dispensary foot traffic

April 25, 2019 | Gene Marks

Oftentimes I meet with sales and marketing executives who work for manufacturing, distribution, field service, pharmaceutical, or retail companies and they ask for CRM systems that are suited to their industry. These are specific verticals. So why not cannabis?

The cannabis industry – as we all know – has been exploding. Billions of dollars in revenues have been created in more than half of the states in the country that now allow the medical or recreational use of the product. Growers, dispensaries, distributors, and a whole host of other indirect companies have benefited from the legal marijuana trend. So why not CRM?

That’s what Street Fight’s Stephanie Miles was surely thinking when she recently reviewed five CRM applications -Baker, SpringBig, WebJoint, Soros, and PipelineDeals – that have been specifically built for the cannabis industry.

All of them appear to be good options. But of the five, it seems that Baker is the only true CRM application for that type of business. It leverages loyalty programs, online ordering, and connections to point of sale systems to build a CRM database specifically geared to cannabis customers that can then be brought into a company’s marketing and communications campaigns.

That’s not to discount the other four. SpringBig also has powerful marketing automation capabilities that are integrated with its own point of sale system. WebJoint adds CRM functions to its established inventory and compliance management features. Soros’s CRM features to complement its already well-known back end order, accounting, and inventory management platform that’s used more by cannabis producers and prospectors. PipelineDeals has taken its existing CRM application which is used by others in various industries and tailored it for people in the cannabis business.

I often get asked if it’s worthwhile to get a “vertical” CRM system instead of a mainstream application like Salesforce.com or Microsoft Dynamics. As with so many other things, the answer is: it depends. There are pros and cons to each.

Getting a vertical CRM is a great idea if you already have a back-end platform (like Soros, for example) and you want to bolt-on CRM capabilities. Partnering with a company, like Baker, SpringBig, and especially WebJoint, means that you’ll be working with someone who really knows your industry and can speak your language ” and that’s no small matter. If you’re in a highly regulated industry like cannabis, it’s a good idea to align yourself with technologies and companies that are familiar with the rules and understand the implications. Although a vertical CRM may not have all the bells and whistles of a mainstream application, it probably has the essential ones that are most important to you. I mean, who uses all those features anyway, right?

That said, vertical CRMs do have downsides when compared to their mainstream competitors. They are oftentimes more expensive. The developers who make them are generally smaller and have fewer resources than the Microsofts and Oracles of the world. They have more niche communities which means getting technical support could be more challenging and they generally have fewer add-ons because those communities are smaller. Trust me ” U2 will not be performing at SpringBig’s next user conference as they did for Salesforce a couple of years ago! I know there’s no such thing as too big to fail, but let’s face it: smaller tech companies do have a higher chance of failing than their larger counterparts, and if that happens what happens to your data?

I admit, however, that if I were in the cannabis business, I’d probably lean to a vertical CRM like the ones reviewed in the Street Fight piece above. Why?

Considering that the product is still classified as a controlled substance by the Federal government and is always subject to controversy and debate, I would strongly desire to be all-in with other companies and partners that are in the same boat as me.

But that’s just if I was in the cannabis business because…it’s cannabis. If I were selling widgets or performing a basic service I’m not sure I’d learn to a vertical CRM, unless the product ” and its maker – really blows me away.

Gene Marks owns The Marks Group PC, a 10-person technology consulting firm, and is also a small business expert, speaker, and columnist at other major outlets.

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