CRM vs. Email for the Outdoor Industry: Which is Better?

At BKMedia Group, we love the great outdoors, a passion which gives us a deep appreciation for the tools, products, and services of our travel and outdoor clients.


As an outdoor gear brand, you probably don’t have much time to get into the nitty gritty of digital marketing strategies — you’re too busy designing (and test-riding) the next great mountain bike. But one of the most important ends to the means of digital marketing is maintaining relationships with both your existing customers and potential customers.

Modern technology has thrown open the doors of possibility for how you can track the behavior of your potential and past customers, and optimize your content and ads to increase the likelihood of them making a first or repeat purchase.

Many companies rely on CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software to manage this effort. But hold up: What is a CRM

What is a CRM?

A CRM is a software tool that can do a lot of things, including:

  • Manage contact information and all communications with customers, staff, suppliers, distributors, producers, and more
  • Track sales and order status
  • Improve customer service
  • Direct marketing campaigns
  • Keep track of customers’ social media activity
  • Integrate with Google AnalyticsWordPress sites, and more

By streamlining all that data in one place, a CRM can help you identify leads and boost conversions. When we brought the power of the Salesforce CRM to our outdoor travel client Off the Beaten Path, the result was a more efficient backend, more website traffic, longer site visit times, and more requests for catalogs and trip information.

Some popular CRMs on the market include Salesforce, Zendesk, HubSpot, Zoho, Pipedrive, and Marketing 360. And when used effectively, a CRM can undoubtedly help you grow your outdoor business. 

But here’s the thing: These tools are so powerful that they’re often both expensive and somewhat complicated to use.

For a small operation, you may not have the money or bandwidth to fully commit to incorporating a CRM into your business. The good news is, an email marketing platform could be the perfect substitute.

Email Marketing: Your CRM Substitute

Email marketing is about more than just sending emails to sell stuff (though it is quite effective for that, too). It’s using email to maintain and develop relationships with customers old and new. (Kinda sounds like a CRM, doesn’t it?)

These days, email service providers can do a lot of what CRMs can do, and come with some advantages over CRM:

  • Cheaper
  • Simpler to use
  • Easy to integrate with other applications to add on more powerful CRM-type features as you need them
  • Convenient marketing automation tools

Used wisely, doing your customer relationship work through an email marketing platform can yield powerful results. One of our clients saw a 2,882% increase in email-directed sales when we integrated their Mailchimp account with their Shopify store!

Pros of a CRM for Outdoor Companies

The primary difference between a CRM and an email marketing platform is that a CRM typically has broader capabilities. That’s especially true when it comes to tracking and recording all of your communications with customers and others, whether it be via email, social media, phone, whatever.

For outdoor and travel companies, a full-fledged CRM might be for you if:

  1. You have sales people who develop customers over time and communicate regularly with them even after a sale is finalized — this is likely if you provide high-end tours and travel packages or customized outdoor products such as bicycles, roof top tents, etc.
  2. You specialize in luxury products and services that cost your customers a lot of money. A small number of customers that represent big chunks of revenue need extra care when it comes to customer service.
  3. You work regularly with manufacturers, distributors, and suppliers.

It’s likely that if you’re at the level of utilizing a CRM, you’ll also be using a separate email marketing platform to send out newsletters, welcome emails, announce new products and sales, and more. Don’t worry, though, you can always integrate the two.

If the above doesn’t sound like your company, then an email service provider might be right for you.

Pros of Using Email as a CRM Substitute for Outdoor Companies

With an email marketing platform, you can maintain all of your customer contacts and keep track of what emails they open, what they click on, and what they skip. You can also automate emails based on certain actions of each customer, and of course send your own customized emails to individuals or sub-groups of your mailing list.

An email marketing platform may be a solid CRM substitute for your outdoor brand if:

  1. You have a small operating budget (email platforms are cheaper than CRM software)
  2. You can’t afford to hire a dedicated employee to manage and make the most of a CRM
  3. Your business is primarily focused on selling lower-cost products and services
  4. You can handle customer service issues with your existing staff

Plus, you can always upgrade the power of your email platform via integrations to bring on more CRM-like features as you need them. You can start with Mailchimp or Constant Contact, and then integrate it with customer service software, analytics tools, and your online store, and then graduate to a full-on CRM when you’re ready.

Still not sure where to get started with your customer relationship management strategy? Don’t sweat it. We can help. 

The experts at BKMedia have brought their digital marketing prowess to a plethora of outdoor and travel brands. We start with a full audit with what’s working and what could work better, and then come up with a comprehensive strategy to help you reach more customers and grow your business through web development, design, content marketing, social media advertising, SEM, and more. 

That includes making sure you have the best customer relationship management setup possible for where your business is today and, more importantly, where it’s headed tomorrow.

Learn more about how we help outdoor and travel companies grow their businesses »

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