We’re huge fans of software for FBA. Granted, we created one!
A few years ago, there wasn’t a lot available for FBA sellers and most were relying on reporting from Amazon, along with spreadsheets and other systems they’d cobbled together. The market was ripe for some decent tools, and several companies stepped up to deliver.
Fast forward to today, and there are so many different ecommerce tools being marketed to work with Amazon, that the choices can seem overwhelming. If you’re a relatively young business, you might be wondering if you “should” be putting all sorts of tools in place. The investment can seem daunting, even if you’ve been in business for a while!
In most cases, no, you don’t need tools for every function immediately, however, it’s helpful to plan ahead and know the right questions to ask. A software tool should provide some sort of ROI to your business when implemented. It should make life easier in some way – more accurate, less time spent on tasks, better ability to make good decisions…
With that in mind, it’s never too early to start planning ahead and asking the right questions. Here’s what we think you need to know:
What do I need to know to make better decisions?
As the decision maker for your business, knowledge is power. Sometimes, especially if your business is relatively young, it can seem like you can’t possibly know enough to make empowered decisions. You browse the Amazon forums and find people making opposite suggestions – everyone has an opinion, and for them, they may simply be passing on what worked for their own business.
What you need is deep knowledge of your business. Software purchases can be a considerable investment, so you need to understand how and why they will help you to achieve your goals.
The idea is that you take a proactive stance and plan ahead for your software needs. Many businesses start looking for a solution well after the time they really could have used it in place. This means that they potentially leave money on the table that they could have had in sales or efficiencies.
So, what sort of deeper information about your business do you need to know in order to make better decisions and plan ahead? Here are a few thoughts:
Which tasks take up too much time?
Did you know that 60% or less of work time is spent productively? Besides those emails and social media notifications, an FBA business owner can find themselves spending a lot of time on “just doing stuff.”
You’re running reports, updating spreadsheets, logging into your seller account to check your analytics, then trying to make sense of what’s happening with your inventory. All of those things can lead to a productive outcome, but they’re often not done in the most efficient or streamlined manner.
In fact, Forecastly was born when founder Jeremy Biron encountered tasks that were taking up too much time in his own FBA business. He was using a system of spreadsheets and manually running reports to track inventory, estimate when to order, and ensure that shipments were reconciled. He built a solution for himself that could do those things automatically, then grew it into the software we have today.
Many sellers who still follow some kind of manual solution tell us they haven’t even considered paying attention to reconciled shipments – they don’t have time. The concern here is that a lot of money can be left on the table due to incorrect logging of shipments. Are there other things you do, or don’t have time to do which could be costing you money?
Sometimes if you’re still relatively small, those tasks are only a blip and don’t take a lot of time to complete. As you grow though, you can find that your entire day is taken up responding to messages, or you spend half a day reconciling all of your inventory. It’s important that you plan for that growth now. Keep a wishlist of tasks that you’d love to have taken care of.
Here are some common areas that often take up a lot of time, just to get you thinking:
- Analytics and data management
- Managing social media or communities
- Inventory management
- Email or communications management
- Accounting and taxes.
What do I need for each stage of business growth?
Where does your business fit on the growth scale? You might be a small startup, you might be actively scaling, or you might be a medium to large business that is still growing. Each stage tends to have different requirements.
For example, it doesn’t make sense for a startup ecommerce business to put a large, expensive CRM in place. However, a rapidly growing, larger company needs to ensure their scalability and efficiency by having those larger tools in place.
Recently at the Prosper Show, presenter Robin Smith was talking about deploying technology solutions for evolving stages of ecommerce growth and said something that really resonated:
“Start with strategy, not tactics.”
What did he mean? Well, it’s often easy to get caught up in the latest “shiny object.” The tool that promises amazing things wrapped up in a high-tech exterior. It’s tempting to think that this will be the key to beating your competition, but does it really serve your overall business strategy? You could easily waste a bunch of money on tools that aren’t really suited to your particular business needs, getting wrapped up in tactics rather than strategy.
One way to avoid this is to plan for each stage of growth. Have goals, build a clear picture of what the stage will look like and know how you will measure success. Then, when it comes to the software you will need, we borrowed this advice from Robin Smith:
“Don’t focus on an app or platform, focus on creating a list of functional tools you need to get where you want to be.”
What are my must-haves?
It’s the wild west online and everyone is trying to sell you their solution. Sometimes reviews that seem to be independent really aren’t, particularly if an affiliate is involved. Then there are the lists of features presented – sometimes these can seem so “shiny” and appealing, but you end up only using a fraction of the tool’s features.
Besides answering those first three questions, how can you be an informed buyer?
Those who are most likely to fall for a slick sales pitch tend to be business owners who have some idea of what they want, but they haven’t documented anything to keep track of. The way to avoid this is to have a defined path. It might look something like the answers to these questions:
- What are my pain-points that need solving?
- What are my absolute must-haves?
- What are my “nice to haves?”
We’re not saying that software sellers are out to “get” you (most would prefer to only onboard clients who are a good fit), but it’s a common mistake to sign onto something that ends up not being the right solution. Sometimes a software might simply be too big or feature-rich for your needs, other times, it might check some of your must-haves, but miss others. Doing your homework in advance will save you time, and potentially money if you end up canceling and hopping to the next thing.
You’ve got a lot of options now when it comes to FBA software, but it can get a bit confusing when it comes down to making decisions.
For most sellers, you don’t need all of the bells and whistles immediately, but it does pay to plan ahead, understand where your business is heading and know what your goals are. What essential tasks would you like off your plate?
Asking these questions and creating a business plan can save you both time and money. It’s often the case that people start investigating software options well after they actually needed them, so if you plan early, you can optimize quickly. Remember, “strategies, not tactics!”