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What is CRM and why is it important in Cannabis marketing?

How building a strong Customer Relationship Management List can super-charge your retail dispensary business.

Imagine that you’re shopping at your favorite local sandwich shop. When you walk in, Wendy, the owner shouts hello to you over the counter with her back turned towards you. “The usual?” she asks? “Also, we’ve got those ice tea flavors you like this week.”

This is why it’s your favorite sandwich shop. They know you. They treat you like family. They understand your preferences, your likes and dislikes, built up over months or years of steady patronage. Why did you start going there? Close by? Friends like it? Google ratings? Who cares, because now Wendy and the rest of her crew know you and treat you with the friendly respect that only the best retail experiences provide.

Now imagine that you’re a newly licenced and approved cannabis retailer, just opening up your doors. You’re the first to open in your town or even county and there is a rush of new customers when you open, excited to try your wares and experience shopping at your store. Perhaps it’s their first trip to a cannabis dispensary, maybe they are veterans of the cannabis culture and it’s just their first stop at your place in particular. So how can you make it so that these new visitors eventually feel as welcome and recognized as you do in your favorite sandwich shop? You get to know them of course.

Not So Fast

Sounds easy right? But consider: Many dispensaries are seeing over 1,000 or more transactions per day around peak holidays and other busy days of the week. How can you possibly get to know them all? The answer is Customer Relationship Management software and strategies, or CRM for short. And luckily, there are tools emerging that are especially designed for the cannabis market place, with features and limitations that allow dispensaries to actively communicate in a customized or even personalized way while remaining compliant with both state rules that govern how cannabis operators may market to the public, as well as federal rules that require each individuals’ written permission to allow a cannabis company to communicate marketing messages, whether by text message, phone outreach or by email.

So what is the best approach to generating additional sales via a CRM marketing program? It starts with your list. A list is a collection of customer data records that might include customers’ name, mobile phone number, and email address at a minimum, along with stored permission from each participating customer that they are willing to be contacted by your company for marketing or sales promotion purposes, specifically for SMS/MMS and email messaging.


Check to make sure that any CRM or communications platform you use to communicate with customers includes the ability to ask for and store electronic written permission to receive electronic communications directly from the dispensary. Without this level of care, operators leave themselves open to multiple lawsuits from 3rd party activists looking to gain court imposed fines from those operators who act in a non-compliant method via any electronic communication, whether by text message or email. The most dangerous law to pay homage to is called TCPA and if not taken seriously, it can result in thousands of dollars in fines and restitution to “injured” public parties.

“According to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which has been the FCC’s leading regulation in electronic communications since 1991, businesses and organizations must obtain written consent from individuals before sending them any text messages” (souce:, 2018)

Building your CRM List

So how do you build your list compliantly, and grow it as quickly and as efficiently as possible? It starts by asking. And it succeeds with what is known as a “Value Exchange” between you and your customers. You are asking them for something valuable: Their personal information so that you can send them advertising, for (relatively) free, and related content to engage them and entice them to spend more with your store. And with growing competition and a very promiscuous shopper always looking to try new stores and products, you have to do all you can to make them feel like family when they hear from you or they shop with you.

So this means you have to give them something of value in return. A retailer’s first thought may be that the value they will provide in return will be special announcements about their store and perhaps new product news to generate direct shopping behavior. But without more in return, most shoppers will resist signing up for your list, and they will disengage from your content as being relatively unmeaningful to them. Here are five ideas for offering more in exchange for personal data than mere sales messages:

  • Insider Specials only for the list – Call it a VIP Club
  • Entertaining content, such as edible recipes or games your customers can play with one another
  • Educational Content on all things cannabis
  • Alert messaging, during holidays, weather events, special hours or events, etc.
  • A Shopper Loyalty program, if your state allows one, either for medical only patients, or for adult use customer also (less legally common currently)

Using tools such as Sprout, SpringBig, Mail Chimp and others, cannabis operators can present opportunities to request customers sign up and give “written” electronic agreement to receive dispensary messaging, including tactics such as:

  • “Text a code and join”
  • Website based forms
  • Table kiosk signup interfaces at the dispensary or offsite events (when they return!)
  • Scan a QR Code at register and complete signup on your mobile device.

Bringing it all together

CRM Model

So now that you have created a method for building a legally compliant list of self-approved recipients of your marketing messages, how can you begin to personalize your communications so that, like your favorite sandwich shop, your customers can feel welcome and reasonably well understood. This will require that you match your CRM list with your list’s preferences, based on either direct shopper questioning on preferences, or even more powerfully, by melding individual’s shopping behavior with a user’s profile to allow you to understand that one shopper might prefer flower while another buys nothing but edibles, and one buyer is extremely price sensitive and will only shop price specials, while another wants the latest strain drops the first day they’re available and needs to know what’s available effortlessly.

Most cannabis CRM and messaging platforms allow the aggregation of shopping behavior and segmenting of your list based on that behavior (hasn’t shopped in 30 days, only buys on special, overbuys sativas over 25% THC, etc), as well as offering the ability for a customer to build their own stated preferences into their profile, allowing you the retailer a powerful set of data on which to build your outbound messaging and editorial strategy.

Bill HewsonBill Hewson

Bill Hewson

Bill Hewson founded and leads Hewson Group, a full service marketing firm based in Fairfield County, CT in operation since 2012. Hewson Group focuses on retail marketing and customer activation through the smart use of customer and marketing performance data.

Bill began his career in the New York City advertising community, including stints on the agency and client side of the marketing equation. After 10 years of traditional advertising agency and client experience, Bill took a mighty leap into the digital space in 1996, joining the agency (Modem Media) who literally created and ran the first ad banner online (1994; AT&T on

After a 15 year run with the world’s largest agencies and clients, that included leading a team to win a Gold Lion at Cannes and to redesign the home page of the American Express website, Bill began Hewson Group. Hewson Group’s purpose is to focus on small businesses, with the insight that small marketers could take advantage of solutions that had once only been available to enterprise level clients. This insight led to work for companies like Villa Italian Kitchen (200+ Stores in US), Foxwoods Casino and Resort, and The Ainsworth Institute of Pain Management, a leading center for advanced pain solutions in NYC.

Since 2013, Bill and Hewson Group have had a variety of adventures in the cannabis space, including roles founding a startup cannabis loyalty program, acting as the Chief Strategy Officer of 2 different start ups in cannabis, and 2 years acting as director of Marketing & Strategy at Berkshire Roots, a fully licensed vertically integrate cannabis operator in Pittsfield, MA.

Hewson Group’s latest venture is to create and launch Kayamatic, a web and digital platform foundation and integration solutions provider for newly licensed cannabis operators. Learn more at


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