How to Choose the ERP Software You Actually Need

Written by Michael Bower on 27 August 2015

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Any enterprise resources planning (ERP) solution worth their salt will tell you that the end goal is an ERP experience that actually works for the buyer. If you choose well, you’ll be handsomely rewarded in terms of productivity and confusion avoided. Choose poorly and you’ll be in a worse place than where you started. I’d like to share with you one of the most common mistakes I see growing e-tailers make when choosing business software, one which costs enormously in time, money and frustration.

If you make software decisions for an ecommerce operation, this will be up your alley.

 

Software Toolkits: Hole-Plugging vs. Consolidation

As any e-tail company grows, its internal software “toolkit” naturally evolves. At first, basic tools like spreadsheets and accounting software are all that’s required. As the company grows, new software systems are required to allow for greater organization and automation. Soon, a whole array of software tools exist.

Now, it’s obvious that a bunch of disconnected tools can’t provide the clarity and control needed to keep data correct and customers happy. So, sooner or later leadership explore consolidated Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software. The draw is easy to understand: ERP software is comprised of integrated modules that can be turned on or off for each aspect of the business, typically with fully customizable workflows.

Diving in further, leadership learn there are a gazillion ERP software options ranging from “free and open source” software to expensive systems costing in the millions. All ERPs tout unique benefits, but what they ALL have in common is this promise of flexibility — that the software will adapt to the company.

All this makes a lot of sense, and most readers will take for granted the positive impact a solid ERP implementation can have on an organization’s ability to get stuff done. Herein lies our misconception. Ready for it?

Misconception: More features and greater flexibility are what growing small companies need in business software.

 

By(cycle) Way of Analogy

Imagine we’re preparing for a long cross country bike race. We’ll have to be able to fix all the problems that might reasonably come up during the race. Clearly, we’re going to need some tools, so let’s check Amazon to see what our options are.

A quick scan of Amazon’s bestseller list yields two entries that have a tremendous number of positive ratings and claim to contain the essentials we need:

  1. This complete toolkit
 
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  1. This small, light multitool

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Both products offer quite a few tools, but the first option is far more extensive. Its tools are independent and heavy-duty with long, easy-to-grip handles. There’s even a tool included for pulling sprockets.

But wait! We just need enough for fixing the bike we’re riding. And we’re in a RACE for heaven’s sake, so every ounce counts...we need to take only the tools we actually need! And who ever heard of having to replace a sprocket on a race?

While the multitool may be smaller and more basic, it seems the company behind it already figured out which tools are really needed...and it’s less expensive too!

The problem with “more features is better” thinking may be obvious when we talk about bike tools, but when it comes to purchasing business software (or anything else for that matter), most people look for “feature binge”!

 

According to Einstein...

When thinking about software or anything else for that matter, my favorite quote, attributed to Einstein, runs like this:

 

“Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler”.

 

It’s simple and logical. Yet in practice I’ve found this approach difficult to maintain when choosing (or building) software, and I think this is the reason most of us dislike the majority of our software. Applying Einstein’s point to our present discussion, I’d phrase it as follows:

 

The truth: Most small companies need business software with just enough features to facilitate a sensible workflow.

 

Let’s break this statement down into two parts:

 

Just enough features:

It’s a mistake to assume that the product with the most features is the best solution for a specific situation. What decision-makers should be looking for is a product that has just the features that the business actually needs.

Sensible workflow:

It’s typically best to look for software which provides workflow “tracks to run on” that make sense out of the box. Look for software where the flow of orders and other data remains streamlined while adhering to best practices and governance standards.

Putting it all together now:

To achieve maximum benefit when implementing an integrated management software solution, small, growing ecommerce companies should look for a product that pairs coverage of needs with an improved workflow...rather than a product that promises everything if you just customize it.

 

This Is Not a Dream (any more)

For years, I tried to find a good integrated software solution for my clients who weren’t big enough for a real ERP but who had absolutely outgrown their creaky homegrown software mix. And for years, I failed to find an acceptable solution that offered just enough features, laid out intelligently.

Everything changed when I came across Brightpearl. It’s exactly what I was looking for. Robust accounting and order management, yet lighter weight than a full-scale ERP.

Brightpearl isn’t “minimalist” though. It’s a well-built product with the following robust characteristics:

  1. Workflows built around getting physical orders into the hands of customers as efficiently and correctly as possible
  2. Highly logical and intuitive business functions, matched with powerful visual cues making it easy to see what next action is required
  3. Effortless search with filtering and powerful reporting
  4. Pleasant, modern UI, reducing friction and increasing productivity

The way I look at it, Brightpearl is the ERP for smart business owners. If a small business owner really does the research and knows what their business needs to function efficiently, nine times out of ten it would be wise to pick Brightpearl.

 

Rubber, Meet Road

I’m slow to recommend software until I know it works well for clients. Here are a couple examples of how Brightpearl worked out for our clients. Names have been changed, but these are real stories:

Example A is a large online retailer of gaming hardware, and if you visit their site it would be easy to see why; amazing prices, fast shipping, enormous selection - they’re killing it!

When we started working with them, they had been using a “normal ERP” for years which offered them everything under one roof -- fully-integrated ecommerce + backoffice. However, everything wasn’t rosy.

Due to the large number of features at play, updates came slowly. In order to avoid falling behind their competition, my client made the decision to switch to Brightpearl at the same time they upgraded their ecommerce. Thankfully, they found Brightpearl and since switching their metrics have been up and customer support staff have never been happier!

When we began working with Example B, a surf-skate company, they were already doing 7 figures in gross annual revenue, selling retail as well as online.

But all was not well...with Black Friday just around the corner, their “inventory system” consisted of taking inventory counts and updating on all channels manually. Let’s just say they needed a better solution! Thankfully, they found Brightpearl in time. If they had gone with an old fashioned or 'traditional' ERP, we might still be setting things up! Brightpearl allowed my clients to cut down on operational time by more than half during their busy season.

It’s a good verdict and one I’m happy to share.

 

To sum up:

  • I’ve challenged the notion that features and “customizability” are what small growing ecommerce companies need.
  • Instead, I believe companies should focus on finding software with the right features and intelligent workflow.
  • Brightpearl makes sense for companies who realize they’re not ready for a full-fledged ERP software yet, and know that feature-bloat is not the answer to their problems.
  • I’ve recommended small, growing ecommerce and multichannel companies consider software like Brightpearl when consolidating their back office.

 

In closing, let me say that if you’re a decision maker in ecommerce software, I’d love for you to weigh in on the topic or ask questions. What I’ve shared here is based on experiences with dozens of clients, but every story is unique. Please contribute to the discussion in the comment area below, and feel free to contact me directly about how you can better leverage smart software in your company.

 

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Michael Bower
About the author
Michael Bower

Michael Bower founded Sellry where he and his team help ecommerce and multichannel companies grow their profits. Michael lives in San Diego, CA with his wife and daughter. In addition to helping clients succeed he enjoys assisting nonprofits, mountain biking, and trying (and failing) to imitate Chris Thile on the mandolin.