What is CRM?

CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management and is used quite loosely to refer to three things:

  • The entire field of Customer Relationship Management, that is, all customer-focused functions such as marketing, sales, and customer support.
  • The tools used by such functions such as sales force automation (SFA).
  • Something in between the two, usually the processes involved in managing the relationship with the customer.

This sloppy use of the term CRM to mean many things can get pretty confusing, and unfortunately few articles and tutorials clearly define the specific meaning they are using, while others use more than one meaning within the same piece. It's a mess! The CRM name and abbreviation were invented specifically to refer to the then-emerging class of tools that automate the customer-contact functions. This tutorial focuses on CRM tools, bringing in discussions of the surrounding processes only as they relate to the success of the tool project itself. However, we will see that there are plenty of opportunities to discuss the larger context since technology by itself cannot make a CRM project successful, regardless of the claims some tool vendors make about it.