CRM vs CMS: What are the key differences between a customer relationship management software and a client management system?

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The number of different acronyms out there for business software is mind-boggling but two of the most common are CRM and CMS. Although these two, which stand for customer relationship management and content management system respectively, are referred to in similar ways, they are quite different in terms of the purpose and features. 

Whether you’re familiar with CRM, CMS platforms or both, this article should provide a little more clarity. It will also help you understand why we’ve highlighted certain tools in our guides to the best CRM software and the best CMS solutions on the market.

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What is a CRM?


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A customer relationship management platform has become an essential tool for many businesses. Whether they are based in real estate, sales, recruitment, or any other industry, a CRM tool helps to identify leads, collate contact details and more to supercharge sales figures.

In its simplest terms, a CRM tool is a platform for managing interactions with customers. Although some are on-premise, many are cloud solutions and enable marketing and sales teams to monitor customer journeys and convert leads even if they’re part of an organization that embraces hybrid work.

Although they come in many varieties, some industry-leading CRMs include Salesforce, HubSpot, and more.   

What is a CMS?

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Fulfilling a different role within the business entirely, a content management system allows content creators to manage and publish digital content. This could be in the form of a blog post, FAQ, infographic, or another type of digital asset. 

Any brand that wants to maintain a visible online presence will benefit from a good CMS platform. Some of the industry leaders here include WordPress, Squarespace, Weebly and others. You might see some overlap in terms of features with web design software,  website builders, and standalone blogging platforms.

Difference 1: Features

One of the fundamental ways in which CRM and CMS platforms differ is in terms of features. Some of the most commonly found features within a CRM solution include lead generation tools, lead management, contact management, deal tracking and analytics.

By contrast, a CMS and its features all revolve around content. Users can expect content management and publishing tools, as well as templates, SEO functionality - and, again, analytics.

Another important difference is how these features are accessed. Although CRMs will come available in different pricing tiers, all features will be accessible through a single portal. With a CMS, however, some features will only be available via extensions that unlock new functionality.

Difference 2: User roles

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Although this will vary from company to company, there are broad assumptions we can make about the type of user that will engage with CRM and CMS tools. With regard to the former, these will be predominantly used by sales and marketing personnel. Of course, they could be used by other members of staff too but many pricing plans charge per user, so accounts are only likely to be granted to the teams that really need them.

For a CMS, users are likely to be more varied. Although some privileges may be reserved for content teams, anyone that wants to update or edit a company website may use a CMS platform at some point. Even individuals outside of a strictly business-context may have experience with a CMS. Any hobbyist blogger will have used a content management system previously, for example - although they may only have experience with the free versions on the market.

Difference 3: Pricing

As with any piece of business software, it’s impossible to give a single figure for how much a CRM or CMS costs. Each solution comes with its own pricing plan and employers will have to ask themselves whether it’s worth investing in the higher tiers, where the extra functionality is usually found. In both cases, pricing plans are usually based on the number of users that a businesses wants to sign up to a particular platform.

Having said that, it is broadly true that CRM platforms are more expensive than CMS solutions. This is because of the typically more advanced functionality offered by a CRM tool - and the potential benefit it could have on sales and, therefore, revenue. The monetary uplift from a CMS may be less directly felt but having a good website will still have a noticeable impact on sales figures. And, if budgets are tight, you can always use free CRM software or free CMS platforms. 

Difference 4: Purpose

Essentially, CRM and CMS solutions serve different purposes. While a CRM is designed to enhance interactions with customers, a CMS is about managing content. Both tools provide support for managing and analyzing - a CRM in terms of customers and a CMS in terms of content. 

A CRM is primarily used for marketing and sales. It can help convert an interested party into a fully-fledged customer or cement the loyalty of and individual that is thinking of making a purchase from a customer. The purpose of a CMS is more vague. Sure, it’s about content - but what that content is designed to do depends on the company’s goals. Content can be to engage, persuade, interest or, as with a CRM, convert. 

Difference 5: Integration

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Although there are a fair few differences between the two platforms - talking about a CRM vs a CMS is a little disingenuous. In reality, an organization can easily use both to power themselves towards their goals. 

In fact, close integration between CRM and CMS platforms may be key to your business success. If you rely on sales, it’s a good idea for your CMS to funnel website visitors automatically to your CRM. That may form the beginning of a sales lead.

Which is right for you? A CRM or CMS?

Whether you need a CRM or CMS ultimately depends on the sort of industry you are in and your company goals. However, it’s possible you’ll need both so look into the integration opportunities between a CRM and CMS - as well as their individual pricing and features.

Barclay Ballard

Barclay has been writing about technology for a decade, starting out as a freelancer with ITProPortal covering everything from London’s start-up scene to comparisons of the best cloud storage services.  After that, he spent some time as the managing editor of an online outlet focusing on cloud computing, furthering his interest in virtualization, Big Data, and the Internet of Things.