CRM vs. CMS (Contact Management Software): Which Do You Need?

Best Practices

Let’s settle the CRM vs. CMS debate together. We can agree that managing customer data is a constant struggle for businesses large and small. Whether you’re working with a dozen customers or tens of thousands, you need a place to store contact information, transaction histories, communication records, and more.

Fortunately there are countless software products on the market to help with this challenge. It’s important to understand, however, that the “contact management” category includes a wide variety of solutions—from basic contact management systems (CMS) (also known as customer database management systems) to robust customer relationship management (CRM) platforms. To complicate matters further, many software vendors use the terms “CMS” and “CRM” interchangeably, despite the fact that these two technologies provide very different levels of functionality.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the capabilities of both contact management systems and customer relationship management solutions. We’ll also share some popular options for each solution type and offer guidance to help you make the best decision for your business needs.

What is contact management software (CMS)?

Rolodex picture to show similarities between a rolodex and CMS vs. CRMA contact management system, (CMS), sometimes also called a customer database management system is simply a database tool that lets you store and manage key information about your customers. Instead of fragmented contact lists stored in multiple places, a contact manager provides a single, central location for all your customer data. Even simple contact management software includes a variety of fields to capture names, phone numbers, email addresses, job titles, company URLs, physical addresses, and more. Essentially, a CMS is like a digital version of an old-school Rolodex or address book.

But all CMS tools are not created equal. Many offer search capabilities, grouping features, and even business card scanning. Some also integrate with popular phone and email apps, so you can initiate a call, text, or email directly from a contact record. More advanced CMS solutions add a layer of security and permissions, which can be useful for small businesses that need to share contacts within a team.

While there’s no defined list of capabilities for a CMS, here’s a list of common features:

  • Contact database
  • Customizable fields, groups, and tabs
  • Search functionality
  • Activity tracking
  • Mobile access via phone or tablet
  • Phone and email integrations
  • Task lists

What is CRM software?

A CRM is a comprehensive system designed to manage sales funnels and end-to-end relationships with your customers, prospects, partners, and vendors. CRM software typically includes a complex database, which is connected to an interface where team members can input data related to an individual’s identity, demographics, company interactions, purchase history, and more.

A CRM organizes data, improves sales, enhances service, and drives business growth by acting as a single source of truth for every touchpoint between your business and its customers. Using a CRM, teams like sales, marketing, service, and support can easily track and manage customer relationships across the entire organization.

As with a CMS, there’s no defined list of capabilities for a CRM. But some of the most common features include:

  • Full contact management capabilities
  • Lead and opportunity management
  • Lead scoring
  • Workflows and approvals
  • Campaign automation
  • Custom notifications
  • Email and phone integration
  • Chat and call center integration
  • Sales analytics
  • Reporting and dashboards
  • File storage, syncing, and sharing
  • Role-based permissions and security

In a modern business, price and quality are no longer enough to help a company stand out from its competitors. The market is full of businesses that offer amazing products and great service at a reasonable price—and they’re all fighting for the same customers. Quality and price still matter, but relationships are far more important. A CRM puts all the data you need at your fingertips, making it easy to build those relationships and maintain them over the long term.

CRM Vs. CMS: How is CRM different from contact management software?

The difference between CRM and CMS comes down to sophistication. While the two technologies share certain capabilities, a CMS is mainly used for storing customer data, as in a customer database management system. A CRM lets you turn that data into a powerful business asset.

Following are four key comparisons to demonstrate this distinction:

  1. Advanced functionality. A CRM sits at the core of an organization and provides the foundation for many of its key business operations. In addition to housing customer data, a CRM has advanced functionality to streamline sales processes, monitor sales funnels, analyze business performance, manage customer relationships, and more. A CMS, on the other hand, simply stores contact information like names, phone numbers, and email addresses.
  2. Automation. CRM software allows you to build custom sales workflows based on your unique business processes. Many also offer email features that let you automate email sends with just a few clicks. A CMS may have the ability to create task lists, but it’s not designed to automate any business processes.
  3. Lead management. A CRM is designed to help sales teams move potential customers through the sales funnel, with advanced features like lead tracking and lead routing. A CMS does not include any functionality to support the sales process.
  4. Analytics and reporting. A CRM uses dashboards and powerful reporting capabilities to deliver deep, data-powered insights. Sales reps can track their progress toward goals, sales leaders can develop accurate forecasts, and executive teams can see how sales performance impacts the bottom line. A CMS has no ability to dissect or manipulate information.

CRM vs. CMS solution examples

There are countless contact management solutions available today. Many providers offer both free and premium CMS plans, with varying data capacity, functionality, and customization options. Some examples include:

  • Pipedrive
  • Zendesk Sell (formerly Base)
  • ActiveCampaign
  • HubSpot CMS
  • Bigin (formerly Zoho Contact Manager)
  •  Keap
  • Streak

When it comes to CRM solutions, Salesforce is the largest vendor on the market—but that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for every business. Salesforce offers robust functionality, but you may need (paid) add-ons to get the most out of the software. As a legacy CRM solution, Salesforce has a reputation for being overly complex and cumbersome, with a cluttered user interface—and it’s expensive compared to other solutions.

Other CRM providers include:

  • Zoho CRM. Zoho promotes its CRM as a simple solution with no hidden costs. However, its customization options are limited and third-party integrations can be difficult. In addition, the Zoho suite is not built on a unified data platform, so individual product apps may not work together seamlessly.
  • HubSpot CRM. HubSpot claims that its CRM platform provides all the tools you need for marketing, sales, customer service, and content management. Because it’s a closed system, HubSpot works best when your organization uses the entire platform—and once you outgrow one part of the solution, you may find it difficult to get full value from the platform.
  • Insightly CRM. Insightly offers a modern, flexible CRM that’s simple to set up and built to scale with you as your business grows. It integrates seamlessly with the tools you use every day and aligns teams by providing a single view of the end-to-end customer journey. Insightly’s unified data platform helps your team sell smarter, grow faster, and build lasting relationships.

Which solution do I need?

Person choosing a CRM vs. CMSThe choice between a CRM vs. CMS depends on the volume of data you need to manage—and your unique business needs. A small legal practice will likely make a different decision than a large global corporation.  

The best contact management software fulfills the basic needs of a micro business, hobby business, partnership, or solopreneur, with an extensive contact list. There are also many free or low-cost CMS tools available, so CMS can serve as a good starting point for starter companies with limited resources. CMS tools are typically easy to use, so there’s little need for training and onboarding. Individuals might even use a CMS as a “personal CRM” to manage social relationships and communications. 

CRM systems, on the other hand, are a must for growing businesses—especially those that have a complex sales cycle and long-term customer relationships. For companies that include both sales and marketing teams, CRM technology is critical for automating tasks and keeping cross-functional teams aligned. However, a CRM tends to be more complicated than a CMS, so be prepared to devote time to CRM selection, implementation, and setup in order to reap all of the benefits from your investment.

How Insightly can help

Insightly CRM is a scalable, modern CRM platform built to solve the most common pain points of growing companies:

  • Flexibility: Easily customize the CRM to fit your unique business needs.
  • Cross-team functionality: Enable better decision-making across teams with a single, shared data set. Add more applications as you grow, like Insightly Marketing and Insightly Service.
  • Integration capabilities: Use AppConnect to build low-code integrations and connect with more than 500 common business tools.
  • Affordable pricing: Get the right functionality for your business with affordable, per-user pricing that scales with you—starting at $0 per month for up to users after trial.
  • Easy adoption: With an easy-to-use desktop app and a free companion mobile app, your team will be up and running in no time—without a pricey service engagement.

Ready to get started? Sign up for a free trial of Insightly CRM today, or request a personalized demo to see how our solution can help your company achieve its business goals.

Additional helpful links

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