CRM solution will certainly make your sales team happy, and it is quite possible that the separate CRM solution includes more capabilities than the built-in CRM features in your ERP software. However, this means the two separate ERP and CRM systems need to communicate effectively. Also, a big advantage of the built-in CRM features of a good ERP system is that all the transactions already in the ERP system can easily be linked to calendar tasks or customer records. This is much harder to do with a separate CRM system.

How The Problem Was Addressed in the Past

Historically, the biggest and most sophisticated players 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 teams.

What Changed?

Web-based ERP systems were created, and Salesforce became one of the first solutions to create web-based CRM software. With the advent of web-based systems, the problem of integrating two enterprise software ERP and CRM applications became much simpler. The historical challenges of ensuring the data from two enterprise systems were stored in the same database and the two applications ran on the same or compatible platforms have become significantly more manageable. With Cloud-based, web-services systems, the integration can be handled using REST-based APIs.

Today, many large enterprises routinely use vendors such as for their CRM software while running their ERP as a separate system. Similarly, for smaller distributors, the ability to pick separate ERP and CRM systems is much more achievable. This gives small and mid-sized distributors the ability to optimize both their ERP software and CRM choices just as larger players have done for years, without the massive effort that made this prohibitive in the past. The key to taking this approach is to ensure that the integration between the ERP and CRM systems is robust and done well. Small and mid-sized distributors that want to go down this path should make sure that they choose solutions that both have native web-services architectures. Do not be fooled by legacy systems that are just hosted in the Cloud and claim to be “Cloud-based.” These types of solutions that are not natively built using web-services cannot easily take advantage of API integrations.

Today’s Web-Based Systems

Software systems that are built on web-services architectures can “talk” to each other more easily, because they’re designed to operate in a common web environment. With web-services solutions, a salesperson can have a CRM application running in one tab of a web browser and the ERP application in another tab. Using APIs, the systems can be integrated to allow CRM details, contacts’ address information, sales quotes, customer notes, customer sales history, etc., to be sync’ed so that a salesperson can easily switch back and forth between the two systems. This gives you the best of both worlds with a manageable amount of effort. Sales team personnel that are already familiar with a particular CRM solution will not have to re-learn anything. Additionally, you can keep sales personnel – who are not always very diligent in maintaining records - out of your ERP customer data. You don’t want a salesperson 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. Salespersons 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.

You Also Have the Option of Using the CRM Features in Your ERP Software

Many stronger ERP software solutions already include some of the core CRM features. For example, using Accolent ERP’s built-in CRM features, salespersons can: create calendar tasks to schedule and track follow up, easily access customer records and profiles, access any transactions in the system and link these to calendar tasks, and send emails from the system and have these tracked. They can track prospects’ deal statuses from leads to closed deals. They can also run screens of customer sales declining and create follow up tasks for these. They also have access to linked business intelligence to do detailed data analytics to slice and dice customers’ purchases of products. They can also manage outbound email campaigns using their own blast email platforms (such as SendGrid). This could be a viable approach for some sales teams. However, sales teams are not always flexible and there may be some breakage incurred to get sales teams to agree to switch off their preferred stand-alone CRM solutions. There is also an investment needed to get sales teams to re-learn how to use the CRM features built-in to your ERP software.


With Cloud-based web-services software you have both options available to you. You can use strong cloud-based software like Accolent ERP to run your distribution business as well as to provide thebuilt-in CRM features  your sales team needs. Or you can link Accolent ERP to a standalone CRM that is a Cloud-based solution. Contact us to learn how Accolent ERP can power your wholesale distribution business.