Successful small businesses employ customer relationship management systems to direct their sales efforts. These systems give management visibility to business development, sales, marketing, service and with the right approach, order management. For the purposes of this article, we will consider the CRM to be focused on sales and marketing efforts, while order management will be defined as quoting, order tracking and inventory. First, you must earn the business, then you must deliver it.
If you are selling items, particularly if you maintain a catalog, it can be challenging to keep costs and inventory updated so that staff are quoting what you have at the correct price. Order management systems will make the process of offering your wares to customers easier and less prone to error. Small businesses generally operate on a tighter budget, so the examples we present will be limited to projects that are affordable to most smaller organizations.
Once we have all the order information, and get customer sign-off, it is likely that they will be passed to an accounting program or ERP (enterprise resource planning) platform for billing and collection.
Advantages of using a CRM with Order Management
CRM is a tool focused on getting clients to the point of placing more orders and doing more business with an organization. Therefore, companies invest in this single platform to generate more inquiries and develop their sales pipeline. This is accomplished by giving the sales team access to customer information: call history, follow-up tasks, and forecast opportunity records. At the same time, CRM systems make it easy for sales managers to view what is going on with reports and dashboards enabling them to coach the team to close more deals.
A powerful CRM enables users to record sales data and customer interaction in real time with minimal effort and create structure in an otherwise chaotic selling environment. Teams can use CRM reporting to go after more business and make sure they are maintaining a good customer relationship.
Order management systems are designed to streamline the selling transaction after the buyer has committed to purchase. The goal of an order management system is to make buying easier and less error-prone.
Small businesses in particular can struggle with order management because large-scale ERP systems are very expensive and difficult to set up. Trying to manage orders manually on spreadsheets is especially challenging when some part of the process is disrupted. If the wrong item is sent or an incorrect price is quoted, it can take many follow-up calls or messages to straighten out the problem. For that reason, an order management system can increase customer satisfaction simply by reducing mistakes and allowing the seller to make sure they have a consistent order processing approach.
Efficient order management systems include advanced capabilities such as inventory control, warehouse management or links to accounting software, web store platforms or other omnichannel-friendly capabilities. Let’s say we have a small business making phone calls which results in some quotes, and also a WooCommerce site that allows buyers to self-serve. An order management software that talks to the different systems allows for centralized inventory and creates a seamless path from opportunity, to quote, to order, to invoice.
Enhanced customer service
One of the basic functions of order management is quoting. Sending a quote to a client must be easy, quick, professional looking and to – the extent possible – mistake free. If you sell multiple items, your quotes are likely to have different line items and quantities. A good quote will not only add up the totals accurately but will help the seller manage pricing.
Establishing profitable but competitive pricing on quotes is not as easy as it sounds, particularly if you have a large catalog of items, and your buyers vary in their purchasing volumes. If your systems allow you to master generating accurate quotes, you can greatly reduce the volume of follow-up calls and complaints. The ordering system itself will give you a quick visualization of the order history, allow you to copy previous orders for repeat business, and when necessary, make corrections more quickly.
The addition of inventory management, particularly in situations where stock is originating from multiple locations, helps the business preserve cash by maintaining only what is required. Given the supply chain disruptions of the pandemic years, simply having the knowledge of what is or is not available, allows you to offer better services to your clients.
By automating your order handling and fulfillment, you can expect more satisfied clients as well as salespeople. Combining this with a CRM that generates more inquiries will result in higher sales volumes for a given investment in staffing.
Integrating CRM with Order Management
When you create a unified system for business development, sales, order management, and accounting, there are a number of large software solutions to address these needs. Generally speaking, these all-in-one systems are very expensive, and sometimes the resulting solution is strong in one aspect but not in another. If we consider small business budgets, many of the enterprise systems will be out of reach both from a cost and complexity standpoint.
Let’s assume your goal is to emulate a large enterprise system but at a delivered (and ongoing) cost that is more manageable for smaller organizations. In such a case, you might have an accounting package, a CRM, an order/inventory system, and possibly other e-commerce technology. With multiple systems, we have to ensure that we can make them work together, and we have to make sure our team knows which system is responsible for which process. Here are some examples of what might work:
- CRM system – relationship management, history, contact data, business development, pipeline.
- Order System – quotes, order fulfillment, inventory levels, integration with e-commerce.
- Accounting – purchase orders, billing, dunning, inventory, tax.
- E-commerce – online orders from e-store selling.
Assuming we are putting together an overall solution built on some existing and some new technology, then each part of the system has defined roles. Each system will tie into the other systems where they touch in your process. I might have a record in my CRM system, and a corresponding window to show the related orders. Those orders would be visible to my CRM users but would actually reside in the order system database. When the order is shipped, I would pass the order on to my accounting system for the invoicing and collection steps. Understanding your needs is critical to a successful deployment. One size may not fit all.
Choosing the right CRM solution for order management needs
Putting together the right system for your business involves understanding what technology you have in place already that you want to retain, and what you expect new systems to support. For example, you may come to the conclusion that regardless of how you sell or manage inventory, you will be keeping QuickBooks for accounting. This is common – QuickBooks is affordable and effective. Plus, large systems are much larger and more costly.
If this is the case, your new technology must interface with QuickBooks. Remember, you only require integration where the process ‘touches’ another system. My CRM may talk to my order system very well, and might not need to communicate with QuickBooks, simply because the order system can handle the feed to QuickBooks. Making these decisions early on and testing will save time and money.
It is best practice to invest in systems that possess the appropriate key features and are the right size for your business. Bigger may not be better, even at a good initial cost, if the ongoing support and maintenance are exceedingly onerous. If we understand where the problems lie, we can address them and look for automation in a cost-efficient manner. Evaluate vendors and solutions (including systems that can communicate across your process) based on how closely they address your issues, fit your budget, and help you to connect these dots.
Implementation and Best Practices
It’s important to lay out your objectives early in the planning process. Make sure to define the role of each application, from early prospecting to booking sales, order processing, billing, and customer support. Starting chronologically, the selling part comes first. Typically the CRM will handle these functions, with some variance among different businesses:
- Customer data
- Lead qualification
- Communication tracking
- Pipeline (opportunity management)
Subsequently, interested buyers will commit, and the order management process will begin:
- Product Catalog
- Quoting and version history
- Messaging portal linked to quotes (engagement tools)
- Order placement and shipment
- Inventory management
- Restocking inventory
Finally, for most companies, the billing will initiate once the product ships.
- Billing and collection
- Accounting and G/L
Linking a CRM and an effective order management system together can result in a powerful end-to-end solution to streamline and improve sales.
While your process may vary, generally we would expect a majority of firms to fall into these groupings, whether you connect your systems or not. If you do plan to integrate your technology, testing where they connect is essential. Be sure to enter a full range of data that might occur in the normal course of business, and confirm that the flow of data works seamlessly.
When you finalize a good process and are confident that your staff can reproduce it, make sure to provide training in all facets of the expected workflow. Document this process whenever possible to make future onboarding of new employees easier.
Once you go live, monitor each step for the expected activity. If your sales staff are expected to make outbound calls, measure it in reports and check it. Likewise, you should make sure that orders are not shipped if they are not properly set up in the system. Establishing standard operating practices early on will make sure the user adoption is where it needs to be in the long run.
Identify a small number of key dashboards that allow management to observe the business without being overwhelmed by details. The number of calls, the number and value of opportunities over the next 90 days, and the number of orders pending shipment are all examples you might come to rely on. If you keep an eye on these metrics, you are supporting the user activity you need to make the whole system work optimally.
For the right organization, having a CRM and order management system can provide tools to grow your business and manage that business more effectively. Ideally, your sales staff will have a solid selling structure complemented with key reporting.
At the same time, we want operations and support people to know what inventory is required and where it is shipping. If your company is selling items from a catalog and some part of your client base requires direct sales interactions, linking your CRM with the orders/quotes can be a game changer. While this may seem obvious on the surface, finding a solution that works for the budget of a small business can be a real challenge.
We have found that vendors are looking for ways to better connect and work together – to the benefit of their small business customers. If you invest time in understanding and defining your processes, from lead generation to delivery, you are better positioned to develop a long-term solution that you can depend upon.
Jon Arancio, Vice President
Jon Arancio, Vice President of Wintec Group Inc., is a leading expert in CRM Application Deployment, renowned for his proficiency as a top Maximizer Business Partner since 1996.
Armed with a B.S. in Engineering Chemistry and Biochemistry from Stony Brook University, Jon's not just about technology; he's all about building lasting client relationships and turning objectives into practical CRM processes.
Outside of his professional achievements, Jon enjoys running and swimming outdoors. With a reputation for integrity and diligence, Jon is a seasoned professional and a trusted advisor in the realm of CRM, earning loyalty and respect from his clients.
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