“Well-intentioned CRM efforts that focus on internal processes and objectives have largely failed to serve the most important stakeholder: the customer.”

This provocative quote can be found in a Forrester report titled, Beyond CRM: Manage Customer Experiences. Indeed, while Customer Relationship Management systems, or CRMs, have been adopted by businesses large and small, these systems place most of their focus on the “Management” side of the equation––enabling sales teams to log and manage the lead prospecting and qualification process––rather than the “customer” side of cultivating long-term relationships.

With that in mind, it’s easy to understand why many wholesalers are unsure whether or not to invest in a CRM, or have doubts as to the ultimate return on their investment.

Let’s take a closer look at what customer relationship management really means for wholesale and why another category of software––sales order management––may also have the exact CRM functionalities that wholesalers are looking for.

Why Do We Need CRM Systems, and What Does CRM Mean for Wholesale?

So what does “Customer Relationship Management” really mean for wholesale businesses? While sales teams in other B2B segments are often focused on finding and closing new business, wholesale sales is about building an ongoing relationship with the customer.

Field sales reps seek to cultivate these relationships by educating retailers about new products, providing merchandising support, offering strategic insights to increase sell-through, and helping to maintain optimal inventory levels in each store.

Ultimately, wholesalers do not need many of the heavyweight tracking features offered by CRMs like Salesforce. To borrow from a previous post on this topic, a CRM system allows inside sales teams to carry out functions like:

  • Tracking where a new opportunity is in a long, complex sales cycle from opportunity creation to deal closing.
  • Analyzing the interactions that have occurred between the sales team and the opportunity (website/email clicks, phone calls, etc.).
  • Seeing the effectiveness of online marketing campaigns in securing new sales pipeline.

Wholesalers and distributors, on the other hand, generally look to adopt CRM systems in order to simply:

  • Manage customer contact information.
  • Note customer interactions and give sales reps access to this data on the road.
  • Compile sales reports for reps and managers to increase sales and make management decisions.

Thus, while CRMs may offer some of the functionality that wholesalers are looking for, they also offer many features that aren’t necessarily going to have a big impact in a wholesale context.

On the flip side, CRMs fail to offer many of the features that wholesalers do need. In order nurture partnerships with retailers, wholesale brands require a system that allows their sales reps to not only track their interactions with buyers and manage customer contact information, but also:

  • Display their line of products in a compelling manner.
  • Seamlessly write and submit orders for fulfillment.
  • Push and pull information to/from their ERP.
  • Gain offline access to easily digestible information like order history and customer-level sales performance reporting in the field.

What wholesalers ultimately need to empower sales teams and drive better customer interactions is a platform that serves as a consolidation of all of these functions.

A Sales Order Management Software Solution with CRM Functionality

Sales order management software, which combines mobile order writing, web order management, B2B eCommerce, and back office integration, is a solution that provides a much more holistic qualitative and quantitative view of the wholesaler-retailer relationship, pulling together all the information that a sales rep needs to have about his or her customers in one central location.

Sales order management software can include the basic functionality that wholesalers want from a traditional CRM, while also providing a way to easily write and receive orders digitally. On the customer relationship management side, sales order management software should offer features like:

1. Customer Order History

  • Allowing reps to quickly reference a customer’s most ordered items, upsell based on past orders, and identify popular products to recommend across multiple buyers.

2. Customer Notes

  • Giving sales reps the ability to log their sales activities, and document, review, and share the information gathered during customer meetings in the field.
  • Providing sales managers with a better understanding of how the sales process is going and allowing them to deliver immediate feedback to improve the sales process and enhance the sales team’s overall effectiveness.

3. Customer Sales Reporting

  • Allowing sales reps to quickly identify customer volume gaps, prioritize meetings and calls for the greatest business impact, analyze performance drivers for key insights, recognize seasonality issues and respond proactively to address ordering gaps.

These features, along with a other key elements such as a digital catalog, customer lists/contact information, mobile order writing interface, and a seamless integration with an ERP system creates a truly complete picture of the customer relationship.

So, in answer to the “Do I need a CRM?” question, consider this:

With an integration between your back office systems and sales order management software that provides sales reps with all the customer information they need in their mobile order writing device, is there really a need for a third system?