The manufacturing sector is thriving in the U.S., and that means more production, more jobs and more sales orders. That’s great news, but keeping up with supply and demand is a growing challenge for many organizations.
Orders can arrive in multiple formats, from phone calls and emails to online customer e-commerce sites and electronic data interchange (EDI) portals. A sales rep might even take an order while in the field. These orders are often re-entered manually into a management platform, opening the door to multiple errors and delays.
Data integrity and consistency are critical to delivering what your customers want when they want it. Let’s take a look at considerations for managing sales orders and how a modern enterprise resource planning (ERP) system can alleviate many of the challenges.
Handling sales orders is just one of many processes within a company, but it touches many other areas. If you’re a distributor, decisions need to be made regarding inventory, which distribution site items should be pulled from and other logistical considerations. For example, how does an order get shipped, and does the customer choose the delivery method or does the distributor? What about getting freight quotes? Of course, invoicing, sales, replenishing stock and more play a role.
If you produce a product, there are even more considerations. Are items made to order or made to stock? If they’re already produced and sitting on a shelf, you may need to just deal with delivery, similar to a distributor. If those items are made to order, however, an entirely new set of data points needs to be included, including capacity planning, materials handling, production, equipment requirements and other operational decisions. If a customer wants an order in two weeks, can you meet the deadline? If not, can you produce and ship a partial order in that time and deliver the remainder of the order at a later date?
Of course, once an order is delivered, other departments such as customer service, sales and finance need access to detailed order information for follow-up. Clearly, the sales order process touches nearly every department in an organization and is central to a company’s success.
How Technology Can Improve the Sales Order Process
Creating transparency into the sales order process across departments is critical, and ensuring a customer’s order is efficiently and accurately entered into your system in the first place serves as the baseline for each step moving forward. Implementing a modern ERP system can help transform your sales order processes and create visibility across your organization.
Customer EDI portals and e-commerce sites can integrate with your ERP in real time so that orders get into your planning system immediately. Automated integration ensures all the information included on an order is provided, eliminating manual re-entries. If a customer mistakenly enters information, such as an item number that doesn’t exist or a quantity below a minimum threshold, the ERP flags the order and issues an alert for follow-up and clarification.
Mobile access to the ERP system provides sales reps with the ability to directly enter orders while in the field using a tablet or smartphone. A sales rep could even use a scaled-back interface of a typical sales order form that captures major details. When they submit an order, it can automatically and instantly route to the appropriate inside salesperson, who will confirm details, do a quality assurance check and complete any remaining information directly in the system. The ERP also helps sales track contracts and agreements and can issue renewal alerts or other timely notifications.
Improving Customer Relationships
Ultimately, an ERP system can equip you to know your customers better and prioritize orders. Perhaps you have a customer who does $1 million in orders each year and another whose annual sales total only $2,000, but both want the same product and you can’t fulfill both in the desired time frames. It’s easy to think the larger customer might take precedence, but what if a lack of product for the smaller customer would result in a shut down in production and have major financial implications for them? Meanwhile, the larger customer may only be restocking their warehouse, where product might sit for a while. Having a full-scope view of the entire sales order process and historical data can inform decisions and create opportunities for deeper conversations.
While an ERP can vastly improve efficiencies and order accuracy, the system is ultimately just a tool, and the human element is still critical. The system provides data points and real-time information to help you and others within your organization make better and more informed decisions to continually drive improvements and stronger customer relationships.
Determining which ERP system is right for your organization can be an involved process. To know which one is best requires first working with a provider that seeks to understand what makes your organization unique among your competitors. From there, your processes can be examined — those that are working and those that need improvement — and a customized solution can be configured. Some considerations might include the various steps in your processes, an EDI integration and whether you need a certificate of analysis, product configurator on e-commerce site. Once implementation takes place, you can work with your provider to make continuous improvements as time goes on.
To learn more about how a modern ERP system can transform your organization, reach out to the specialists at Wipfli for a free consultation today.