B2B Solutions for Wholesale Distributors: An Overview of the Current Tech Landscape
With so many B2B solutions available to help your wholesale distribution company successfully manage your customer and supplier relationships, it’s easy to become confused about which ones are the right choice for your company. Many wholesale businesses have needs that encompass one or more areas of their business and find that a single B2B solution does not address all the business functions they need to support. The decision is made even more challenging by the fact that there can be some overlap between the various types of B2B solutions, not to mention questions about how best to deploy these applications. The key is to understand what each type of B2b solution is intended to do and how that fits into your business requirements.
B2B solutions for wholesale distribution fall into the following categories:
ENTERPRISE RESOURCE PLANNING (ERP):
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems incorporate accounting and financials with other areas of the business such as human resources and materials management. An ERP system should be the main repository of all customer and vendor information so that it can provide more visibility into your entire business. ERP touches nearly every aspect of your business, so it should always be integrated with any other B2B solutions your organization may be running in order to get the most value from the system. This is can be done either by integrating a “best-of-breed” solution with your ERP, or using the solutions provided by an ERP vendor.
Accounting software, as indicated by its name, deals with financial accounting transactions such as payroll, accounts receivable and accounts payable. Accounting systems can actually have a lot of functionality. Some of the common modules that can be bundled with accounting software include billing, sales order, purchase order, general ledger, timesheet, expense, and electronic payments. Accounting systems and ERP overlap. The main thing to remember is that while ERP is about managing all the resources and information your business needs to operate, like financial, human and material resources, accounting systems are really just about the financial side.
CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT:
ERP is about managing resources. Customer Relationship Management (CRM), as the name would suggest, is about managing relationships with your customers. Like ERP, CRM systems can manage customer contact information, track interactions with the customers, and provide reporting capabilities to make sales and management decisions. However, while CRM systems can do an excellent job at helping to track long sales cycles and manage and analyze sales and marketing campaigns, the functions many wholesalers need most, such as the ability to display products attractively online and write and submit orders for fulfillment, are not available with a CRM.
SUPPLY CHAIN MANAGEMENT
Supply chain management, or SCM, is the B2B solution that is about managing the relationships with your vendors and keeping goods, information and money flowing smoothly from suppliers, through the manufacturing process, into your warehouse, and ultimately, on to your end customer. SCM coordinates and integrates the flow of materials, money and orders between companies. By extension, SCM helps you keep customers happy by ensuring that you always have the stock needed to fulfill their orders.
A Warehouse Management System, or WMS, is part of supply chain management. It allows you to keep goods flowing smoothly within your warehouse, helping to ensure that customers receive the right orders, and receive them on time. It manages all the transactions that go on in the warehouse, including shipping, receiving, picking, and packing. Sometimes, the WMS is part of the ERP or supply chain management software. Other times, it may be a stand-alone product, though it’s preferable if it is integrated with your main ERP system to reduce redundancies and ensure that data is consistent across your entire business.
An Inventory Management system is a B2B solution that allows companies to manage and plan their inventory, whether the goods are parts needed for production or finished goods that are ready for sale to the customer. Inventory Management systems track current stock levels and historical usage trends to make estimates about how long those stock levels might last based on sales forecasts. Inventory Management often goes hand in hand with Warehouse Management and Sales Order Management, given that the warehouse is where the inventory is kept, and sales orders rely on accurate inventory levels to be fulfilled. It also overlaps with and should be tightly integrated with your ERP, since much of the information an inventory management system needs resides in an ERP as well.
SALES ORDER MANAGEMENT
Sales Order Management (SOM) systems are the B2B solutions that manage the process of taking, submitting, and fulfilling orders. This is the software that powers your front-end sales team, as opposed to your back office. A Sales Order Management solution should include mobile order writing to allow sales reps to write orders digitally in the field. It should also include a web order management component that allows an internal admin to manage the account, add new products or users, and change any details. A Sales Order Management solution may also include a B2B eCommerce platform, so that your retailers can place orders with you directly online. Like other systems we’ve talked about above, a sales order management solutions is best integrated with your back office systems, so that orders can sync back to headquarters. In a sense, Sales Order Management is where the rubber meets the road. It is the only software on this list that’s meant to be used by your salespeople and promote efficiency on the front lines.
Deploying B2B Solutions
Selecting a deployment model also plays a role in considering which applications you will choose. Many B2B solutions are offered on-premise, in the cloud or a combination of the two (sometimes called a hybrid deployment model). In general, fast-growing companies looking for a lightweight, agile and scalable solution that can meet their needs as they expand, are excellent candidates for a cloud deployment. More established and stable businesses with company-specific business processes may consider an on-premise deployment to allow for greater control and the ability to customize. Hybrid deployments combine advantages of on-premise and cloud deployment, allowing companies to maintain control of core ERP data in-house, while leveraging cloud applications to implement specific improvements. For instance, SaaS applications could be used to incorporate mobile devices into business processes in the warehouse or in field sales, without the expense of a full-blown license and implementation, while still maintaining ERP applications on an on-premise server.
Deciding Between B2B Solutions
Choosing the right B2B solutions to achieve your business goals requires careful study of your current business needs and environment, and a clear understanding of the capabilities of the solutions you are considering. The best place to start is by making a clear and detailed list of your current requirements and the goals you are trying to achieve. For instance, do you want to be able to incorporate mobile devices into your processes? Do you want to scale quickly? Make that list and evaluate all your options. What B2B solutions are you considering? What kinds of technology have you already implemented in your business? What was the result? Tell us in the comments.