A Marketer’s Guide to CRM

How customer relationship management (CRM) tools can help you understand audience data and use it to market smarter.

A window showing various hanging plants

In today’s business world, effective marketing isn’t just compelling, it’s personalized. The key to capturing attention and meeting your customers’ expectations is making sure each campaign sends the right message on the right channel and at the right moment—for every single customer. And the key to making that possible is simple: customer data. How you manage that data, a discipline known as customer relationship management (CRM), is not so simple.

CRM tools can serve different functions across departments: Helping sales reps quickly see past interactions and purchases before making a call, providing support teams with the background and contact information needed to provide great customer service, or giving marketers access to details that will help them target their campaigns. In short, CRMs serve as a hub for organizing and making sense of valuable audience data and insights.

Your customer data is one of the most valuable resources you have for improving your marketing and growing your business. Contact information, customer interaction, marketing campaigns, and your sales process all have distinct roles in the aquisition cycle. Effectively collecting and organizing your data can tell you everything you need to know about your customers’ preferences: Which products they love, what they’re looking for, the messages that tell them what they need to know, and where you’re still missing the mark. It can also help you figure out who to talk to next. Basically, your data can show you who you’re talking to, who you should be talking to, and how you should be talking to them.

But as the importance of audience data grows, so does the amount of data that businesses need to keep track of. With many online channels and multiple ways for customers to engage on each, data often gets siloed in different tools, making it difficult (or impossible) to get a complete picture of your customer and talk to them in a meaningful way.

That’s why marketers at businesses of all sizes and across all industries are turning to CRM tools to create a central hub for audience data—gaining a better understanding of who their customers are and what they want, and building stronger relationships as they grow.

What is CRM?

Depending on your industry and how you market and sell to customers, you may already be familiar with the term Customer Relationship Management, or CRM. Any approach to using data to build, improve and manage customer relationships can fall under the description of ‘CRM,’ but the term is most commonly used in reference to a CRM tool—technology that helps businesses aggregate, organize, and analyze customer data to better manage relationships with customers.

When potential customers become blips in your CRM tool, tracking those customers, their interactions with customer support, their buying patterns, and even their activity in social media, can help you target their needs with laser focus.

Why is CRM important for marketers?

Organizing and understanding data insights has become a key responsibility for any customer-facing role within a company. And marketers, in particular, need tools to help manage this process, since the data they need to keep track of can start to pile up very quickly.

As a marketer, you collect valuable information with each campaign you send and every customer interaction that results from it (including clicks, views, and purchases across new, existing, and prospective customers). And the sooner you can begin capturing, organizing and making sense of that data, the sooner you can start using it to improve build more—and better—customer relationships.

Do small businesses need a CRM tool?

CRM isn’t just for enterprise businesses or Fortune 500 companies. Using data to improve customer relationships has become an essential function for businesses of all sizes and niches. In fact, there’s no better time to think through the best ways to collect and organize customer data than when you’re just starting out.

From the moment you create an online presence for your business, you start gaining access to valuable data about your customers and potential customers. CRM can help you lay a strong foundation for building and tracking relationships with those customers, collecting data about their preferences and setting up automations for consistent, personalized touch points over time.

CRM doesn’t need to be a full time job: Whether you have a small sales team or you’re a solo entrepreneur relying on occasional marketing campaigns to sell your brand, putting your data to work for you can help you stay on customers’ radar and save time. It also allows you to make data-based decisions about where to focus your budget to reach customers on whatever channel they prefer—so however or whenever they’re ready to make a purchase, they’ll think of you.

Essential CRM features for small business marketers

Of course, if you’re just starting to lay a foundation for managing customer data, it’s unlikely that you’ll need the same CRM functionality as a large enterprise. Specific CRM needs will vary based on how your online business functions and scales, but there are a few key needs that any small business marketer should keep in mind. These basics include:

  • A central hub for audience data. First and foremost, small businesses need a centralized location to start gathering all their customer data in. Creating a single source of truth lets you organize customer insights as you collect them, and identify patterns that reveal things like where most of your audience lives and what messages they interact with most.
  • A seamless connection to your key marketing channels. Especially for businesses with small or non-existent sales teams, your marketing is an important part of selling your products or services and should be as tailored as possible. Managing audience data in a separate tool from your marketing channels makes it more difficult to turn customer insights into personalized communication, and increases the risk of information getting lost in the shuffle. Identify a few key channels you’ll be using to reach customers, and make sure your CRM tool allows you to seamlessly collect data from these tools.
  • The ability to test, learn, and iterate on campaigns. As a small business, you have a lot to learn about who your audience is and what their preferences are. It’s important to look for a tool that will help you to easily see how your channels perform, gain insights about how your audience is interacting with your marketing, and use this information to adjust your campaigns.
  • Tools to help you grow. Once you’ve started collecting audience data and learning more about who you’re talking to, you’ll want to be able to use that information to find and talk to people you should be talking to: potential new customers. Particularly for small businesses with limited access to budget and resources, audience data is an important tool for making your marketing budget go further—helping you to anticipate who’s most likely to buy and focusing your resources where they’ll count.

Benefits of CRM for small business marketers

Finding a CRM tool that meets the needs of your business (even if it’s just the basic criteria outlined above) can start to yield immediate benefits for small business marketers. Building a solid foundation for CRM can help you to:

  • Get a better sense of who you’re marketing to. When you create a central location for customer data, you see a clearer picture of who you’re talking to and can keep track of any changes as your business continues to grow and evolve.
  • Send the right content to the right people. When you use data to target your messages, it makes it easy to send content that matters to customers (which makes it more likely they’ll keep listening). Particularly for small businesses relying heavily on marketing to position their brand, tailoring messages to specific segments is key to making sure you don’t overload your audience.
  • Use your data to find new people to talk to. Creating campaigns based on your existing audience data makes it easy to find the people most likely to love what you have to offer, so you can be smarter about targeting your campaigns and getting the most out of your budget.
  • Find new ways to talk to people with shared interests. By seeing all of your data in one place, you’ll start to notice patterns in who your contacts are and what interests them. And the more you know about audience trends and preferences, the easier it is to think of new ways to talk to your audience and improve your campaigns.

Is Mailchimp a CRM?

Mailchimp offers all the CRM tools small business marketers need, allowing them to aggregate, organize, and manage audience data in one place. In fact, many Mailchimp customers already use the platform as their CRM.

Although some Mailchimp users do have more complex CRM needs (which is why there are integrations available for other standalone CRM solutions), for many marketers, the most important function of CRM is collecting and interpreting customer data to improve campaigns. And Mailchimp provides all the tools needed to meet these goals, so you can get organized and start putting your customer data to work for you—without adding unnecessary (and expensive) complexity to your workflows.

How Mailchimp can help with your Marketing CRM needs

Most Mailchimp customers know their campaigns generate helpful data reports, but many don’t realize Mailchimp also provides tools to organize and interpret that data on a higher level. Best of all, many of these tools are free, so they’re a great option for businesses that are just getting started.

Here are a few of the ways that Mailchimp can help you start using data to improve your campaigns and build better relationships with your customers.

Create a central hub for customer data

Having all of your audience data in one place makes it possible to identify patterns: You can see what’s working (and what’s not), you can figure out what to send, when to send it, and who to send it to. And with Mailchimp as your central hub, you can quickly turn that knowledge into action.

Whether you’re starting from scratch or you have existing data you need to organize, Mailchimp makes it easy to create a single view of your audience. For example, with e-commerce customers, connecting your e-commerce store to Mailchimp automatically imports all of your customer data into our platform. With this information, we’ll give you a cross-channel view of who your customer is, how they interact with your marketing, and how that leads to purchases. These insights come from data points like their age and geographical location, when they last clicked on one of your campaigns, and when they bought something.

Learn more about how to connect your store to Mailchimp.

Give your team a single source of truth for customer insights

Your team can also benefit from these insights. With unlimited sign-ins for multi-user accounts, you can let your whole team see what you’re seeing, and grant admin access or designate each user as a Manager, Author, and Viewer, based on the level of access you want each person to have. This allows your team to stay aligned around the needs of your customers—and with the mobile app, your team members can take all of this information on the go, accessing customer insights from anywhere.

Learn more about multi-user accounts in Mailchimp.

Immediately gain access to pre-built segments—or create your own

Even though you want all of your customer data in one place, you’ll almost never want to talk to them all in the same way. That’s why Mailchimp makes it easy to segment your audience based on shared characteristics.

Just by bringing your customer data into Mailchimp, you’ll automatically gain access to pre-built segments based on audience data that’s already in your account, like where your contacts live, how old they are, or which people click on your campaigns most often. These pre-built segments can be very useful for sending targeted messages, but you can also build your own segments based on what’s useful to you. You can keep your segments simple, or you can create highly complex segments by layering on as many as 5 criteria in your query—so that you can talk to your audience in an even more targeted way. And if you need something even more complex, Mailchimp Pro users can use Advanced Segmentation.

Learn more about segmentation in Mailchimp.

Organize your contact data however you need to

How you need to organize and access information about your audience will vary depending on your business’ needs, what’s important for you to know about your contacts, and how you gather insights. That’s why Mailchimp offers several tools—including segments, tags, and groups—that work in slightly different ways to help you get the information you need when you need it.

Tags are customizable labels you can create for your contacts—like "social media influencer" or "uses coupons”—based on information you know about them. They’re completely flexible: You can tag a full list of contacts at once, add multiple tags to a single contact, and use them to create segments or automatically trigger campaigns. Groups, on the other hand, are created through a form field that people fill out to join your list—while tags are assigned by you, groups are self-selected by the people in your audience. But just like tags, you can segment and filter your audience by groups to send them the right messages, based on information they told you about themselves.

Learn more about Mailchimp’s tools for organizing your audience.

Use data to personalize your campaigns

Once you’ve created your unique organizational structure based on what makes sense for your business, you can use your data to send customers tailored messages that feel like they were meant just for them.

Mailchimp makes it easy to add merge tags into emails to include specific customer information (like their first name or a product they’ve been considering) and allows you to personalize send times based on what time zone a customer is in or when they’re most likely to open an email. If you have a connected store, you can even predict your customers' gender and age range so you know how to talk to them. This makes it simple to send people the messages that matter to them—and makes it more likely they’ll keep listening to what you have to say.

Learn more about Mailchimp’s personalization tools.

Make your data work for your marketing, automatically

Not only does organizing your data make it easy to send targeted messages, you can send those messages automatically. By harnessing the power of your data and our automations, you can upsell to customers with the right recommendations and reward them for their loyalty.

Mailchimp offers several kinds of automated campaigns that can use data to help drive conversions:

  • Set up a welcome series to introduce your business to your prospective customers (for example, everyone who joins your email list through a popup form). It's a great opportunity to offer a discount or promotion to get people purchasing right away.
  • Turn on abandoned cart, an automated email that will remind customers who haven't finished the checkout process to come back and complete their purchase, and you’ll quickly start selling more stuff.
  • Use our best customers automation to send a discount code to the shoppers who buy from you the most, and use time-based triggers to make sure you’re staying top of mind with them.

Mailchimp will automatically keep track of revenue generated by each automation, so you can see what's working and optimize your strategy. As you determine what’s working, you can continue to prioritize and optimize.

Learn more about Mailchimp automations.

Optimize campaigns based on data

Mailchimp’s optimization tools make it easy to see what’s working (and what’s not) so you can focus your efforts. Understand how messages resonate with different segments within your audience, test different elements of your campaign (subject lines, images, and more) to compare results, and get a detailed breakdown of how your campaigns are performing. Our growth, engagement, and revenue reports will help you learn more about the behavior of your audience and discover what type of content resonates with them. And the more you do with Mailchimp, the more data you have to work with.

Learn more about Mailchimp’s optimization tools.

Get smarter with how you target new customers

Mailchimp’s CRM tools are good for more than just optimizing your existing relationships, they can also help you build new ones. With your data consolidated in Mailchimp, you can make data-backed decisions about who to talk to next and where to focus your advertising budget.

For example, when you create Facebook ads in Mailchimp, you’re able to use your data to create a lookalike audience of your best customers and target them with an ad with just a few clicks. By targeting the people who are most likely to appreciate your message or product, you can make your budget go further. And once you’ve got the interest of someone new, you can use everything you’ve already learned to effectively manage and personalize your communication with them and other new people as your audience grows.

Learn more about what you can create in Mailchimp to drive conversions.

How small business marketers use Mailchimp for CRM

As you can see, Mailchimp offers many tools and strategies that fall into the category of building and managing customer relationships as a marketer. Here are a few high-level examples of how different types of businesses might use a combination of these tools to get strategic with their data and accomplish their end goals:

  • An e-commerce marketer might connect their site using an e-commerce integration to sync existing customer, purchase, and store data into Mailchimp. To get started, they could set up a pop-up form to collect information from prospects who visit their shit, build a landing page to advertise a sale or promotion, and create a process to import data they collect offline. With all of their customer information in Mailchimp, they can use tags to keep track of where they met customers and what they’re interested in—and that information can then be used for personalized marketing.
  • A business that sells digital products, like SaaS applications, might integrate their solution with Mailchimp to ensure all new and updated user data gets synced over. Using a Mailchimp API wrapper, they can also tag users based on in-app behavior, which becomes a powerful marketing tool. For example, they could set up an automated welcome series for app users to help guide them through onboarding and best practices. To do this, they’d use tags to identify app users, then create a segment based on tag data.
  • A marketer that promotes a content network may use groups to gather information from customers when they subscribe through an embedded Mailchimp form. By understanding customer interests, they’re able to create more relevant content, and by knowing more about who their subscribers are and how they engage, they’re able to improve their approach. For example, maybe their customers are most likely to engage on Sundays, or maybe they all live in the Pacific Northwest. Whatever patterns emerge, they’re likely to spark some new content ideas.

How to choose the right CRM for your small business

Your specific needs for CRM will vary widely based on how your business operates and sells to customers, so you should always take the time to figure out how your strategy will look based on your goals. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when evaluating your own needs:

  • Who will use your CRM tools? Will your CRM tools primarily be used for marketing? By a sales team? Both? Consider everyone in your organization who could benefit from access to customer insights (whether it’s just for visibility, or to use data for a specific purpose) to find a tool that will accommodate what you need.
  • How much complexity do you need to get started? Keep in mind that you likely won’t build a complex CRM strategy overnight. Find a tool that will allow for a simplified approach, so you can adjust your strategy and add complexity gradually as you learn.
  • Which marketing channels are you using to talk to your audience? Find a tool that integrates directly with the channels you use most, so that data can quickly be turned into action, and insights are unlikely to get siloed or lost.
  • Will your CRM scale with you as you grow? Over time you will find new ways to use your audience data and automate CRM processes, so it’s important to find a tool that allows you to add this functionality as you’re ready for it. But keep in mind that if there are CRM processes you’ll never need, you don’t want to be paying for (and working around) unnecessary complexity.

If you do find that you need a more complex and sales-driven process for CRM (often the case for enterprises with a business-to-business focus), keep in mind that Mailchimp offers integration options with stand-alone CRM solutions, so you can share contact and customer data with the platform that works for you. But for most small business marketers, Mailchimp offers all the tools needed to start collecting and organizing contact data, and using it to build better relationships with customers.

Read more about CRM for marketers

How to Manage Your Audience in Mailchimp

Most people know their campaigns generate helpful data reports, but many don’t realize Mailchimp also provides tools to organize and interpret that data on a higher level—to show who you’re talking to (and who you should be talking to). Learn the benefits of organizing all your customer data in Mailchimp, and how to use our audience management tools to build better customer relationships.

How to Build Your Email List

Email marketing helps you build a relationship with your customers. No matter what type of business you operate, an email list is the most important element of a successful marketing strategy. With that list, you can share your story, promote your business, and showcase your products, all while turning subscribers into paying customers. Here’s how to combine pop-up forms and Facebook ads to start growing your list in a few simple steps.

How to Design Pop-Up Forms that Work

When you create a pop-up in Mailchimp, your forms will be highly customizable, mobile-friendly, and completely free. And, since they don’t require any coding on your part to get started, it’s easy to create a painless signup process for your subscribers in the same place you manage and track all of your other marketing. Learn tips and best practices to help you create effective pop-up forms and use them to grow your audience.

Rewarding Customer Engagement With Pre-Built Segments

When you’re a small business owner, embracing the unknown sometimes comes with the territory. But building a focused and effective marketing plan requires knowing a thing or two about your customers. Learn how Gingiber uses pre-built segments to identify their most engaged customers.

Getting the Most Out of Your Mailchimp Reports

When you know what your campaign data is telling you, you can make better marketing decisions. Good decisions are informed ones—but with a lot of data at your fingertips, it can be hard to know where to begin. That’s why we rounded up 3 simple steps to understand and use your Mailchimp reports to make better marketing choices.