When your business gets stressful — complicated, hard to manage, difficult — many entrepreneurs grasp for the solution before they fully understand the problem. E-commerce companies aren’t immune to this trap, especially as they build manual workarounds to keep the business afloat.
In your frustration, you might turn to an adviser and ask what to do.
Their response: “Get an ERP!”
This is very common advice for growing companies. But what’s an ERP?
ERP (enterprise resource planning) is a category of software — “a suite of integrated applications” — that an organization can use to collect, store, manage and interpret data from many business activities.” (Thanks, Wikipedia!)
Telling someone to get an ERP can be like telling someone who’s hungry just to go get food.
- Should I cook it myself or go to a restaurant?
- Do I want Taco Bell or the Rainbow Room?
- Am I in the mood for Mexican? Sushi? Burgers? BBQ?
Picking an ERP is just as difficult.
To find a solution, you first need to pinpoint your specific problem.
So let’s stop and think about your problem(s).
If you’re like many growing e-commerce sellers, your operations get more complicated as you grow:
- More orders to route…
- More products to manage…
- More suppliers to order from…
- More customers to satisfy…
- More systems that don’t always talk to each other…
And most likely, you’ve been throwing labor at the problem — using a manual process to bridge the gap. Someone in your organization is downloading, reformatting and uploading a spreadsheet to bridge two systems.
Your problem is manual processes. Your solution might not be a category of software. Your solution is e-commerce automation — finding a central system that connects and coordinates disparate systems and cuts out the human bridges.
E-commerce automation seems a lot like an ERP, but it’s a more focused on the solutions to your specific problems.
Here are three reasons you might want to try e-commerce automation:
1. Solve the Biggest Problems First (and Keep What’s Working)
Traditionally, when retailers implement a completely new automation system, they tear everything out and put it back together again. That usually includes downtime — and nobody has time for downtime.
At Cloud Conversion, we build the central hub for product data, customer data, purchase orders, order management and supplier data. Because it’s a hub, you can address problems incrementally and be ready for future changes.
We then connect e-commerce front end (like Shopify), marketplaces (eBay and Amazon), listing tools (ChannelAdvisor) warehouses (Amazon or a WMS) and accounting systems (QuickBooks or Sage Live).
Down the road, when you decide that a new system works better, bolt it on. You have a flexible platform that can handle your needs at scale and reduce human bridges.
2. Let Systems Do What They Do Well (and Not What They Do Poorly)
Have you ever felt that one-size-fits-all clothing fits everyone but you?!
Recently, I was talking with a client that was trying to make their warehouse management system act like an order management system. The salesperson promised that the product could handle it, but it was constantly falling short.
E-commerce automation lets you use specialized systems as they’re designed to be used. So they can do what they’re good at doing (and not the extra things the sales guy promised you they could do).
Many of our customers discover that they can use simple, hosted solutions (like Shopify or QuickBooks Online) because our e-commerce automation system does the heavy data management.
You get the most value out of a system when you work within its limits — when you let it do what it does well.
3. Make Your CFO and CEO Happy (by Separating Management Accounting from Financial Accounting)
It’s time to separate management accounting from financial accounting. Management accounting covers your metrics, KPIs or whatever else you want to call the numbers that tell you how the business is doing. Financial accounting focuses on your overall financial statements: balance sheet, income statement, cash flows, etc.
Both are very important, but way too many companies are lumping them together because their systems force them to.
One company I know spends four days after the end of every month manually reconciling their sales channels into their accounting system. FOUR DAYS. That means that they don’t even know what they sold last month until the middle of the next month.
That is a very old-school way of looking at data. But, sadly, it’s still very common.
Accounting systems are great for GAAP reporting. They let the CFO stay focused on the long-term health of the business. But they’re almost worthless for management accounting.
Cloud Conversion has built our e-commerce automation suite on the Salesforce platform, which lets you analyze, report and dashboard data in real time. Our customers make strategic buying decisions based on profitability of product, family, purchase order or supplier.
That keeps the CEO happy — and focused on the business.
For the CFO, we export journal entries directly into their favorite accounting software.
So… what do you need? You need a solution.
In short, the ERP category is so broad and scattered that it doesn’t provide a real solution. Dive into your actual problems. Depending on your situation, you may find that the solution isn’t a huge new system, it’s automation.
Fix your systems, make them talk to one another and get back to what you really care about: selling amazing products!
Blog post by Brad Smith, COO of Cloud Conversion