Retail CRM Software Really Steps Up

Retail CRM Software Automates Consumer Relationships at Scale

Yogi Berra once advised "In theory, there's no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is."

Retail CRM software has become the underlying platform to support essential business development strategies — such as omni-channel communications, customer experience (CX) management, social media engagement, loyalty programs, precision marketing and mobile marketing programs among others. But for too many retailers these practices still appear to be theories.

The gap between leaders and laggards is growing. Despite the industry research, best practices and numerous case studies, many merchants sit the sidelines with regard to new consumer engagement methods and technology adoption. These merchants know their customers are ahead of them but defer innovative solutions and in turn find themselves perpetually behind their customers.

It reminds me of the 1990's when brands took a slow approach to creating their websites, and later their ecommerce platforms. And like that era, today's consumers who expect to connect with their new and favorite brands over social, mobile and other channels are not a fad and are not going away.

Retailers can adopt consumer strategies and supporting technologies now or they can wait until these strategies themselves become commoditized. Adopting them before competitors will result in increased consumer engagement, market share and business performance.

Retail CRM Software

The Technology Tipping Point

More than three decades after the term "Customer Relationship Management" was coined, merchants are finally adopting CRM software in mass. So why now? Because brands, manufacturers, merchants and others are pursuing direct relationships with consumers.

Consumers have led the way, using social media and mobility to connect and communicate with each other and their brands in ways not previously possible. Smart retailers are responding by adopting CRM software to engage consumers and build stronger customer relationships.

But it's not easy. There's an intense competition for these consumer relationships among the entire value chain. Manufacturers, distributors and retailers are all vying for these relationships, and in fact competing with each other for the very limited consumer attention span. In the new battle for consumer relationships, which will define business winners and losers, there will be far more losers than winners.

So how do you win?

First, recognize that building relationships with consumers is not a theory or a fad. It's here to stay, and it's a business practice that you can and should adopt now. Time is of the essence.

Second, recognize that CRM is not a software application. It's a business strategy aimed at growing mutually rewarding and profitable customer relationships at scale. CRM software is the technology that brings automation and scale to that strategy. Don't make the mistake of trying to substitute technology for strategy, or deploying technology in the absence of strategy.

Third, begin with Voice of the Customer (VoC) outreach and analysis. Don't assume customers are homogenous or that you know how customers want to communicate, or even what consumers want. Failure to understand what's most important to them, by customer segment, will set back your business results by quarters or years.

Fourth, thoughtfully construct a Customer Relationship Management strategy that becomes your blueprint, roadmap and delivery plan. Your strategy should document clear and measurable objectives in a prioritized order. It should identify the specific methods to achieve specific objectives. This allows you to stack rank your planned tasks by payback, achieve the biggest ROI results first, demonstrate early wins, and create an environment for sustained success.

Lastly, apply the best retail CRM software to perform the data management, process automation and closed loop reporting. While software should not precede strategy, it's also true that achieving strategies such as omni-channel communications, CX management, social media engagement, effective loyalty programs, marketing automation and the like can't be done at scale, or quite possibly at all, without the software.

Since the advent of the term CRM in 1992, many retailers have ignored this business strategy as they really didn't have the means to track and engage consumers in a relevant, personalized and timely manner. That's now changed, and those retailers that capitalize on these new consumer relationship opportunities will most certainly outperform competitors who continue to treat this movement as just a theory.