CRM or CMS? With those shared Cs and Ms, you’d think CRM and CMS would be more similar. In reality, the similarities between the two end with those two letters.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Content Management Systems (CMS) serve two different purposes in the business software landscape: CRM is all about managing customers and clients, and CMS is about managing your website.

Most businesses start with a CMS, especially those that need an online portal to showcase or sell their product or service. If your business has a website, you’re already using a CMS (think WordPress).

A CRM will come later in the process, as you build your client base and need to keep better track of your sales pipeline and your customer interactions (think Salesforce). A CRM is especially useful for B2B businesses that need to record lots of client interactions and to follow up on leads.

If you’re wondering whether your small business needs a CRM or a CMS, the answer is it probably needs both, but when you need to adopt each one may vary. You’ll need a CMS from the outset to build your website and get your business up and running, but you won’t need a CRM until you’re ready to start building up your client base.

CRM vs. CMS

CMS

I’ll start with CMS, since it’s likely the first thing you’ll need when you’re ready to start setting up your business. A CMS, or content management system, is the central hub where you’re able to manage all of the content you publish on your website.

In theory, if you’re starting an online business, your CMS will be its central hub. Think of it as if you were renting a physical space to set up shop. You want to make sure that it’s easily accessible, looks good, and has space for everything you want to sell.

Example of a CMS (WordPress) dashboard

Example of a CMS (WordPress) dashboard

If you’re not starting an online business but want an online presence to showcase your product, promote your services, or start a blog, you’ll need a CMS too.

A CMS will either have predesigned web templates or “themes” that you can choose from, or it will give you the option to create your own design if you’re a bit more tech-savvy and want a more complex or customized website.

The key features of a CMS include:

  • Custom domain names: Create a custom domain in line with your company name.
  • Web hosting: Store your website and all of its data either in the CMS or by integrating with a popular web hosting platform.
  • Site editor: Change the layout of your site, either using code or a drag-and-drop editor.
  • Content library: Store content for publication including images and videos. Some come with stock images to use on your site.
  • Online store: Set up a catalogue of products and integrate a payment portal so users can shop online via your website.

One key consideration while implementing a CMS is whether or not your site is mobile-friendly (if you’re using a pre-built template, most come with responsive design). As Google continues to stress the importance of mobile friendly sites when considering how to rank a website, you’ll want to make sure that your site is mobile-optimized to avoid losing out on traffic.

CRM

CRM, or customer relationship management, is an entirely different beast. CRM solutions organize and manage information about customers, and so are one of the most important tools sales and marketing teams can utilize to keep track of their leads and make sure they’re communicating with their customers at the most opportune times.

Example of Salesforce, one of the most widely used CRMs

Example of Salesforce, one of the most widely used CRMs (Source)

According to data from a recent Gartner survey, 92 percent of small businesses are either already using or are planning to use a CRM within the next two years. Chances are you’ll need one too, but when you’ll need to adopt one might vary from business to business. It’s not just when you start acquiring customers and wanting to grow your customer base that you’ll need to adopt a CRM. The more customers and clients you have, the more difficult it’ll be to keep track of them without one.

The key features of a CRM include:

  • Contact management: Store customer data including email, phone number, and social media accounts.
  • Interaction tracking: Document every interaction that you’ve had with your customer, including phone calls, support requests, and purchase history.
  • Lead management: Score and follow up on leads based on their likelihood of converting into customers.
  • Email management: Integrate your email and import directly into your CRM. You’ll also be able to send email campaigns or follow up directly from your CRM.
  • Pipeline management: Manage the sales process from every stage, and assign tasks or follow up with specific members of the team.
  • Reporting and analytics: Get aggregate performance data about deals lost and won, and make future sales predictions.

Though these are the most classic features of a CRM, other capabilities to aid the sales process include marketing automation, product catalog, and document management.

Key differences between CRM and CMS

Graphic: Key differences between CRM and CMS

Which tools are out there?

Whether you’re looking for a CMS to manage your content or a CRM to manage your customers, there are lots of software options to help you get on the right track.

See the methodology section at the bottom of this article for more insight into how the apps for each section were chosen.

If you’re looking for a CMS…

WordPress

As one of the most widely used web platforms, WordPress is a good starting point for anyone looking to launch a website. The free CMS helps you get up and running quickly with built-in templates, a drag-and-drop editor, and landing page templates. If you want to get a bit more creative, there’re also options for custom designs with a CSS editor and a custom landing page creator. While popular with bloggers and big name publishers such as BBC and The New York Times, WordPress also offers eCommerce plug-ins to help you set up online shop.

Example of a WordPress website
Example of a WordPress website (Source)

Squarespace

For the more visually-minded, Squarespace is a CMS focused on design. Known for its bold selection of templates, Squarespace is a good option for anyone looking for a stylized website. Its image editor lets you tweak and optimize images for faster loading times (especially important for mobile), while built-in analytics show you how your website’s performing. There’re also options for selling, including unlimited product listings, multiple payment methods, and inventory management.

Templates selection on Squarespace
Templates selection on Squarespace (Source)

Weebly

Weebly is an online store and website builder to display your company and its products. Its website building features include a drag-and-drop interface, image editor, and video backgrounds, and its online store features include inventory management, payment options, and eCommerce analytics. Its online store also incorporates marketing tools such as email integration, Facebook ads, and SEO features to help grow your business.

The design interface on Weebly

The design interface on Weebly (Source)

Drupal

For those with a little bit more technical knowledge, Drupal is an open-source CMS with options for both web developers and marketers looking to build a website. Drupal is a bit more flexible and customizable for features that might not be available with a predesigned template (although it does offer predesigned templates for those with less technical knowledge).

Though Drupal helps you design your website and all of the features you’d need to make it run smoothly, it doesn’t actually host it. This means that you’ll need a hosting partner to get your website online.

Drupal screenshot
A Drupal website just after creation (Source)

If you’re looking for a CRM…

HubSpot CRM

Marketing tool HubSpot offers up a solution for managing customers and sales in the form of HubSpot CRM. The free tool is a fully fledged CRM with features for pipeline management, interaction tracking, and a dashboard view of which deals are in the works.

Because it’s a free tool, it’s a good option for anyone getting started with a CRM who doesn’t want to invest too much from the beginning. Another bonus: If you’re using HubSpot for marketing, you’re guaranteed that they’re built to work well together.

Hubspot CRM

HubSpot CRM dashboard (Source)

Infusionsoft

Infusionsoft is a CRM and marketing automation tool to help you get the most out of your leads. While the CRM keeps tracks of customers and leads, its marketing automation features let you follow up with those leads accurately and effectively with a campaign builder, campaign tracking, and landing page creation. It also offers features for setting up an eCommerce store and a payment gateway to keep all of your sales activities in one place.

Infusionsoft's daily organizer
Infusionsoft’s daily organizer (Source)

Insightly

Insightly is another CRM option for small businesses looking to up their sales game. It has all of the classic CRM features including pipeline management, workflow automation, and lead capture, but it also offers project management-related features, including task assignments, milestones, and file sharing to help you keep track of people and sales projects.

insightly organizer

Insightly’s contacts feature (Source)

Microsoft Dynamics CRM

The software behemoth known as Microsoft offers its own CRM in the form of Dynamics 365 for Sales. The tool, which was recently made part of the Dynamics 365 suite, offers sales capabilities including the use of intelligence for pushing forward sales deals, access to Linkedin Sales Navigator (Microsoft owns Linkedin) to find prospects, as well as social insights to help with prospecting.

Because of a higher price point, this tool is more suitable for businesses with an already established customer base that are looking to streamline processes on a larger scale.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM applications
Microsoft Dynamics CRM’s user interface (Source)

More about CMS and CRM

While some CRMs may offer features like eCommerce, and some CMSs do the same with contact management, the core of each software serves a different purpose. You will, however, likely need both: CMS is imperative as you build your business and want to create an online presence, while a CRM will be invaluable for helping you grow your customer base.


Methodology

Applications highlighted in this article are selected based on several criteria: the current market definition for the category, the Category Leader rankings, and business size.

As part of our formal research efforts, a series of market definitions are developed and leveraged across all of our content for that category. These definitions determine an application’s suitability for the category under analysis. If a formal market definition is not yet created, the individual analyst uses his/her market experience and knowledge to assess an application’s suitability for the category.

After suitability is established, the applications are analyzed against GetApp’s Category Leader ranking for that category of software; this ranking includes user reviews, integrations, mobile app availability, media presence, and security features. Where a Category Leader ranking does not exist, individual apps are chosen based on the highest average overall ratings. Each app has a minimum of 10 reviews written in the past two years in order to qualify for inclusion.

Lastly, applications are then filtered for business size using GetApp’s filtering tool to include options that are suitable for businesses ranging from 0 to 500 employees.