David Kirkpatrick

Defining CRM: Thoughts from three experts

December 7th, 2012

A recent B2B newsletter article, “CRM How-to: Tactics on Marketing/IT alignment, database strategy and integrating social media data,” covered three tactics on customer relationship management, commonly known by its acronym, CRM.

In researching the article, and speaking about many customer relationship management concepts with six experts on the topic, one aspect of CRM that came up was, “How is CRM defined?”

Even between the story’s sources, there was no hard and fast definition. However, I thought it was also interesting to think about how different people define CRM, often depending on their role in a company or as a thought leader in the customer relationship management field.

Although there is an entire continuum of concepts, most can fit into one of these three general areas, completing the sentence, “CRM is ____:”

  • Simply the software piece called a CRM solution, such as Salesforce.com, Microsoft Dynamics, InfusionSoft, Oracle Siebel, et al.
  • All technology related to customer relationship management, including CRM solutions, marketing automation software and email marketing solutions
  • Everything involved in the customer lifecycle and customer interactions with a company, including all of the above, customer service and more

Since this topic did not make it into the newsletter’s how-to article beyond the introduction, I thought I’d give MarketingSherpa Blog readers the opportunity to hear what several of those experts had to say on answering, “What is CRM?”


Heidi Melin, Chief Marketing Officer, Eloqua

As CMO of a marketing automation software company, it wasn’t too surprising to find out that Heidi definitely separates CRM as a software solution and marketing automation technology.

I think that certainly CRM and marketing automation solutions have to be complementary systems and are deeply integrated.

It’s really important if you look at the Marketing-to-Sales business process that we are looking at that as a holistic process.

The CRM focus is just on what is within the pipeline and what moves through the pipeline. That front end of the process from inbound marketing all the way through direct hand off to the sales team is a really critical part of the process and is where marketing automation focuses.

If you just had a CRM system, you would not have the kind of visibility and understanding about the buyers’ behavior — what they are responding to, what they are interested in, or their digital body language — that you could pull into the sales cycle. You would be missing that huge component.


Brian Vellmure, principal and founder of Initium LLC/Innovantage International

Brian is a consultant and speaker on CRM, so it’s also not surprising that his concept of customer relationship management takes a more broad view of the topic.

My definition would probably say, “A holistic encompassing of strategy, process, and technology aimed at improving the mutual value of a customer and a company’s relationship.”

In many cases – not only in Marketing, but also Sales – it often gets pigeonholed into the technology piece of it.

Technology often is the easy part. It is the 15% or 20% on the bottom that enables everything to happen. But, in order to actually have real impact, you have to have a solid strategy. You have to understand who your customers are. You have to have the processes in place to make all that work. The technology just becomes the enabler of all those things.


Paul Greenberg, Managing Principal, The 56 Group, LLC

Paul is the author of CRM at the Speed of Light: Social CRM Strategy, Tools, and Techniques for Engaging Your Customer, so as you might guess, he has a lot to offer on this topic.

There has been an ongoing discussion of CRM for the last 15 years – what it is, how it works. The reality is that from most standpoints it’s settled in two areas.

Number one is from the strategic side. It’s what are the customer-facing strategies and programs that you need to actually engage customers, and allow them to interact in ways that they want to interact (with you).

From a strategic side:

  • What kind of programs?
  • What kind of outlook?
  • What kind of culture?
  • What kind of processes?

What kind of systems and technologies to enable those processes do we need in order to make sure that the customer remains engaged with us, the customer continues to buy from us, and optimally the customer advocates on our behalf.

(Number two), from a technology side, what is the customer-facing technology?

Pieces that would be things like:

  • Account management
  • Opportunity management
  • Contact management
  • Pipeline management
  • Quoting systems

Then there is the marketing automation side, which of course is going through sort of a big transition right now. You have the advocates of revenue performance management, and then you have the social marketing companies, and you still have the email marketing companies.

All in all, the marketing automation piece is characterized by campaign management, marketing resource management, email marketing and the social marketing components.

Then you have customer service technologies, which are not just managing contact centers but also knowledge management:

  • How do customers access the kind of information they need to solve problems, or to get their queries answered?
  • Through self-service or through agents?
  • What kind of desktops do the agents have that allow them to respond to customers in a way that the customer finds satisfactory?

The two most important strategic things to look at are the evolution of social channels and the alignment of Sales and Marketing.

Historically, obviously Sales always had a very short-term objective where Marketing had longer-term objectives. Marketing was more indirectly tied to specific revenue objectives, where Sales was tied directly to specific revenue objectives.

Now we’re seeing Marketing being held accountable for revenue. And, in order for them to actually succeed, they have to have a relationship to the Sales channel that they haven’t historically had.

Certain things become really important, and a lot of it is demand generation.

You start seeing lead scoring and lead nurturing becoming really a focus area where alignment occurs. Marketing generates the leads, Marketing in effect scores the leads, (and) Marketing passes the leads over to Sales.

Sales goes out and, based on Marketing’s insights, is able to hopefully close the deal. And, there is a place where the twain meet, so to speak.

The place it starts is always with the lead, and the place where it starts is with Marketing. Marketing is now being held accountable for the accuracy of its lead scoring.


So, as you can see, there is no one way to picture CRM when you hear the term, but I hope these insights from three industry experts provided some food for thought, or maybe even changed your definition of customer relationship management.

We’d love to hear about how you define CRM in the comments section. It’s certainly a topic open for debate.


Related Resources:

CRM and the Marketing Database: Data hygiene, behavioral analysis and more

Marketing Research Chart: Social CRM is increasingly important for managing social customer relationships

10 CRM Mistakes and How You Can Avoid Making Them (via CIO.com)

Before Installing CRM Systems, Consult Your Org Chart (via CIO.com)

David Kirkpatrick

About David Kirkpatrick

David is a reporter for MarketingSherpa and has over twenty years of experience in business journalism, marketing and corporate communications. His published work includes newspaper, magazine and online journalism; website content; full-length ghosted nonfiction; marketing content; and short fiction. He served as producer for the business research horizontal at the original Office.com, regularly reporting on the world of marketing; covered a beat for D/FW TechBiz, a member of the American City Business Journals family; and he provided daily reporting for multiple LocalBusiness.com cities. David’s other media and corporate clients include: USA Today, Oxford Intelligence, GMAC, AOL, Business Development Outlook and C-Level Media, among many others.

Categories: Lead Generation Tags: , , , ,

  1. December 13th, 2012 at 15:28 | #1

    My answer, having been there at the birth of this industry, first as an ACT! reseller in 1988:

    CRM is an attitude.

    A culture, and the tools designed and/or implemented to nurture the most important and fragile relationship of all: the one with your customers, and if distinct, with your users.


  2. April 23rd, 2013 at 02:58 | #2

    I am a CRM software developer.
    To me CRM is both one of the most powerful tools a company has and the most important customer information database.
    Talking about CRM software, the must- have feature is the usability.

    Thanks for the post, very interesting though

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