CRM vs Sales Enablement Tools for Wholesale Distributors

4 min read - June 23, 2020


Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools have been around for at least 40 years, with a competitive CRM market being around for almost 30. Over the years, the CRM market has evolved to continuously meet the complex needs of business. One of these changes includes CRM companies splitting from the umbrella of CRM and forging ahead into new areas such as Sales Enablement and Sales Force Automation (SFA).

While CRM, Sales Enablement, and SFA tools are all useful and necessary, each is unique in serving their own respective purpose. Before we discuss them individually, it’s important to highlight what caused organizations to move away from CRM and how that influenced a new wave of sales tools.

A true CRM is focused on the customer and tracking all the activities that are associated with that relationship. Unfortunately, this purpose of CRM evolved into being viewed purely as an activity tracker/or a glorified timecard for the sales reps, causing a distaste for the typical end user. Some CRM systems, mostly here and gone now, were even built on this principle and sold to executive leadership as such. Unfortunately, these “bad apple” systems have corrupted the idea of CRM for sales reps and are why sales reps view CRM as a four-letter word.

And thus Sales Enablement and Sales Force Automation (SFA) tools were created to move away from this umbrella of CRM. While these two tools are fantastic and necessary, they cannot stand alone in today’s market and support the whole customer relationship.

Sales Enablement = the strategic, ongoing process of equipping sales teams with the content, guidance, and training they need to effectively engage buyers.

Sales Force Automation (SFA) = The technique of using software to automate the business tasks of sales, including order processing, contact management, information sharing, inventory monitoring and control, order tracking, customer management, sales forecast analysis and employee performance evaluation.

Looking at their respective definitions, Sales Enablement and SFA are focused purely on the activities of the sales team. This is great for sales, but what about the rest of the company that engages with the customer?

In wholesale distribution, you typically manage three core customer groups along your supply chain; (1) suppliers or vendors, (2) internal customers, and (3) external customers. Furthermore, the wholesale distribution industry is unique compared to other industries because the focus is on nurturing current customer relationships and finding new areas of opportunity for growth with those existing customers, rather than consistently seeking new customer accounts.

Evaluating these relationships, it is easy to understand why sales enablement and sales force automation tools are just not enough to manage customers holistically.  There are far more people/departments at a wholesale distribution company that touch these customer groups – outside sales, inside sales, customer service, marketing, engineering, quotations, service technicians, purchasing, accounting (A/R and A/P) and management at all levels interact routinely with each of the customer groups.

Sales enablement tools are not enough by themselves to manage this level of complexity.  Content is great and needed for sales, as is contact management, but you can’t lose visibility into sales trends, open orders, outstanding quotes, project specifications, preventive maintenance visits and so much more that are vital for nurturing the customer relationship.

Sales enablement tools have been documented to increase sales close rates by 15%, but how does that return on investment compare to CRM if you are missing the rest of the 360-degree view?  Everyday activities outside of sales engagement can be critical in distribution – executing on value-added service activities and identifying cost-saving activities are vital to increasing ROI and even customer satisfaction.

Furthermore, the current environment is reminding us why the CRM market was created in the first place. Now more than ever, as more and more people are working remote, the end users need to be fully aware of all customer activities to ensure that the customer is the center of everything.

When evaluating which solution is right for wholesale distributors, it can be misleading hearing CRM, SFA, and Sales Enablement tools all muddled together into one category. When each tool is broken apart and evaluated, it is easy to see that their key purpose and value are different. Each tool serves their own respective purpose and depending on your company’s objective, it is important to understand which solution is appropriate to meet the needs of your whole organization.

WPCRM is the fully-integrated CRM built for the wholesale distribution industry that uses your existing data to create a central location of all customer data for your organization. To learn more about WPCRM and how we integrate into your whole organization, visit WPCRM Integrations or contact