What is ERP?
Keeping a wholesale, merchant or distribution business afloat requires countless processes and duties that are spread across several departments, all of which require financial and human resource.
From sales and marketing to order processing, purchasing and stock control, you need to keep on top of the processes involved across the departments in order to meet demand and satisfy your customers. It’s impossible to manage all moving parts without an army of people so to become more efficient, take control and continuously improve forward-thinking, modern businesses are looking to technology to help them manage the load.
Leaders in the industry are investing in ERP solutions for good reason. Removing the manual processes that take up key resources open opportunities to focus on the business tasks that truly matter. Focusing on customer service, securing new business and account management will help you stay competitive.
What is ERP?
ERP stands for ‘Enterprise Resource Planning’ and is a category of business software that unifies day-to-day processes across various departments, such as contact management, purchase capacity, sales order management, stock control and much more.
What makes ERP a desirable solution for distributors and wholesalers is the fact that it facilitates information flow between all business functions and manages connections to outside stakeholders, customers and vendors, therefore making it much easier to keep track of all aspects within a business.
ERP systems are complex as they manage the entirety of your business but fundamentally, they become a centralised, shared, digital database that supports multiple functions across your business and houses your business data. This enables all employees, across the business, access to the same, real-time information for their specific needs.
There are a variety of different types of ERP systems that are developed for individual business type needs such as manufacturing or retail but for wholesalers, merchants and distributors you’ll benefit from a system that can support your multiple sales channels, including eCommerce, online marketplaces, external sales reps and your trade counter, plus extensive stock management that helps to control both goods in and out, order processing, purchasing, picking and packing and even works order processing and bills of material modules. Additionally, you may also require a point of sale system for your trade counter purchases which can usually be offered as a fully integrated module.
What is the value of an ERP system to a business?
An ERP solution connects the key areas of your business - stock control, sales order management and customer service. These areas will always work better when they’re interconnected because it enables you and your team, to have full visibility across the business. With stock sitting at the heart of your business, an ERP ensures your stock control is connected to your sales department, finance team and purchasing so you can run a smooth, streamlined order process.
Streamlining your processes gives you time to focus on growing and building your company and brand. A survey undertaken by the Federation of Small Businesses had shown that small business owners in the UK spend an average of four days a month on internal business admin, and 76% of owners said they’d spent more time than they’d have liked on business compliance tasks such as accounting tasks, tax and workplace pensions. When owners are spending more than 33 hours a month on admin tasks, it becomes detrimental to the growth and success of their business.
Daily processes that are crucial to the longevity of your company shouldn’t be holding you back, and this is where an ERP solution comes in. When tailored correctly, ERP software can automate and reduce the amount of time spent on admin tasks.
Benefits of implementing an ERP system
We conducted our own survey among 250 wholesalers and distributors across the UK to understand what systems they’re currently using and their opinions on embracing technology to improve profitability. Surprisingly, 88% are using multiple software systems and 98% of respondents still use some level of manual processes to manage their business operations, despite 82% agreeing that ERP systems give greater visibility and control of stock.
Many businesses were using disparate CRM systems, warehouse and stock control programs, accounting software, reporting and analysis tools and manual processes to run their business, therefore missing out on the array of key business benefits of centralising their systems into one ERP solution. The benefits fall under 3 main categories: Control, Visibility and Efficiency.
ERP systems give all departments within a business access to the same real-time data, which gives you the ability to control the information you hold and improve accuracy. With access to up-to-date data, accurate forecasting becomes much quicker and easier and you gain control over your company’s performance. Data and stats of your customer journey, sales, warehouse efficiencies, stock control and team performance give you the ability to spot trends, know your best performances, but also where to improve so you can always strive for better.
For wholesalers and distributors, taking control of your stock and warehouse can be revolutionary to the way you operate, which has a knock-on effect to your customer service, reputation, team morale and ultimately your bottom line.
Visibility of your customer, product and sales data is crucial to driving your business forward. A single business software solution gives you a 360-degree view of your data and performance that disparate systems lack. When your processes are based in a centralised solution it means you’re not trying to communicate and transfer data between the different systems which can introduce errors and duplication of work. With a single ERP solution, even your trade counter staff, remote workers and sales reps on the road can access the same data and follow the same processes.
57% of the managers we surveyed reported reduced admin times as the main benefit of a central ERP solution. Removing manual processes, digitalising processes and taking out the duplication of processes across systems removes time-consuming admin, increases accuracy and most importantly improves efficiency.
Streamlining your warehouse makes for an optimised picking process that means you send out more orders in less time. Maximising order efficiencies from any order source; your trade counter, eCommerce website and Amazon or eBay channel ensures you deliver quality service no matter the channel. 82% of businesses said being able to sell online is important to them and with a centralised ERP solution, managing multiple sales channels is hassle-free.
Top 10 must-have features of ERP software for wholesalers, merchants, and distributors
No matter the industry you’re in, from cleaning supplies to electrical wholesale, plumbing merchants, medical supplies, fastener and fixing or tooling and equipment, you should be looking for certain features and functionality when considering your ERP solution. Here are the top 10 features you should add to your ERP requirements list.
1. Multi-location, real-time stock management
The stock management functionality within an ERP solution is the most important for stockists as your stock sits at the heart of your business. The stock management solution enables you to easily stay in control of all stock movements and provides full visibility of what’s on the shelf, what’s on order and what’s allocated to sales orders. This is crucial to having the right products in the right place at the right time.
You’ll gain a real-time and accurate view of your inventory, so you’ll be able to serve the customer more effectively, ship orders quicker, make better purchasing decisions and have better control over your profit margins.
2. Multi-channel sales order management
However you choose to sell your products, an ERP solution enables a seamless order processing flow so the customer experiences quality service no matter where they shop. From your trade counter to your external sales reps, sales office, eCommerce website or Amazon and eBay, all orders will integrate into the ERP system to remove duplication of order entry. Pricing, customer account details and product information will also seamlessly flow between sales channels and stay up-to-date for the optimum shopping experience that requires minimal staff resource.
3. Order processing automation
ERP software automates key business processes to create a seamless journey between sales, warehouse, purchasing and accounts departments. Avoid human intervention and risk of error with order processing workflows that increases efficiency and profitability. Management teams will also gain invaluable insight into the sales and business performance so they can make quicker and smarter decisions that will drive the business forward.
4. Sales & marketing activity tracking
Losing sales opportunities are a thing of the past with an ERP system that gives your sales team the ability to track and progress quotes and leads. The integrated Contact Management functionality (CRM) within an ERP provides a place to store and track all customer and prospect history so you can set tasks and deadlines on following up enquiries. Plus, your external sales team can access the same database when out on the road to help secure the sale in front of the customer without the need to ring back to the office and delay the order.
5. Integrated warehouse management
Efficient warehouse management will inevitably save you time and money. The warehouse management (WMS) functionality should support perpetual stock counts, returns management, carrier integration and barcode scanning to operate a truly modern warehouse. You should also consider your manufacturing requirements and whether you’ll need works order processing or a bills of material module that enables you to build, create or combine raw materials for resale.
6. Stock planning and purchasing
Without insights into buying behaviours and patterns, it’s impossible to make accurate forecasts that inform purchasing decisions. ERP software gathers the insights you need to plan demand and forecast trends that keep the business proactive when buying and organising stock. Not only does the ERP remove the issues of under or over-stocking but helps to improve your customer service so customers can get what they want, when they want it, to avoid losing them to a competitor.
7. Integrated accounting
Effective stock management is crucial to delivering quality customer service but without full integration to your accounts department, the order processing cycle is broken. Stay in control of your overdue accounts, on-stop customers, and credit notes with ERP software. Integrated accounting also means you’ll know exactly what funds are allocated to suppliers so you can keep on top of your accounts payable too improving cash flow and financial reporting company-wide.
8. POS integration
An ERP solution will include a POS system that integrates your orders, stock, and customer account information so your trade counter team can deliver excellent service. A POS system provides a dedicated sales interface to enable quick order processing and gives your trade counter team the tools they need to up-sell, cross-sell and secure the deal. An ERP POS will also fully integrate with your business data so your employees will be able to access customer details, see if accounts are on stop, add new customers and view accurate stock locations, across multi-depots for optimum performance.
9. Returns management
An ERP solution removes the long-winded, manual tasks involved in managing returned orders. Re-entering stock back to be sold, writing off damaged products and crediting the customer becomes easy when the back-end processes are automated in an ERP system. Returned goods are often forgotten about when planning the order processing cycle and neglecting the process can create negative experiences for your customers which could lose business to your competitors.
10. Advanced reporting
The beauty of an ERP solution is the reporting and analytics you can gather incorporates all aspects of your business, so you get a 360-degree view of the performance and direction of your company. From individuals who have targets to the management team that need visibility of their department and right up to board level, an ERP software will provide all business stakeholders the ability to track, report, analyse and act on real-time data. This means business decisions are based on facts, not gut feelings, so you can be confident in driving the business in the right direction.
What's your business built on?
Building a flexible, scalable and reliable digital foundation provides your business with the best opportunities to effectively operate. Find out why your current business processes and software could be hindering your profitability and why creating a digital core is key to thriving in the current climate.