At some point in their growth, almost all businesses will consider purchasing an enterprise resource planning system (ERP) to manage their production and demand planning, inventory management, human resource requirements, accounting, and other business operations. In their pursuit of an ideal ERP solution, more and more companies are realizing that there is not a single available software solution that will meet all of their business process needs.
Fortunately, the advent of cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS) provides a new option. Rather than buying software that does one thing well and then customizing it to meet their other business needs, companies can now purchase best-of-breed, cloud-based software components and integrate them into a unified solution. In other words, companies can get top of the line solutions for all of their needs without the large expense of internal development and customization.
The ideal solution for many direct selling companies is a tight, intelligent integration of MLM-specific software with a proven ERP, WMS (warehouse management system), or other operational system. A tailored system integrating these components creates a competitive advantage at every stage of a company’s growth—and can continuously adapt to evolving business needs.
If you’re in the market for an integrated software solution, there are a number of considerations that I recommend keeping in mind:
1. Any serious solution will be cloud-based.
The benefits of cloud-based systems are almost too numerous to list. They include scalability, reliability, reduced IT costs, and data security. They also give you the flexibility of connecting to your business anywhere and anytime. Look for a solution that will let you focus on building your business while an expert partner provides the cloud technology you need.
2. Businesses operate in real time—and your software should too.
A tightly-integrated solution should be event-driven, using API (application programming interface) technology to pass order and financial information between software components in real time. It should also use a single data source to eliminate data synch issues. Any integrated software solution that requires manual synching or nightly batch jobs is outdated.
3. Start by selecting a best-in-breed direct selling solution.
Fast, accurate commissions are the key to your business success, so commissions calculation and reporting should be the backbone of any integrated solution you consider. You’ll also want to look for configurable tools. Configurable direct selling software will let you tailor your e-Commerce (including autoship), tree management, and CRM (customer relationship management). Bear in mind that the direct selling industry has unique CRM requirements, so if you look for CRM software outside the industry, you’re unlikely to find what you need.
4. Keep international growth in mind when you select an ERP system.
If you select an ERP solution that can handle the entire world with a single software instance, you’ll eliminate layers of complexity in your integrated solution. This will save you money and prevent headaches as you support distributors and conduct business across national boundaries.
5. Affordability and capacity for rapid growth are must-haves.
The right solution for your company needs to be reasonably priced so that you can start using it right now. It also needs to have the capacity to support your future needs without expensive upgrades, no matter how fast or how big you grow.
6. A best-of-breed integration will require a completely up-to-date technology stack.
Technologies and business processes evolve daily, so the integrated solution you choose should be built on a cloud-ready API layer to provide maximum connectivity and flexibility. This is particularly important if you’re looking for a system that will allow you to expand into international markets.
7. The right integrated solution should handle all of your business needs.
Before deciding on an integrated software solution, consider all of the specific needs of your business. Make sure you have the right software components to handle things like credit card processing, sales tax, and the mobile tools that enable your distributors’ success.
8. Your customers are tech savvy. They will judge your user experience against the best.
Your company can compete on a bigger scale if it provides a look and feel comparable to those offered by multi-million dollar sites such as Amazon. Your integrated solution should be optimized for ease of use; the component pieces should interact seamlessly—they should feel like a single system to your end users.
9. Every business is becoming a digital business, including direct selling.
Business in our industry has traditionally been conducted “belly-to-belly.” What does this look like to Gen Xers and Millennials as distributors routinely use social media to make contacts and sales? Make sure the system you choose will support the communication practices and technologies embraced by your sale force.
10. “Best-of-brand” should be as important to you as “best-of-breed.”
It’s hard to overstate the importance of your relationship with your software provider. Shop for a direct selling SaaS provider with great customer support and a willingness to customize solutions to your needs at every stage of your growth. Look for a company that fully partners with ERP providers through programs like the NetSuite SuiteCloud Developer Network (SDN)—ensuring that any integration you purchase has gone through a rigorous approval process.
The right integrated solution for your company is a key ingredient in the recipe of success. The right solution will support all of your company’s many business needs while reducing costs—thanks in part to the savings brought by cloud-based platforms. And there’s an extra benefit. Handing your company a system that is finely tuned to meet their needs (instead of a bad customization of a system not designed to do some jobs) is a great career move—and you’ll be the hero of the story.