For many retailers, the current period of uncertain economic conditions may be the best time to build new capabilities to an existing business that can create long term competitive advantage. Finding ways to stand out, drive sales, and enhance your customer experience should become a focus. One of the best ways to do so is through a Customer Relationship Management system (CRM). But what is a CRM? Does your ecommerce or retail business need one? And, if you decide it’s time to embrace a CRM, what should you look for?

What is a CRM?

A CRM’s primary function is to manage the engagement process with your customer, through the course of their entire life-cycle. It does this by collecting and analysing data and turning this into insights that can lead to targeted strategies that help you build more personalised connections with your customers.

TCRM is the largest category in business software and one of the best assets upon which to build a digital presence. For ecommerce retailers, a CRM enables you to attract and retain customers by using data to create a personalised, strategic sales experience; develop a deep understanding of customer buying habits; understand trends amongst your customers; drive operational efficiencies and reduce spending on sales and relationship-building efforts.

In a highly-competitive global ecommerce market, it’s not always easy to differentiate yourself based on the cost or quality of your products. A CRM, though, enables you to differentiate yourself through effective, personalised and strategic interactions with your audience. Indeed, data shows that ecommerce businesses that deploy a CRM system enjoy an 87% improvement in sales, 74% increase in customer satisfaction and 73% improvement in business efficiency.

Does your business need one?

The CRM market is worth in excess of $120 billion USD ($170 billion AUD) and is growing at an annual rate of 12 per cent every year. That means more and more businesses – including, potentially, your competitors – are using a CRM to revolutionise the way they interact with their customers. If you want to enjoy the aforementioned increase in sales, customer satisfaction and business efficiency you should strongly consider a CRM for your business.

It’s easy to think that without having the luxury of a physical shopfloor and face-to-face interaction with your customers, that you can’t build relationships with – or develop insights into – your customers. However, a CRM enables you to do exactly that, building a 360-degree view of your shoppers, their purchasing habits and browsing behaviours. Crucially, any jobs can be automated allowing you to spend less time working on your business and more time attracting and retaining customers. When time is money for retailers, a CRM can be worth its weight in gold.  

What to look for in a CRM?

With dozens of vendors out there, identifying the right CRM can be daunting. When choosing a platform, think about functionality and flexibility. When it comes to functionality, evaluate what features a vendor offers, what comes as standard and what you need to pay additionally for.

Most CRMs have pre-built integrations with third-party tools like email, social media and websites, so identify a platform that will fit most seamlessly and naturally within your existing processes. If you sell exclusively through an online store, prioritise that, but if social media is your biggest channel, focus on a CRM platform that supports that. Essential functions of a CRM include lead management, customer sentiment analysis, pipeline management and data analytics, so look for platforms that rank highly in these areas.

Technology should adapt to your requirements rather than vice versa, so look for something that provides flexibility too. Start with pricing. Your CRM should be affordable but with the option to scale as your business and its needs do too. The best platforms will provide options based on the number of users or employees you have, ensuring your financial commitment is sustainable and fair.

Because a CRM acts as the backbone of your business it should be customisable too, allowing you to personalise functions, processes and workflows to suit your needs – and those of your customers. Zoho CRM, for example, provides you with an integrated platform for all your sales, marketing, support, and inventory management needs so that you can manage your business, supply chain and customer relationships effortlessly, effectively and affordably.

As the ecommerce industry continues to surge, competition to cater to a new era of post-pandemic online consumers is increasing. To stand out, and build the foundations for a year to remember, consider the value a CRM could drive for your business and your customers.

Vijay Sundaram is chief strategy officer at Zoho.