By David Greene
As with most industries, each dealer and distributor in the foodservice equipment and supplies industry does things their own way. This makes it challenging to find a single-source software solution that checks all the boxes needed when it comes to improving organizational efficiencies and seamlessly allowing customers to do business with you.
Here, we’ll discuss some things to consider, whether you’re thinking of upgrading your system now or in the near future – and wondering how your system compares to what else might be available in the marketplace.
Does it Have the Functionality Your Company Needs?
First and foremost, an AutoQuotes integration is critical. Having a system that seamlessly integrates with AutoQuotes eliminates hours of manual entry and errors that are likely to occur when re-keying. In addition, automated AutoQuotes cost and price updates for items you stock helps drive simplified, superior daily operations.
If you stock inventory, demand forecasting is a game-changer. Having a system that identifies sporadic, recurring, and unusual demand will allow you to avoid overstock, eliminate dead stock, balance multi-branch inventory, and achieve higher fill rates and inventory turns. When customer buying patterns fluctuate, you need to be able to quickly identify exceptions for automated, intelligent purchasing forecasts that accommodate demand swings.
For those of you that manage projects, a project-management module is a must. A system that provides tools to formulate job costing, bill for stored materials, calculate percent completion, and streamline AIA reporting within the system will eliminate the hours that would otherwise be needed to create and manage all of this on separate spreadsheets.
Most importantly, whatever system you choose, make sure that it’s designed to operate the way you and your team work – ensuring that you don’t end up with numerous “workarounds” outside the system. Ideally, it’s a single-source solution that includes sales, project management, purchasing, inventory, CRM, accounting, and eCommerce; this way, you don’t end up with multiple systems that don’t talk to each other, resulting in hours of duplicate work and no way to get accurate numbers.
Can Your Customers Self-Serve Online?
In the new normal, customers expect a unified shopping experience that supports the conveniences of modern technology, whether in-store or online. More and more foodservice dealer/distributors are offering content-rich webstores that allows their customers to leverage the sophistication of a physical store with the immediacy and convenience of online buying.
Choosing a system with a fully integrated e-commerce component allows you to provide a dedicated online self-service portal to your customers: giving them access to their account 24/7, along with visibility to their previous order history and the ability to pay their invoices online. Fully integrated e-commerce means accurate stock levels and customer-specific pricing, so your customers can order with confidence knowing that your information is 100-percent accurate.
Can You Service Customers Anywhere, Anytime?
Cloud-based or server-based? To be honest, it doesn’t really matter, as long as the system is easy to access and runs quickly for your in-office and out-of-office users (whether they’re working from home or making customer sales calls). Like it or not, remote access has become a true necessity in today’s changing marketplace.
And don’t get too hung up on whether the system runs in a web browser or uses its own interface. Just make sure that whatever system you choose has a mobile component that’s usable on a smartphone or tablet so that your outside sales team doesn’t have to lug around a laptop to do their job. Just because a system runs in a web browser and is “responsive” (meaning the screen changes to fit the device that’s running it) doesn’t mean that it’s usable on a mobile device.
Have the system’s salesperson walk you through several scenarios that your outside sales team performs on a daily basis using their mobile interface. It will be readily apparent whether their application is usable or not on a mobile device. A usable mobile option enables your sales team to take immediate action and gain a competitive advantage while servicing customers on-the-go.
Are There Any Hidden Costs?
Unfortunately, hidden costs are often overlooked or underappreciated when considering systems – until after the sale is finalized. When considering a new system, you need to think about total cost of ownership and not get distracted by sleek screens or cool charts and graphs.
The process of migrating data from your existing system to the new system is typically the most labor-intensive part of the transition. If at all possible, choose a company that’s able to collect data from your existing system for you, instead of putting the burden on you to provide them with the data they need.
Support after the sale is a big area that you need to think about, too. Be sure to fully understand the support options that are available and the hours they are accessible. If possible, choose a company that has support specialists dedicated to specific sections of the system – when you have an accounting issue, for instance, you need to be able to speak with an accounting specialist.
Reporting is another area that’s often overlooked. The system you’re considering should not only have the reports you need, but should also include analytics and the ability to create and schedule custom reports. Getting the information you need, when you need it, is critical to making successful business decisions.
Perhaps the biggest hidden cost that gets underestimated most often is when a system doesn’t have all the functionality you need and it must be added after the fact. When this occurs, you have two options: find a third-party solution that provides the needed functionality and connect it to your system, or pay the software provider to develop what you need.
Whichever option you choose, it’s important to go into this process with your eyes fully open. Because of interoperability issues between disparate systems, most third-party options don’t work as seamlessly as you envisioned. If the software provider is doing the custom development, find out if it’s their own software or if they’re a reseller. If they’re a reseller, be aware that whenever the software creator pushes out new updates, it might break the custom development the software provider created for you. Finding a software provider with an experienced industry veteran on staff is ideal, too; they are invaluable in translating your needs to the development team and ensuring that any custom development works exactly as needed.
With all the above in mind, if you’re considering upgrading your systems now or sometime in the future, it would behoove you to find a software provider that understands the nuances of our industry and offers a single-source solution with as much of the functionality you need included “out-of-the-box.” In doing so, you’ll save yourself a lot of time, headaches, and money, while ensuring a smooth transition experience.