Forward-facing back office
Photo courtesy of iStock

The wholesale distribution industry is wonderful in so many ways, but frankly, we’re behind. The industry is made up of great people, products and services coming together worldwide to solve complex supply-chain challenges, but we can do better.

Specifically, I’m referring to website design, development and back-office connectivity. Sure, you have a website, but are you getting the most from it?

When your customers visit your website, they want to place orders, check inventory, review past orders, change billing and shipping information, and even check on commissions and sales incentives.

Yes, they can call you for all this information, but at what cost? What could your people do with the extra free time not dedicated to answering phones and basic account questions?

Your website should give your customers a better buying experience, which ultimately helps them buy more. Your customers win, your internal teams win and you win.

The problems with basic order engines and websites that aren’t integrated into sales and accounting systems are well-known: pricing and availability errors; order-entry errors; shipping errors; and double-entry accounting and inventory adjustments.The problems quickly compound when online orders don’t connect to or sync with back-end systems.

Take the case of Midland Metal, a family-run manufacturer/master distributor based in Kansas City, Mo. Company President Billy Hodes said his company faced all of the above challenges.

“We were doing manual entry, answering all the phone calls about order history, shipping and invoicing,” he says. “It worked, but we knew there were better ways to do it.”

Midland Metal now uses a back-office software system for enterprise resource planning. The company wanted a true website and Prophet 21 integration and the new system helped satisfy those needs.


Greasing the skids

Midland Metal had clear goals going into the project: Make it easy for customers to place, edit and track orders, and give them access to past orders for insight into billings and payments.

The company also wanted to give sales reps access to customer order activity, thus making sales calls more productive. Sales reps needed to see an assortment of reports, invoices and their commissions as well.

With thousands of SKUs and customer accounts, data connectivity was the biggest hurdle. Thorough testing and validation were critical parts of the development process.

“Like any distributor, we have product changes all the time,” Hodes said. “Members of our team can modify website content as needed, and pricing changes are made in one place and populate the website automatically.”

Hodes is giving his customers what they want – the freedom and flexibility to help themselves anytime they like. It’s a better buying experience. His new integrated website and back-office functionality provides a sales and customer-service channel that runs 24/7/365.  

“We accomplished what we wanted to get done,” he said. “It’s easier for customers to find and buy what they’re looking for, and it’s connected to our back-end system which means more productivity and profitability. Based on our projections, this project should pay for itself in 12 to 18 months.”


Author bio: John Miller is a co-founder of Kansas City, Mo.-based WYSIWYG Marketing. Miller and his team help industrial manufacturers and distributors across the country leverage the Internet to grow their businesses. Contact John at 913/530-3753 or