The Distribution Blog

The Top 6 CRM Software Solutions for Wholesale Distributors

May 28, 2024

Table of Contents

Choosing the right CRM for your wholesale distribution business can be challenging with so many options out there. Distributors have unique needs that not every CRM can handle, so we’ve put together a guide to help you navigate the different types of CRM solutions available and highlight some of the best options on the market.

4 types of CRM software

Many distributors still don’t use any CRM, relying instead on spreadsheets and notepads. But with young, tech-savvy sales reps entering the workforce and increasing customer expectations, more distributors are starting to see the value in CRM systems.  Between 2017 and 2022, CRM adoption among distributors saw significant growth, jumping from 55% to 72%, according to a study by Distribution Strategy Group (DSG) study. There are four main types of CRMs: distribution-specific CRMs, ERP-provided CRMs, all-purpose CRMs, and custom-built CRMs. Let's take a closer look at each of these categories.

Distribution-specific CRM software

Distribution-specific CRMs are designed specifically for distributors, catering to their unique needs and workflows. These CRMs integrate seamlessly with ERP systems, which is crucial for distributors. Many distributors are switching to these CRMs because of their excellent performance. A survey by DSG found that distribution-specific CRMs have the highest satisfaction rate at 7.5/10, surpassing custom, ERP-provided, and all-purpose CRMs. They're also quick to set up, with 76% of distributors deploying them in less than a year.

Distributors' overall satisfaction with CRM by type

In 2017, 25% of $50M+ distributors used all-purpose CRMs, while only 9% used distribution-specific CRMs. By 2022, all-purpose CRM usage dipped to 22%, and the adoption of distribution-specific CRMs rose to 25%.

In our experience, distribution-specific CRM software is the best choice for distributors. Since it’s tailored to the needs of a distributor, it comes pre-configured with workflows that are familiar to your business. While you might need to customize certain aspects, starting with a CRM built for distributors is far easier than customizing a generic CRM designed for all company types.

Another advantage is that each new feature release is driven by the needs of distributors, making the product increasingly feature-rich and beneficial for your business over time. Finally, the people you interact with at the CRM company will understand your business, as they work exclusively with other distributors. This ensures that the support and insights you receive are always relevant and valuable.

All-purpose CRM software

All-purpose CRMs are general solutions meant for any industry, a “one size fits most” approach. They often struggle to integrate well with ERP systems because most of their clients don’t need such integration, resulting in a poor experience for distributors. These CRMs focus on turning leads into customers, which doesn’t fit a common goal of distributors—growing existing customers. Additionally, they aren't designed to handle millions of products, making them challenging for distributors.

All-purpose CRMs also tend to be backward-looking, showing what's happened in the past without using that data to predict future outcomes. As some distributors have described, these systems often ask sellers to input more information than they get out of it, focusing on lagging indicators rather than leading indicators. This approach can leave sales teams feeling they are investing effort without getting valuable insights in return.

The DSG survey found that only 67% of distributors were able to deploy all-purpose CRMs in less than a year, highlighting their longer setup time. In contrast, Proton's average CRM implementation takes 12 weeks. Even with significant customization, a CRM rollout shouldn't take a year. All-purpose CRM vendors often have little experience working with distributors because they’re spread out across many verticals. If you’re purchasing an all-purpose CRM, prepare to spend time with their team educating them about what it is you do and what makes you different from the other companies they serve.

ERP-provided CRM software

ERP-provided CRMs are often free with an ERP system purchase. However, they usually don't work as well because ERP providers focus more on the ERP itself than the CRM. This often means a clunky interface and limited features for handling complex sales, leading to low use by sales reps.  

Distribution Strategy Group ran a survey that showed ERP-provided CRMs have a satisfaction rate of 5.1/10, the second lowest. Despite this, their close integration with ERPs makes them the second fastest to set up, just behind distribution-specific CRMs.

Custom-built CRM software

Before distribution-specific CRMs entered the market, many distributors – frustrated with ERP-provided solutions or all-purpose CRMs – chose to build their own custom CRMs. These in-house tools, developed and maintained internally, offer the advantage of being tailored to a company’s specific needs. But custom CRMs come with significant drawbacks. Building software is complex and expensive. It requires substantial investment in both time and resources. Unsurprisingly, Distribution Strategy Group’s survey found that overall satisfaction with custom CRMs is the lowest at 2.7/10. 71% of distributors were able to deploy their custom CRM in less than a year. 

IT leaders in distribution recommend buying rather than building a CRM. CRMs have been around for two decades and most meet a baseline standard that covers most needs. Save your resources for developing business-critical software that truly doesn’t exist in the market and you can’t buy off the shelf.

Distributors' CRM deployment experience by type of CRM

CRM options available in the market

Now that you’re familiar with the four main types of CRMs, let’s dive into the specific CRMs available under two key categories: distribution-specific CRMs and all-purpose CRMs.

We won’t cover ERP-provided CRMs in detail since they come as part of the ERP system you already have, nor will we delve into custom-built CRMs.

For the two categories we are covering, we’ve included a screenshot of the same view in each CRM to give you an apples-to-apples comparison. These screenshots showcase each CRM’s version of an Activity Feed—a chronological order of events on a customer account.

Distribution-specific CRMs CRM

Activity Feed in

Proton is the only enterprise-grade CRM specifically designed for distributors and powered by artificial intelligence. It’s trusted by publicly traded distributors, private-equity held, and family-run distributors. Proton’s list of customers includes distributors like MSC, ORS Nasco, and BPI. Proton integrates with all the tools distributors use, consolidating everything from products to transactions in one place. Using AI, Proton suggests the best course of action for sellers—who to talk to, what to sell, and when to follow up.

Proton also provides managers with reports on the revenue generated from these recommendations, clearly demonstrating the CRM's ROI. It achieves this by automatically matching transaction data with the call notes left by sellers, enabling reps to see the impact of their conversations on sales. This keeps reps motivated and allows managers to identify areas for coaching, and replicate successful strategies across teams. Typically, Proton’s clients see a 2.6x increase in growth rate after just one year of use.

Proton is designed with a user-friendly interface that makes sense regardless of someone’s level of tech-savviness. The software is available on desktop and through a mobile app for iOS and Android. Understanding that a CRM is only as good as its user adoption, Proton automates tedious tasks like call note entry, ensuring it doesn’t feel like a chore or a Big Brother tool. As a result, usage is 42% higher than other CRMs. Visual and rich with product information, Proton puts relevant data at reps’ fingertips, including product photos, relevant add-ons, substitutes, customer-specific pricing, and inventory details. It also helps reps prepare for meetings with valuable customer context, such as areas where customers might be underspending and category spend that’s starting to slip, without requiring them to do the analysis themselves.

On top of helping distributors drive more sales, Proton has all the core functionality you’d expect from a CRM including collaboration features, lead management, pipeline management, task management, and a robust reporting suite.

Who should consider Proton?

Distributors looking for a tool that makes their sales team proactive and efficient to increase sales should consider Proton. If your goal is to arm your customer-facing teams with relevant, actionable insights and automate routine tasks, Proton is an excellent choice. Its AI-driven recommendations and user-friendly design make it an ideal solution for driving user adoption and growing sales.

Key features:
  • AI-Powered Sales Plays: Proton uses AI to predict the next best actions for sales reps. It alerts them about quotes to follow up on, customers underspending in specific product categories, customers due to reorder products, and highlights when customers buy something for the first time so reps can tailor their conversations to customer behaviors.
  • AI-Powered Health Status: Each customer and prospect receives a health status based on AI analysis, helping reps prioritize their efforts. Proton flags which customers are active, at-risk, or inactive, enabling reps to be more strategic in their outreach.
  • Built-in ROI Reporting: Proton tracks conversations between reps (called “pitches”) and customers against transactional data to show leadership which interactions are converting to revenue. This allows you to see the ROI generated through Proton.
  • Campaign Generator: Managers can create targeted campaigns within Proton to steer sales of specific products to clear out dead stock, move slow items, or meet rebate targets.
  • Product Initiatives: Proton flags opportunities for reps to switch customers to higher-margin alternatives when a lower-margin product is being purchased to increase profitability.
  • Follow-Up Email Generator: After pitching specific products to customers, sales reps can use Proton to generate follow-up emails. These emails feature product photos, the customer's pricing, the product's availability, and a link to the product on your eCommerce site. These emails (sent from any email client) can help reps work with your e-commerce site, increasing online sales.
  • Daily Summary Emails: Reps receive a daily summary email listing quotes to follow up on, outstanding tasks, and other priorities, providing a focused to-do list for the day.
  • eCommerce Visibility: Proton integrates with distributors’ eCommerce platform, showing reps what customers are browsing online but not buying, enabling targeted follow-ups.
  • Product Catalog: Proton integrates with product data, providing reps with customer-specific pricing, inventory, relevant add-ons, suitable substitutes, sell sheets, and eCommerce links, allowing them to answer customer questions on the fly.

Proton offers integration capabilities to connect with the tools you use in your business, including any ERP system. In a nutshell, wherever your product and transaction data resides—in an ERP, eCommerce platform, PIM, or document storage—Proton can pull it into the CRM system, so users have everything they need on a single screen. With Proton’s Workflow Builder add-on, it can also connect to credit management, office productivity tools, field service management, ticketing systems, marketing automation, prospecting tools, e-signature solutions, project management software, and telephone systems. If there’s a tool you use, there’s a good chance Proton integrates with it.

Post-purchase support:

Proton’s implementation and training are handled entirely in-house by a team that exclusively works with distributors. On average, distributors go live with Proton in just 12 weeks.

Proton offers a Guru training program known to increase daily usage by 160%. This program trains someone on your team (e.g. a sales manager) to become a “Proton Guru”. This person becomes fully proficient in the app and serves as your Proton expert, responsible for driving adoption and getting teams excited about the app.

Proton’s team provides intensive training for your super users and offers a month of hypercare post-launch, including weekly Q&A sessions to ensure a smooth transition to Proton. After hypercare, Proton supports users with a Help Center featuring detailed video tutorials (with new videos added weekly), bi-weekly live Office Hours, and in-app chat support.

  • Pronto: Pronto is an optional add-on developed by Proton to bring conversational, generative AI to distributors. Acting as a built-in analyst, Pronto can answer any questions you have about your CRM data and build data visualizations in seconds.
  • Workflow Builder: The Workflow Builder is an optional add-on for distributors who want to automate routine tasks using “if this, then that” logic. With the Workflow Builder, distributors can connect Proton to thousands of external apps, enabling those apps to exchange information and trigger actions between systems seamlessly in the background.
  • Ecommerce AI: Proton’s Ecommerce AI is ideal for distributors with significant online traffic. It adds Amazon-style recommendations to distributors’ ecommerce sites to boost sales. These recommendations are driven by customer actions across all sales channels, not just online activity. This means customers can log in and see recommendations for products they discussed with a sales rep, creating a seamless shopping experience across different channels.

Proton is a premium CRM product with a per-user licensing model. There are no tiers, meaning all features are included, so you don’t have to sacrifice functionality to get a better price. However, there are optional add-ons, which cater to specific needs and may be useful for some distributors but not others.


Activity Feed in WebPresented

WebPresented (also known as WPCRM) is a distribution-specific CRM solution owned by the private equity firm Cordance. It offers standard CRM functionalities familiar to many users and includes features like quote entry capabilities. The platform is accessible on both mobile and desktop and is in the early stages of integrating artificial intelligence, making it a flexible tool for monitoring reps' activities.


  • Purpose-built for distributors
  • Standard, familiar CRM functionalities
  • Quote entry directly within the system
  • Available on both mobile and desktop


  • AI functionality is still in the early stages
  • User interface has a more traditional or "classic" design
  • Some distributors have found it challenging to integrate Eclipse Job Management
  • Does not match transaction data with call notes, limiting the ability to track ROI and the effectiveness of reps' conversations

White Cup

Activity Feed in White Cup

WhiteCup combines Compass Sales Solutions, MITS, Sherpa CRM, and Tour de Force under one name. The company offers a comprehensive suite of solutions: a CRM, a BI tool, and a pricing tool, which distributors can purchase individually or together. WhiteCup is a strong choice for small and mid-market distributors looking to monitor reps' activities and access historical data through a unified platform.


  • Purpose-built for distributors
  • Available on both mobile and desktop
  • Offers a comprehensive package with CRM, BI, and pricing tools
  • Good for monitoring reps' activities and accessing historical data


  • AI functionality is still in the early stages
  • Does not match transaction data with call notes, limiting the ability to track ROI and the effectiveness of reps' conversations
  • Does not integrate customer-specific pricing, requiring reps to log into a separate system
  • Some enterprise distributors have reported difficulties using WhiteCup due to their high volume of their transaction data

All-purpose CRM options

Dynamics 365

Activity Feed in Dynamics 365

Microsoft Dynamics 365 is an all-purpose CRM solution that integrates seamlessly with the Microsoft ecosystem, including Office and Teams. This integration benefits distributors already using Microsoft products. Designed to help companies manage their sales pipeline, Dynamics 365 offers customization options to meet industry-specific needs. However, integration can require significant time and resources. While its product catalog and AI functionalities are valuable, there are limitations, especially for distributors focused on long-term customer relationships and detailed transaction insights.


  • AI functionality available (e.g., CoPilot)
  • Developed by Microsoft, a trusted company
  • Effective for moving opportunities through a sales pipeline
  • Seamless integration with the broader Microsoft ecosystem (Office, Teams)


  • Not designed for the unique needs of distributors, lacking certain product and transaction info
  • Does not match transaction data with call notes, limiting the ability to track ROI and the effectiveness of reps' conversations
  • Focused on pipeline management – now growing existing customer relationships
  • Lacks distributor-specific AI features and automated product upsell/cross-sell suggestions
Post-purchase support:

Post-purchase support for Dynamics is managed not by the Microsoft team, but by Microsoft Partners. While this arrangement isn't inherently negative, the quality of service in implementation, training, and ongoing maintenance can vary significantly depending on the partner's understanding of the system and distribution businesses. Because of Dynamics' broad application across various industries, finding experts who understand the specific nuances of a distribution business and can configure the necessary functionalities can be challenging. These experts may also lack the know-how to drive CRM adoption specifically in the distribution sector.


Dynamic’s pricing structure is quite complicated. Dynamics sells standalone CRM products for various functions. These include separate products for different needs: Dynamics 365 Sales for sales management, Dynamics 365 Customer Insights for marketing, and Dynamics 365 Customer Service for customer service. The per-user pricing model includes several tiers, with features unlocked as you move up in tiers. Additionally, there are various add-ons available for an extra cost. You can get a feel for this complexity in their 61-page product licensing document. The need to customize and integrate with distributors’ tools often results in high costs, both during implementation and for ongoing maintenance.


Activity Feed in Salesforce

Salesforce is a major all-purpose CRM and is often considered a safe choice. It has been around for decades, is reliable, and offers extensive customization options. Salesforce is known for its robust features and flexibility, making it suitable for various industries and business needs. The platform includes specific accreditation programs like Trailblazer to help users get the most out of its capabilities.


  • Robust reporting
  • Extensive customization options
  • AI functionality available (e.g., Einstein) for advanced insights
  • Strong support and resources through Salesforce's Trailblazer program


  • High learning curve and significant cost of ownership
  • Requires dedicated resources for setup and ongoing maintenance
  • Not designed for the unique needs of distributors, lacking certain product and transaction info
  • Does not match transaction data with call notes, limiting the ability to track ROI and the effectiveness of reps' conversations
Post-purchase support:

Post-purchase support for Salesforce is handled by Salesforce Partners. While this can provide flexibility, the quality of service can vary significantly based on the partner’s knowledge and experience with distribution businesses. Due to Salesforce's widespread use across multiple industries, finding partners who understand the specific requirements of distributors and can tailor the CRM accordingly can be difficult. Additionally, these partners might not have the expertise needed to effectively drive CRM adoption within the distribution sector.


Salesforce pricing is based on a per-user model, with several tiers available that unlock additional features as you move up. Additionally, there are various paid add-ons that can increase the overall cost. The need for customization and custom integration with distributors’ tools often leads to significant expenses, both upfront and ongoing.


Activity Feed in HubSpot

Unlike the other CRMs mentioned, HubSpot began as a marketing automation platform. As a result, it places a significant emphasis on marketing automation and driving inbound leads. HubSpot excels in making marketing automation user-friendly and easy to navigate. Their annual conference, INBOUND, reflects their philosophy of attracting and nurturing leads until they are ready to buy. We haven’t seen this model be successful for distributors, who typically prioritize selling more to existing customers over nurturing leads. While marketing is important and should complement sales efforts, it's unlikely to replace the revenue generated by salespeople in the office or field. We caution distributors against optimizing their CRM experience around marketing automation when their sales are primarily driven by reps.


  • User-friendly interface and easy navigation
  • AI features available to enhance productivity
  • Strong support and resources, like the INBOUND conference
  • Integrates sales CRM features with marketing automation features


  • Not designed for the unique needs of distributors, lacking info sellers need to work out of a single system and out-of-the-box integration with ERPs
  • Primarily focused on nurturing leads, while distributors usually aim to grow existing customers
  • Does not match transaction data against call notes, limiting the ability to track ROI and effectiveness of reps' conversations
  • Does not automatically map online browsing activity to transactions, so reps can't see abandoned carts within the CRM
Post-purchase support:

HubSpot offers post-purchase support in-house, from implementation to training. However, because of the unique nature of distributors’ business, HubSpot often recommends that distributors work with distribution-specific consultants to guide them and HubSpot through the process.


HubSpot offers a range of specialized hubs, including the Marketing Hub, Sales Hub Professional, Service Hub, Content Hub, Operations Hub, and Commerce Hub. These hubs can be purchased individually or as a bundle known as the "Customer Platform”.

HubSpot uses a per-user pricing model with tiers that unlock additional functionality as you move up. There are also paid add-ons for limit increases. For example, each plan includes a certain number of marketing contacts, and if you exceed that limit, you will pay more.

HubSpot implementations can be costly, with prices increasing depending on the complexity of the integrations, such as integrating with ERP systems. Training costs also vary: private virtual training is priced at $7,000, in-person training at $12,000, and public training at $1,000 per person. Additionally, consulting services are available, ranging from $320 to $500 per hour.

Concluding thoughts

CRM is undeniably crucial for any business. But choosing the right CRM can make a huge difference in how quickly you implement it, how well it fits your business needs, and how readily your team adopts and uses it. Stats show that a distribution-specific CRM makes the most sense—they're the fastest to implement and have the highest satisfaction rate.

We recommend selecting a CRM that empowers your sales team to actively grow your business rather than just taking orders. Look for a system that provides management with clear insights into which activities lead to sales wins. It's tough to run a business effectively when you're unsure which efforts are paying off.

You also need a CRM that drives accountability and ensures important tasks and opportunities don't fall through the cracks. A good system will alert you when things start to slip, giving you the chance to act before it's too late.

If you're evaluating CRM solutions, we suggest talking to our team about a new way of doing CRM. Request a live demo, and we'll be in touch to show you how our CRM can transform your sales process.

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