CRM vs Business Intelligence

By Jelani Harper
Updated: February 17, 2011

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems and Business Intelligence share a number of the same functions—namely in the identifying and categorizing of key customer tendencies and characteristics that prudent businesses utilize to their advantage. However, there are several essential, often subtle differences that distinguish the two in both form and function that determine which software is most advantageous for a particular business.


The primary difference, of course, is the fact that a CRM product is an entire system that regulates nearly all aspects of a customer’s experience including marketing, sales, support and service. There are additional applications for human resources, contact management, inventory control, calendaring and more. All of this various data is streamlined into one central database that is readily accessible to be used by all manner of departments within a company.

Business Intelligence

Business Intelligence, on the other hand, is essentially a computer based method for spotting and analyzing data trends in terms of sales and customer tendencies. It does not offer as wide a range of resources that a CRM system does, and has significantly fewer management tools that can apply to areas outside of its specialty--namely reporting, predictive modeling and statistical analysis. Consequently, the valuable centralizing of disparate forms of data in one place, which is an integral part of a CRM system, does not occur in Business Intelligence systems.

Generally speaking, a competitive CRM system utilizes many of the same modules that Business Intelligence provides in terms of analytics, predictive analytics, data and text mining, as well as the benchmarking of information. But whereas Business Intelligence can merely identify pertinent trends and stratify various types of information, a CRM system can act on this data while directly incorporating it into other facets of a company.

For instance, both CRM and Business Intelligence can analyze sales information to identify what element of the surrounding community makes up a key customer demographic. The CRM can then forward this information to the marketing department and come up with methods for exploiting this information in terms of promotions and advertising. The success of this action will in turn be evaluated and refined even further.

This capability is another key distinction between a CRM system and Business Intelligence: a CRM merges data analysis with the deployment of particular business actions based on that information. Business Intelligence will grant access to that same data but will leave the facilitation of this information, and all of its practical applications, to the user’s discretion.

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