Jun 15, 2023

Read Time 5 min

Post-sale teams, stop treating your CRM like a Swiss Army knife


There is an old saying that you can’t cut your way to profitability. With less budget to go around, some SaaS companies are merging customer success and account management into one function that’s responsible for an account’s business strategy, product adoption, and value realization, as well as its renewal and expansion.

These newly formed teams are left scrambling to figure out how to combine consultative and commercial roles, processes, and technologies. Inevitably, tradeoffs begin to occur. Most recently, we’ve seen leaders question whether they should revert to using their organization’s longstanding incumbent sales tool—the CRM—as an interim solution to their team integration challenges.

Treating a CRM as a Swiss Army Knife is both inefficient and reductive to the work of post-sale teams. CRMs are absolutely a must for automating and scaling sales operations. Sales teams cannot function effectively without their CRM. However, they were not built to do the same for post-sale teams. In fact, they actually stunt a company’s ability to meet (or anticipate) customer needs, automate and scale post-sale operations, quickly respond to market changes, and aggressively compete on customer experience.

This is a cautionary reminder that in the pursuit of doing more with less, we must be careful to not regress. Here are five drawbacks you can expect to encounter when using a CRM for customer management.

1. Data is static and subjective

CRM tools are designed to handle workstreams based on user inputs, most of which are drawn from the gut instinct of the user. The management of opportunity activity is manual.

That means any processes, communications, or action plans that stem from changes in CRM account fields will inherently be reactive and prone to getting overlooked.

Customer success platforms, on the other hand, automatically update fields based on customer behavior and provide tools to act on that data.

For instance, a customer can fall in or out of a segment that’s used to power workflows based on criteria for product usage, journey progress, engagement, and more. To give a specific example, CSMs can create a segment of “customers who haven’t used Feature A or Feature B within their first 3 months” and enter that segment into a feature adoption campaign. Customers will automatically be removed from the campaign once they take the desired action of using the feature. Additionally, CSMs can create a segment of “customers who consistently use Feature A” and enter that segment into an upsell campaign for a related add-on.

A platform’s ability to auto-update fields is essential to creating flexible workflows that trigger off accurate data.

2. Data is for display purposes only

CRMs act as a point of reference. You can see information about a customer account, but you cannot actually put it to use within the system.

For example, a CRM can log an account’s renewal date, but it can’t do anything proactive with that information such as notify you about an upcoming renewal or trigger relevant communications.

Customer success platforms were designed with built-in “actions”—such as alerts and plays—to help teams automate tasks and be proactive in their outreach.

For example, teams can use a CSP to create a renewal play that alerts them and queues up an email with a renewal notice when an account is 90 days out from its contract end date. The play can also include internal tasks for the CSM to schedule the renewal meeting, confirm contract terms, and close the renewal in the system by specified dates.

Plays can also be triggered by changes in a customer’s health score or product usage. For example, teams can create an automated churn mitigation plan that triggers a series of emails and tasks when a customer’s logins decrease by 50% over a 30-day period.

3. Workflows and automation do not match a customer’s journey

Since CRMs were built to manage sales opportunities, they support a linear sales process: discovery call, demo, qualifying, contract.

However, the post-sale customer journey is dynamic. Customers’ needs and use cases are always changing. Their product adoption ebbs and flows, especially during the all-critical onboarding stage. Customers can be on track one minute, and off-track the next. Fixed CRM workflows aren’t agile enough to capture, much less course-correct, this type of frequent, and often unexpected, fluctuation.

With today’s economic uncertainty, customer management teams need to be ready to adapt their processes to fit their customers’ expectations.

CSPs bring together data from across the customer lifecycle to power post-sale processes, engagements, and strategies.

Let’s look at task management. CRMs allow for task setting and assignment, but automated task creation is usually limited to date ranges, whereas CSPs automate task-setting based on key data points like a customer’s license utilization, health score, NPS response, support interactions, and more.

Additionally, when it comes to customer engagement automation, CRMs can’t scale. They support the creation of one-off email templates at a single point in time. Their limited reporting also makes it difficult to get meaningful insight into a campaign’s performance.

Conversely, CSPs can trigger a series of communications across channels based on a defined event—such as a journey milestone achievement or feature usage—and even conditional logic to send customers down different automation paths. Reporting shows how campaigns perform overall and at the individual step level.

4. Reporting and dashboards don’t tell the full story

CRMs were not built to fully integrate with your product and other data sources relevant to tracking customer adoption, engagement, and churn risk. Due to this lack of basic compatibility, teams must manually export CRM data to Excel or their own analytics tools to analyze and manipulate it.

While many CRMs integrate with product analytic tools, they only bring usage data (e.g., number of daily logins) to the account level. You do not get granular data at the contact level or trending insights up or down.

CRM reports require manual intervention to stay updated. Further, the rigid nature of sales processes affects the breadth and depth of CRM reporting. This makes it difficult to create reports that reflect the entire customer lifecycle.

CSP reporting and dashboards can be built around fact-based triggers like product usage data, finance system data, support ticketing system data, dev ticketing system data, and project management data.

This information can also be pulled into an aggregate health score that can be used to power more qualitative renewal forecasting. And with native-built BI and analytics functionality, CSPs make it easy to surface behavioral trends across the customer base.

5. Loaned CRM admins are your only means to make system changes

CRMs do not offer out-of-the-box customer management functionality. CRM admins will need to custom-build what you need. Even with workarounds, CRM workflows will require the continuous involvement of ops or IT. Additionally, post-sale teams will have to compete with sales for the CRM admin’s time. And who do you think most often wins out?

Since customer success platforms were purpose-built for the post-sale experience, they don’t require an admin to overhaul and contort basic features to make the system baseline functional to its users.

To use CRM reporting for renewals, you often need a CRM admin who has a vast knowledge of how to configure a report. With a CSP, CS teams can build customer segments, reports, and revenue forecasts in a matter of minutes to easily get the data they need and act on it.


As a CSP company, we know we sound biased. But the difference between using a CRM versus a CSP for customer management is like using a fork versus a spoon to eat soup.

When deciding which tool is the right fit, it’s not a question of either-or. Businesses need both. Together, CRMs and CSPs make a powerful match. Each platform has its own distinct purpose and value.

However, using a CRM alone to run the post-sale experience is a short-term fix that creates a long-term problem. Today’s customer-facing teams need purpose-built automation that makes being proactive in their work easier, not harder.

Learn how to get started with a digital CS strategy using a CSP in our article “5 digital customer success tactics that ChurnZero makes easy.”


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