The Situation: You Need Robust ERP and CRM

You are running your wholesale distribution business on an enterprise resource planning (ERP) software system, which delivers, among other things, your order management and processing, customer management, inventory control and tracking, purchasing management, and general ledger and accounting. You also need customer management software functionality to manage all your customer relationships, track leads, manage a sales pipeline, close sales effectively and run outbound email marketing campaigns – this is also known as customer relationship management (CRM). Many good ERP solutions also offer CRM, but ERP and CRM serve different core markets although they share many features. You really need both ERP and CRM functionality to successfully grow your business in the very competitive wholesale distribution market.

The Problem: Should You Purchase 1 Integrated ERP CRM System, or 2 Systems?

Most good ERP solutions offer extensive customer management software functions that cover the core capabilities of CRM software. There are also a number of CRM-only software solutions that are well known and have established market presences. And…. most sales teams are strongly attached to their known and preferred CRM solution. So, do you need to accommodate the sales team’s CRP preferences in order to get the most out of your sales personnel? Implementing a separate CRM-only solution will certainly make your sales team happy, and it is quite possible that the CRM-only solution includes more capabilities than the customer management software functions embedded in your ERP software. However, this means the two separate ERP and CRM systems need to communicate effectively. Also a big advantage of the customer management software capabilities 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 with a separate CRM system.

How This 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?

With the advent of web-based software, 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 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 ERP and CRM solutions that are both Cloud-based and 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 architected products, 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 customer management software details, contacts’ 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 CRM and ERP 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 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 a Built-in CRM

Many stronger ERP software solutions have built-in customer management software functionality. For example, using Accolent ERP’s customer management software 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 3rd-party 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 or SendinBlue). This is a viable approach for most sales teams albeit with a small investment needed to re-learn how to use these customer management software features.


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