In deciding what kind of technology they need to grow their businesses, a number of wholesalers have asked us about the value of sales order management software vis a vis customer relationship management (CRM) software. What does sales order management have to offer that CRMs don’t, and vice versa? Which is the better investment?

If you happen to be plagued by a similar debate, consider this: which of the following is your business’s top priority?

  1. Tracking your sales team’s interactions with customers.
  2. Making your sales process more effective.

Posing this question gets at the heart of the differences between these two software platforms. If you cited “tracking sales team’s interactions” as your top priority, then CRM software may be the right choice for you. But if your focus is on increasing the effectiveness of your sales teams and growing revenue, a CRM may not be the right tool for the wholesale sales environment. Let’s take a closer look.

Defining Sales Order Management (SOM) and CRM

For brands selling wholesale, sales order management software is a solution that leverages mobile order writing, web order management, and B2B eCommerce in order to grow sales, increase efficiency, and improve the customer experience in the following ways:

  • With a digital catalog and customer information at their fingertips, field sales reps work faster and maximize your customers’ time.
  • Reps can access individual customer order history to process quick reorders and increase upsell.
  • Customers can log onto your B2B eCommerce platform to place orders whenever and wherever they want.
  • Because orders are instantly synced with your back office system for fulfillment, orders are processed and shipped faster.

CRM software, on the other hand, emphasizes a much more detailed tracking of the discourse between you and your customers, from individual phone calls and emails to engagement with online marketing campaigns. The purpose here is to gain a complete, exhaustive picture of the interactions that have occurred.

While a CRM system does allow businesses to manage customer relationships and data in this way, its granular approach may not be the best fit for the wholesale environment. As we’ll see in the next section, the term “customer relationship management” may actually refer to a particular kind of customer (and a very different sales process).

Consider Your Sales Cycle

Salesforce, the pioneer and current leader in the CRM space, has shaped and defined the meaning and function of this particular category of software to the point where “CRM” and “Salesforce” are almost synonymous.

In the Salesforce model, the prototypical sales cycle includes new sales leads, which are then turned into opportunities that must be worked over time to close into revenue. Sales cycles are long, and reps must contend with a lengthy chain of stakeholders.

Throughout this complex process, a CRM system allows sales teams to:

  • Stay updated on where an opportunity is in the sales cycle.
  • Quickly see all the interactions that have occurred between the sales team and the opportunity.
  • Analyze the effectiveness of marketing campaigns in finding new sales leads.

This model reflects reality in spaces like B2B software sales, where sales reps must navigate a complex matrix of relationships, follow-up calls, and interactions to eventually close a sale.

In the wholesale space, however, the relationship between sales rep and buyer is much more transactional. Wholesale reps sell products to retailers at trade shows or during store visits, and they often have established, long-term relationships with those retailers. Within this model, the kind of heavyweight management capabilities offered by CRM software may not be necessary.

Consider your own sales process for each individual order. Is it complex? Does it involve a lot of negotiation? Do you feel that it’s a process requiring heavy tracking?

Or do you care more about issues like streamlining the process for both your reps and customers, and making sure orders ship on time?

The Data That Matters

The relationship between a brand and retailer is ultimately defined by the trade between them. In managing your relationship with a customer, what’s the data that matters? Is it a collection of names, notes, and call logs? Or is their order history?

Are you looking to have reps track the details of every conversation they have with a customer? Or would you rather have them know what kinds of products that customer usually orders, the cadence in which they place reorders, and what new products they might be open to adding to their assortment?

Ultimately, when making a decision between sales order management and CRM software, the main consideration to keep in mind is this: Which one will add the most tangible value to your business?

Assess your own sales cycle, the data that’s important to your bottom line, and your overall business priorities, and the decision-making process will become much simpler. Thoughts or questions on CRMs, sales order management software, or wholesale sales in general? Let us know in the comments below.