Why a Comprehensive Business Platform Is Essential to Industrial Distributor Growth

Growing and staying ahead of the curve means making changes at the process level.

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Every small and medium-sized business aspires to grow, and though achieving steady, sustainable growth is thrilling, it comes with a new set of challenges.

Growing and staying ahead of the curve means making changes at the process level. It means facing new competitors, carefully managing increasing stock levels, automating more advanced warehouse operations, implementing and maintaining larger online storefronts, and equipping employees with the tools they need to do their jobs at scale. It also means investing in scalable infrastructure, streamlining operations, enhancing the customer experience, and becoming agile enough to adapt to changing market trends and customer needs.

Digitizing processes — that is, adapting them to be completed with streamlined technology — helps mitigate these challenges of growth. But many SMB industrial distributors may find this digitization to be financially daunting — which may be why smaller distributors keep using entry-level accounting applications, like QuickBooks, for far too long.

QuickBooks is an affordable option for basic accounting, but it offers limited inventory, order, and warehouse management capabilities and few good options for online B2B commerce storefronts. Companies also often find themselves cobbling together anemic plugins for customer relationship management (CRM), inventory management, pricing, sales commissions, and more — just to fill all the gaps QuickBooks leaves open.

To prepare for growth, SMB industrial distributors need more than QuickBooks can offer. They need a modern, affordable enterprise resource planning application designed specifically to fill their needs.

But if your business has grown beyond the functions QuickBooks provides, what features should you be looking for in a new ERP system? Here are the top five features to consider.

1. An All-in-One Solution

As your industrial distribution business grows, you need more than just the basic accounting features. You need an all-in-one business platform, built for distributors, that is capable of consolidating and helping you manage financials and payroll, inventory, sales and purchase orders, warehousing, CRM, reporting, and more — with easily added connectors for popular commerce storefronts and marketplaces (like Shopify, BigCommerce and Amazon). You also need a solution that connects every workflow and every piece of your data across the entire company, providing complete functionality at a lower cost than the bolt-on apps available for QuickBooks.

2. Unlimited Users

Most ERP companies charge their customers for the number of users added to the system. This can be a big hindrance because, as your company grows, you will automatically need to add more users to your business management system. User-based licensing penalizes your company for growing. 

Instead, you should look for a platform that provides unlimited-user licensing and charges for the resources you actually use, not the number of people you have working in the system. Unlimited-user licensing empowers every employee to access data with personalized workspaces. Everyone — including year-round employees, seasonal employees, partners, contractors, auditors, and other stakeholders — can access the system at no additional cost. You should also choose a system that allows you to apply advanced security measures to maintain control over what information each user can see. 

3. A Cloud-Native Platform with Vendor-Managed Security

Many ERP systems were built on older, legacy architecture prior to the advent of cloud computing and were later updated for the cloud. This complicates the usefulness and agility of those systems because, despite their ability to be used in the cloud, they are still grounded in the legacy software on which they were based. Instead, you should look for a system that was built for the cloud in the first place. As Amazon Web Services puts it, cloud-native platforms are “highly scalable, flexible, and resilient applications” that can be updated quickly to suit customers’ changing needs. 

With a cloud-based ERP platform, you should further look for built-in, vendor-managed security. This means you won’t need to keep IT staff members dedicated to maintaining, upgrading, and securing your software on your own physical servers. It also eliminates the ongoing costs of hardware and maintenance.

4. A Mobile Platform

Mobility is the name of the game in today’s industrial distribution landscape. Your business has many moving parts, and you need instant connectivity between all of those parts — from the warehouse to the back office. You should look for a system that provides mobile access to companywide data on any device, anytime, anywhere. This is especially useful for sales representatives who need instant access to customer account details, purchase history, stock levels, and customer pricing information.

5. Intuitive, User-Friendly Design

A new ERP system is only useful if it can actually be used. Look for a system that is prized for its user-friendly design — a system that is intuitive, that can be understood and used easily by everyone. If a vendor has won awards for its platform, take time to peruse those awards and read about what they stand for. But don’t just take an ERP vendor’s word for how intuitively its products are designed. Instead, explore other websites, like G2, Gartner, and SoftwareReviews, to find reviews from real-life users describing their experiences with the product you’re considering. If the product is truly intuitive, its users will say so.

Enabling Business Growth with a New System

If you are experiencing growth, then it may be time to graduate from basic software like QuickBooks to a new all-in-one ERP system, so you can prepare your industrial distribution business for even more growth. As you embark on your ERP research journey, Acumatica has prepared a few free resources to help you with the process: QuickBooks Is Fine for Smaller Businesses, Until It Isn’t, 7 Ways Distributors Grow with Acumatica and Why Wholesale Distributors Choose Acumatica.

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