Customer relationships matter more than anything—rise to the occasion with an ecommerce CRM

Mae Rice
12min read
Ecommerce industry
12 December 2022
two men leaning over a desk

One viral bad review can snowball into a major threat to your ecommerce business.

But even before social media, customer satisfaction was key to longevity. Just ask Dell.

In 2005, Dell limped through a major PR debacle that started with a single unhappy customer: writer Jeff Jarvis. He blogged about his frustrations with his “lemon” laptop, an expensive in-home repair service that never materialised, and slow customer service that drove him online.

Dissatisfied customers flocked to his comments section. A mini-movement was born. Over the next year, Dell’s stock price dropped 42%.

Since then, the risk of a “Dell Hell”-style news cycle has only grown. For B2B operations, the risk is serious—each client consists of a team, and everyone on every team can warn their networks, leave bad reviews, and post on social media.

For B2C brands, that risk is tenfold, since their audience of customers is an even larger pool of people.

How can modern businesses thrive in spite of that risk? By proactively managing customer interactions and relationships at scale with a CRM—a software designed to make customer success inevitable, even when sales reps quit.

Let’s dig into what a CRM is, the companies that benefit most from CRMs, and the 3 key questions to ask yourself as you shop for one.

What is a CRM software?

Think of a customer relationship management system (CRM) as a company’s living, annotated rolodex. It’s a searchable, digital log where sales and customer support teams can manually enter updates from conversations with customers and prospects—or log them automatically, depending on the marketing automation tools a company is using.

Wait, so what does a CRM do—and not do?

A great CRM is powerful, but it can’t do everything. For example:

  • It DOES centralise each account’s status, history, and contact management details in one accessible spot.
  • It DOESN’T track digital behaviour, like software usage or email clicks.
  • It DOES let users—like sales managers—generate custom reports based on contract price, signing date, company size, etc.
  • It DOESN’T serve every marketing need—CRMs are usually designed for sales and customer service.
  • It DOES help leadership forecast revenue and manage sales pipeline—while reducing silos across departments.

What are some common fields in a CRM system?

On an account page, you’ll often find fields like:

  • Account name
  • Account status
  • Contact name(s)
  • Phone and email contact information
  • Personal communication preferences
  • Purchase or contract history
  • Customer service history, including phone calls or email touchpoints

What is an ecommerce CRM and is it an oxymoron?

CRMs are most commonly used at B2B companies, and few ecommerce companies identify that way. But look under the hood, and many ecommerce brands have a B2B component in the form of contracts with wholesalers and third-party retailers.

Whether they use a CRM or not, ecommerce brands do rely heavily on other platforms that offer automation, segmentation, and personalisation capabilities because they’re often talking to more potential customers.

With the added strain of bringing in less revenue than B2B companies, ecommerce brands are sometimes operating on tighter margins—so they need software that can act like a supportive, extra set of hands to help with lead management and tracking of the customer lifecycle.

3 types of businesses that benefit most from CRM software

The conventional wisdom goes that CRMs are for B2B companies with sales teams. But CRMs actually serve a variety of company profiles, including:

1. B2B businesses

B2B companies face longer, more complicated sales cycles than B2C ones. Converting a lead to a client can involve months of emails, calls, and meetings, because the B2B buying process involves multiple internal stakeholders (typically 4-8). It’s important to automatically track every step of the marathon sales process, and a CRM is a great place to do it.

2. B2C and B2B businesses

In ecommerce, businesses that serve individuals and organisations are more common than you might think. This category might include:

  • Retailers that sell direct and wholesale, like drinks brand Twinings and homewear brand Alessi. They complement their direct-to-consumer businesses (B2C) with sales to major UK retail chains like Waitrose and John Lewis (B2B).
  • Ecommerce platforms signal-boosting a slew of brand partners, like Thirteen Lune. The company sells inclusive beauty products to consumers (B2C) by partnering with 150+ brands (B2B).

For these brands, a CRM comes in handy for managing and optimising the B2B side of their business.

3. Big, high-touch B2C businesses

At a certain scale, a B2C business’s customer service team needs a CRM to track bottom-of-funnel relationships. This is especially important if the company:

  • Sells a luxury product, like diamonds or boutique mattresses
  • Has a high-touch offering, like a try-before-you-buy option or a lifetime warranty
  • Wants to go above and beyond on CX to separate itself from competitors

Many ecommerce CRMs can automatically ingest emails between reps and customers—which can help the whole team identify common issues, refine best practices, and quickly identify sales opportunities.

3 benefits of using a CRM for your ecommerce business

Like most B2B SaaS products, CRMs are highly customisable. Each configuration has unique pros and cons, but these are a few common benefits companies see from the most common types of CRMs:

1. It functions as institutional memory

It’s normal for accounts to change hands, or get serviced by multiple team-members. Maybe a sales rep left the team abruptly, and a new rep has to tag in. Maybe the customer bought already, and sales needs to hand them off to account management.

image of a salesforce tweet that highlights the value of crm tools

With a robust CRM solution, these transitions happen efficiently, with minimal information lost in the shuffle. Any new account owner has a digital log of a customer’s history with the company, and they can get up to speed quickly and autonomously.

2. It improves customer experience

Customers might never see a CRM, but they can feel it. When an ecommerce business has a great CRM and uses it wisely, customers get:

  • More relevant communication: Customers with detailed CRM profiles get fewer sales pitches for products or add-ons they’ll never need.
  • Fewer duplicate updates: When every interaction is logged, it’s rarer for two (or three, or four…) internal stakeholders to tell a customer the same thing via multiple follow-ups.
  • Less repeating themselves: Even if they bounce from sales to customer support to billing, customers spend less time repeating the same information—because it’s logged in the CRM’s ticketing system.

Overall, the ecommerce CRM helps create a feeling of forward momentum for customers. Whether they’re trying to buy or unsubscribe, they’re less likely to feel forgotten or stuck—which in the long run can help boost customer retention.

Overall, the CRM helps create a feeling of forward momentum for customers.

3. It saves valuable employee bandwidth

Internally, the best CRM platforms reduce the hours spent on several time-consuming tasks, resulting in:

  • Less data entry: CRMs reduce manual data entry by centralising important info, and letting users sort and export it in a variety of formats based on the needs of the business function.
  • Fewer interdepartmental questions: Ecommerce CRMs reduce random pings (which can distract employees and majorly reduce productivity) by making key customer information accessible and searchable for every team—even the internal ones.
  • Quicker account handoffs: No need for a call or a meeting—account pages or dashboards on the CRM double as onboarding docs for anyone starting on the account.

Centralising customer information in a single hub creates all kinds of company-level efficiencies—and ensures sales and CS teams address customer needs.

How to choose a CRM: 3 key questions to ask yourself

There are more than 1.5K CRM providers out there—from freemium options to enterprise solutions—and they each have their own complicated constellation of features. Asking yourself these 3 questions as you shop will help you find the right one for your business.

1. How easy is it for our non-technical roles to use?

As you explore your options, think about the user experience. Are the most important fields and functions in the CRM clearly labeled? Easy to find?

Intuitive UX is a must for a ecommerce CRM feature checklist. It can’t be a source of dread or confusion—it will only deliver real ROI if customer-facing, non-technical roles use it consistently.

Before buying, get feedback on the software from the sales and CX team members who will use it most. Make sure to talk to a mix of senior and junior team members—they often have different needs.

2. Will it scale with my business?

A small business can do a lot of things manually that a larger one can’t. So as you shop, pay attention to each CRM’s automation options, even the ones you won’t need right away.

Having the ability to automatically perform a specific action based on triggers or events can take the legwork out of menial tasks.
Jay Larson
Director of engineering at Tomorrow

“The most valuable feature in a CRM to our clients is by far workflow automation,” says Jay Larson, director of engineering at digital ecommerce agency Tomorrow. “Having the ability to automatically perform a specific action based on triggers or events can take the legwork out of menial tasks.”

It also reduces the need for expensive custom developer work, Larson notes—a big win for your bottom line.

3. Does it integrate well with my existing tech stack?

An ideal CRM integrates seamlessly with your existing tech stack. It can easily ingest information on your existing customers, and pull real-time sales data from your web store automatically.

“The most valuable feature of a CRM is its ability to keep track of all customer information and the relationship history in one place,” says Kenneth Ott, co-founder of Metacake. “It must do this automatically, without much human intervention, and must allow the information to be easily actionable by sales people and systems.”

In other words, the right CRM doesn’t just ingest data—it synthesises it into digestible, actionable reports and data visualisations.

How pairing a CRM with a CDP helps ecommerce brands

For some ecommerce brands, a CRM alone isn’t enough. It might help manage B2B relationships with wholesalers and big-box retailers, but when it comes to modern DTC marketing—an ecommerce CRM isn’t really built for that.

Enter: the customer data platform (CDP).

 image of data sources flowing into a CDP system and resulting in a variety of activations

What’s the difference between a CRM and a CDP ?

If CRMs are built mainly for salespeople, CDPs are built mainly for marketers aiming to send personalised, timely messages at scale. CDPs spin digital behavioural data into robust customer profiles which answer questions like:

  • What channel did this specific customer discover us on?
  • How many times have they visited our website?
  • How often do they click on our emails?
  • How frequently do they order our products?
  • What’s their forecasted lifetime value?

Here are a few reasons a CRM and a CDP play well together for ecommerce companies:

A CDP and a CRM help sales and marketing teams collaborate

If you can move seamlessly between two user-friendly systems, it’s easier for sales and marketing to stay aligned—without a boatload of meetings.

Sales can pop into the CDP, for example, to see if marketing has collected relevant engagement data from a prospect or sent a specific marketing campaign to them. Marketers, meanwhile, can look at the CRM notes on top accounts for sales enablement content ideas. It’s a win-win.

A CRM and CDP save precious development resources

These two systems combined make massive troves of data accessible and searchable to every role in your company.

“The ability to access data without having to put in a formal request is amazing,” says Grace Robinson, senior content marketing manager at X Agency. “It definitely helps support an agile marketing strategy.”

It definitely helps support an agile marketing strategy.
Grace Robinson
Senior content marketing manager at X Agency

Non-technical teams can pull real-time customer data on their own, freeing up developers for other, high-priority activities.

A CDP adds omnichannel superpowers to your tech stack

If a CRM helps you achieve your highest-touch customer journey, the right CDP helps you build a cohesive, scalable customer journey across 10+ digital channels—essential for growth in the modern marketplace, according to a 2022 McKinsey report.

“Five years ago, being omnichannel meant offering four or five channels,” the report declares. “Our data shows that customers want—and expect—to engage seamlessly across ten or more.”

According to McKinsey, businesses with more active marketing and sales channels grow their market share faster.

A great CDP can manage that kind of sprawling omnichannel ecosystem, because it:

  • Offers robust audience segmentation, based on factors like purchasing behaviour, location, and even hair type
  • Powers automated, personalised communication, whether it’s an email with custom product recommendations or birthday push notifications
  • Empowers companies to collect new zero-party data through online surveys and quizzes, and segment based on the results

These kinds of capabilities make a CDP a valuable complement to an ecommerce CRM.

Put customers first by listening at scale

When ecommerce companies implement a CRM and a CDP together, customers win for two main reasons:

  • Internally, it lays the foundation for a customer-first culture. Even back-of-house teams, like logistics, can pull relevant customer data reports from usable CRMs and CDPs, and assess whether their efforts to increase satisfaction actually work.
  • Externally, a CRM and CDP together make customers feel heard. The software lets companies track customer issues and preferences—whether they’re stated or revealed through behaviour—and act accordingly.

This all minimises customer frustration—the root of many modern PR crises, and Dell’s PR crisis in 2005. Dell stonewalled in the face of a customer’s complaints, and the customer responded by making himself heard through his blog and major press outlets.

When customers feel heard and prioritised, issues are less likely to escalate.

Ecommerce CRM FAQs

What is an ecommerce CRM?

An ecommerce CRM, or Customer Relationship Management, refers to software, apps, and strategies that help ecommerce websites manage and enhance their interactions with customers. It facilitates everything from gathering and analysing customer segmentation to improving marketing, sales forecasting, and customer support efforts.

Can an ecommerce CRM integrate with other tools I use?

Many ecommerce CRM systems offer integrations with popular tools such as email marketing tools, payment gateways, social media, and ecommerce platforms like Shopify or WooCommerce. CRM integration capabilities may vary, so be sure to check compatibility with your existing ecommerce marketing efforts to ensure that you choose the best ecommerce CRM software.

How can I measure the success of my ecommerce CRM implementation?

You can measure CRM success through metrics such as lead generation, customer behaviour, retention rates, increased average order value, improved customer satisfaction scores, and increased sales automation and marketing processes. Using CRM tools can be a learning curve, so use these metrics to streamline how you use your CRM ecommerce integration for your online business.

When customers feel heard and prioritised, issues are less likely to escalate—and you’re more likely to get positive word of mouth from happy customers.

Find out more about Klaviyo’s Customer Data Platform (CDP)
Talk to an expert
Mae Rice
Mae Rice
Senior content marketing manager
Mae Rice is a senior content marketing manager at Klaviyo, leading case studies and writing customer-focused blog posts. A longtime journalist and content marketer, she has covered marketing, technology and the ways they intersect since 2019, and her freelance work has appeared in Insider, Vox, Buzzfeed Reader and beyond. She graduated from the University of Chicago and lives in Chicago.