Contact Managers vs. CRM Applications

Contact Managers vs CRM SystemsWhat are the major differences between a traditional contact manager and a true CRM application?  While the lines are starting to blur, there remain some fundamental differences.

Contact Managers

Contact Managers were originally designed for use by a single user or small team to track all the people who they communicated with and to store the specific communications (calls, meetings, emails) in one place.  As contact managers grew in popularity, companies using these applications began to stretch the capabilities of the applications beyond what the original designers of those applications intended them to be used for.   For example, in some organizations, database sizes exceeded the intended limits.  The number of users who were set up to synchronize their local databases to the back end database was well above the number of remote users that the applications’ designers had envisioned.

Since the original design of contact managers did not allow for the adding of custom tables and business logic, companies had to rely on applications such as Microsoft Access and FileMaker in order to develop custom, business productivity applications.

Over the years, some of the long time players in the contact management space have some added on some more advanced functionality such as Opportunity Management and Case Management. However, these added functional areas tended to have limited, hard-coded functionality.

The original contact managers were contact-centric, which means that each contact within a company was a separate record, and these records were not connected under a company record.  This meant that users had to pick one contact that would be the store for company information such as annual revenue or products owned.  Communications with multiple contacts within a company did not roll up to a master, company record.

The most popular contact managers were originally designed to run on Microsoft Windows, which required software installation and upgrades on each users’ computer.  Over time, third parties and the publishers themselves began offer thin client access options such as “bolt-on” browser capability.

Customer Relationship Management Systems

When Customer relationship management (CRM) applications first came along, the main advantages that the offered over traditional contact managers was:

  • The addition of Accounts and Opportunities
  • Scalable back-end databases
  • More robust synchronization
  • Customizable business logic

With an account-centric application, businesses that sold to other businesses (B2B) now had a much better picture of their prospects and customers, as they now had the top down view of companies and each company’s related contacts.  Individual activities with each contact rolled up to the company level.

As CRM applications evolved, their publishers allowed for the creation of custom tables (or objects) and the ability to create relationships among these tables. With this enhancement, business productivity applications that formerly had to be designed on a separate platform could be completely designed within the CRM application.

While the initial CRM systems were mainly Microsoft Windows based, virtually all CRM solutions that currently available on the market are 100% browser based.  This means that no software, other than small plugins for features such as Outlook integration, needs to be installed on users’ machines.

Browser based applications reduce, and in some cases eliminate, the dependency on Microsoft Windows on the local machine.  This means that whether a user is using Windows, OS X or Linux, that they can easily access the CRM database.

Migration from Contact Management to CRM

Over the past decade, there has been an ongoing wave of migration from contact managers to CRM systems.  While some contact managers have evolved with businesses’ needs, others have remained relatively static in features and functionality.  Many companies that have been using the latter type of application reach a point at which a CRM solution would provide them with enough incremental benefit that it makes sense to move from a contact manager to a contemporary CRM solution.

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