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The CRM Starter Guide for Merchants

Posted on 4.07.2013

Web professionals really love their customer relationship management (CRM) software, as it allows them to compile all of the information they gather about customers and/or leads in a single platform that will organize, automate and synchronize various aspects of their business operations.

For the most part, it is an enterprise's sales team that utilizes CRM software like SugarCRM, Salesforce, Zoho or one of the many other solutions available to manage the various leads they accrue over time. However, many of the same principles can be applied to online merchants, a group that (traditionally) isn’t as familiar with the benefits of a CRM solution.

By using CRM software to collect and manage information about their customers from their websites and accounting systems, merchants can maintain a single database that allows them to make rapid updates to their CRM, accounting systems and websites in one fell swoop. In this regard, everything from a customer’s address to the price of a product can be altered across systems instantaneously.

Moreover, CRM solutions allow online retailers to offer more personalized site experiences for each of their returning customers based on information like their purchase or account histories, allowing the merchants to offer supplementary products, special deals or discounts for future purchases. And that doesn’t even begin to touch on the ability of a CRM solution to help bridge the gap between a merchant’s brick-and-mortar stores with their e-commerce websites.

Manage the Customer Experience
For merchants, the primary purpose of using a CRM tool should be to learn more about the customer experience and use that information to improve it for all of their customers. In particular, integrating a CRM system with an e-commerce solution can provide detailed and actionable information about customer behavior on a site; this information is what allows merchants to personalize the shopping experience for each of their customers over time.

Important Information (or What to Look For)
No matter how powerful a CRM system may be, it’s going to be kind of useless if an online retailer isn’t gathering the right kind of information about his or her customers. Of course, it should go without saying that they will want to get all of the essential bits of information about the customers, such as their names, addresses, email addresses and other contact information, as well as things like their job titles and the organizations they work for, especially if this data affects the way that you will market to them.

However, between a CRM system and e-commerce solution, merchants should also gather crucial behavioral data about each of their customers, such as their buying habits (e.g. the types of products they tend to buy), payment methods and shopping cart abandonment rates. Using this data allows merchants to make certain adjustments to their site as a whole that will improve the experience for all customers. 

Gathering the Data
There are many ways to go about getting customers' crucial contact information that can be inserted into a CRM system. For retailers with a brick-and-mortar location, they can gather the information from customers as they’re checking out, or offer a form for them to fill out in the store (maybe for some sort of discount or coupon in return). When it comes to online customers, forms also typically work best, and merchants can simply integrate free HTML form builders like JotForm, reformed or Accessify into their websites to collect information from their visitors. In addition, they can also include some sort of form section as part of their checkout process (although this doesn’t work with a guest checkout option), which will also collect any information that the merchants deem “necessary” when a customer registers with the site and signs up for an account.

Additional Benefits
While the biggest perk for merchants using CRM systems is the ability to optimize the customer experience and provide personalized options for individual customers, they can also take advantage of the more traditional uses of CRM solutions, including the ability to automate and streamline everyday business processes, such as quote and order management, pricing and contracts. CRM solutions will also (usually) provide detailed analytics with insights into business trends and general customer behaviors, and social CRM tools allow merchants to keep an eye on what their customers are saying about them, and turn that information into actionable strategies that will improve the overall customer experience.

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