Jan 8, 2022

Read Time 5 min

Serious About Customer Success? Your CRM is Not Enough!


The SaaS model has rapidly changed the software marketplace by lowering the barriers of entry and exit for buyers. These changes have made it essential that B2B software companies adapt and deliver ongoing user value. Now more than ever Customer Success is essential to the long-term success of your entire organization. A relationship-focused approach to client management is a must. 

Customer Relationship Management systems (CRMs) have changed the game when it comes to how companies know and track their customers. By making client data more accessible than ever, CRMs have transformed what companies can do with their relationships, data, and the execution of their objectives. That said, avoid falling into the trap of using your CRM as a Swiss Army Knife; you’re only as good as the tools you use. If you’re serious about Customer Success, your CRM is not enough. 

Salesforce Canvas

ChurnZero integrates with your existing SFDC instance through Salesforce Canvas.

CRMs and Customer Success Platforms – What’s the Difference? 

Customer Relationship Management systems (CRMs) primarily function as a relationship information database. They focus on opportunity management – like the manual activities that typically exist within accounts. Its workstreams rely upon inputs like data entered by sales or even ‘gut instincts.’ Since buyers typically follow a uniform purchasing journey, CRMs are ideal for managing a sales pipeline. 

Customer Success Platforms work to foster on-going customer value after the initial purchase. These platforms focus on engagement and are driven by the customer data your team collects every day. Common examples include your product’s usage data or other third-party applications (NPS, Email, etc.) Customer Success Platforms diverge from CRMs in what they do with this data. Rather than just surfacing this information, CS Platforms conduct analysis that enables proactive customer engagement. Since few customer journeys look the same, these tools excel at managing large books of business. 

Put simply, CRMs focus on the transaction stage of a customer relationship. Customer Success Platforms focus on the entire relationship and the delivery of continuous value. While CRMs have their benefits, traditional relationship management tools lack the necessary features to nurture long term growth. This makes a CS Platform an invaluable tool for any SaaS company. 

The Challenges with Using your CRM as a CS Platform 

The most helpful tools often have one thing in common: they are purpose built. CRMs and Customer Success Platforms are no exception. While using a CRM for your CS program is possible, it will deliver lackluster results. This comes down to the different approach and scope of each platform. 

Development and Management: 

The nature of workflows used by Customer Success teams prove challenging for CRMs. Since CRMs focus on transactional relationship data, they struggle to glean insights from product usage information and other data. This provides a challenge when working to automate processes like onboarding and renewal workflows. 

Customer Success platforms are built to provide the workflows your CS team needs to succeed – all with little to no technical know-how.  In fact, these platforms support these workflows out of the box. They enable proactive engagement by helping you organize, automate and scale your processes at every part of your customer lifecycle. Automating these processes provide a key advantage for increasing efficiency. In fact, they allow your team to manage more accounts without the need to increase headcount. 

While CRMs excel at data retrieval, they struggle to replicate basic processes and workflows. For most Customer Success workflows, CRMs require custom software development. While CRMs can surface your customer data, they lack the native data analysis to create actionable insights. Even if your team develops a work around, these workflows will require constant intervention. This increases your reliance on an IT or Operations team for ensuring your CS team stays on track. 

Reporting and Dashboards: 

ChurnZero dashboard in SalesforceA partial view of a CSM Dashboard in Salesforce. This dashboard draws from your ChurnZero customer data.

CRM administrators can develop Customer Success oriented reports and dashboards at the cost of lost functionality. While tempting for organizations deeply entwined with a CRM, an approach like this results in less than perfect reporting. CRMs lack total integration with your product usage and other data sources, which requires data exports in order to conduct analysis. Like workflows, CRM reports require manual intervention in order to stay current. Although sales processes (opportunities) follow a relatively uniform journey, the customer journey does not. This makes it challenging to create CRM reporting that follows a customer through their lifecycle.  

Unlike CRMs, Customer Success Platforms are built to support a customer’s entire lifecycle. Drawing from a wealth of product and external data, CS Platforms rely upon fact-based triggers like drops in product usage or an increase in support tickets. By applying these inputs, reports and dashboards that are dynamic without the need for significant human intervention. Most importantly, Customer Success Platforms automatically make sense of the data collected. This allows them to deliver the actionable (and timely) information that equip a CS team to deliver of ongoing value.   

Creating Actionable Insights: 

When creating actionable insights, time is of the essence. While we often think of CRMs as a single source of truth, they aren’t without their limitations. The overarching goal of any CRM should be to provide strong data quality and integrity. This alone, however, doesn’t meet the needs of a Customer Success team. Access to real-time insights are key to effective CS. 

A significant difference between CRMs and CS Platforms is how data is served. While CRMs function as a central repository for your data, they don’t necessarily present this information at the moments it matters most. Since CRM activities are generally manual, associated activities are responsive in nature. This creates a potential for important tasks to slip through the cracks. 

Customer Success Platforms take a more dynamic approach to customer data and are tailor-made to make sense of a constant flow of customer data.  With native built BI and analytics functionality, CS Platforms can serve data insights at the moments it matters most. Drawing from a wealth of customer data, these platforms can identify customer trends that matter. This allows your CS team to be proactive, not reactive, in their approach to customer management.  


As many sales representatives will attest, they live (and breath!) in their CRM system. For opportunity management and input reliant workstreams, CRMs provide a valuable central repository of customer information. While providing excellent visibility around sales pipelines, CRMs fall short in providing the usability that Customer Success teams demand. 

Customer Success Platforms provide a workplace that scales along with your team. By offering a more holistic view of customer relationships, they provide a home-base for members of your CS team to begin and end their days. Whether tracking renewals, usage patterns or customer escalations, CS platforms bring together the information your team needs to manage their daily to-dos. Along with dashboards and real-time alerts, these tools enable your team to maintain a pulse on customer accounts.  

As your organization grows, you will reach a point where existing manual processes will no longer suffice. Using a CRM for your Customer Success team increases the need for manual retrieval, updates and analysis. This prevents your team from focusing on what matters most – creating an exceptional Customer Experience.  

When scaling a CS team, robust automation and an effective workplace make all the difference. By removing manual work and putting your customer information within easy reach, your team will be more productive than ever. They’ll be better attuned to their customer’s health and ready to act upon any signs of slipping health. 

Your CRM Should Supplement, Not Supplant Your CS Platform 

Despite their distinct purposes, Customer Success Platforms and CRMs make a powerful combination. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need a CRM OR a Customer Success Platform. While dealing with similar data sources, each platform adds substantially different value. It’s safe to say that CRMs work best when used in conjunction with a Customer Success Platform.  

Just as CRMs have reshaped how businesses approach opportunity management, Customer Success Platforms provide a new way to maintain strong customer relationships long after the initial transaction. Through their use of business intelligence and automation, CS Platforms provide an efficient means to spot indicators of customer health. For a Customer Success team, they provide actionable insights and a means to automate the manual processes associated with account management.  

The true meaning of Customer Success is putting customers at the focus of your business. By supplementing your CRM with a purpose-built CS Platform, your organization is empowered to do just that. A dedicated Customer Success Platform positions your customers for success by best equipping your team with the tools, workflows and insights they need to thrive. 

Looking for a takeaway to share with your boss or executive team on this topic? Download our Why Your CRM is Not Enough one-pager. 

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