Why You Should Keep Your CRM and Project Management Software Separate

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It’s the giant elephant in the room when buyers go shopping for project management software and customer relationship management (CRM) software: should you get an all-in-one solution, use plugins, or keep both entities separate?

The question is deceptively complicated. CRM buyers are not typically project management buyers, and vice-versa. Because of that, the existing articles and guides all treat one or the other as simply a feature or add-on for the other. But this isn’t accurate.

The reality is that neither industry speaks the other’s language, and, for the most part, project managers and salespeople really should keep their software separate.

pm_crm_separation

What are the similarities between CRM and project management software?

With all that said, there is overlap between the two kinds of software. Across multiple solutions, we found that most (not all) CRMs and project management solutions have the following qualities:

  • Both tend to have a project management or project planning component.
  • Both have an email element—whether that be integration or email marketing.
  • Both contain a scheduling and/or time-tracking tool.
  • Both tend to have a mobile integration feature.
  • Both have a system for organizing contacts

In other words, how the software is used tends to be similar—users rely on email, time tracking, and mobile. While neither offers the full functionality of the other, both CRM and PM software tend to offer the basic features of one another.

What are the differences between CRM and project management software?

crm_pms_filler1

There are far more differences between CRM software and project management software than similarities because the two software types offer different functions to businesses. CRM software is designed to manage customer data and relationships. It’s a software type that focuses on the business’s external activities.

Project management software is dedicated to projects, or large business goals with clear start and end dates, deliverables, and budget restraints. These projects can either be internal developments (like patching software) or external products (creating a building for a commercial construction company).

The following is mostly CRM-specific functionality:

  • Customer support
  • Follow-up tracking
  • Interaction tracking
  • Q&A tracking
  • Quotes and proposal tools
  • Referral tracking
  • Sales performance management
  • Social components
  • Specified cell-center management feature (as opposed to a general contact management feature, which both solutions often have)
  • Visitor tracking

The most-popular CRM tools include Salesforce, Zoho, SAP, ACT!, and Microsoft Dynamics.

Project management software’s features are a little different. They include:

  • Advanced collaboration tools
  • Agile support
  • Budget management
  • Gantt charts
  • Milestone tracking
  • Portfolio management
  • Project planning
  • Task completion tracking
  • Workflow reports

The most-popular project management software include Microsoft Project, Atlassian, Podio, Wrike, and Basecamp.

Why not buy an all-in-one solution?

crm_pms_filler2

1. CRM focuses on the long term; project management works on a by-project basis.

At the end of the day, the end users of CRM software are likely not going to be the same people using project management software (there are, of course, exceptions to this rule, but this is an overarching commonality).

Because customer relationship management software focuses on the long-term success of clients, and project management software focuses on start and end dates, it makes sense to keep these two platforms separate. While businesses may have multiple projects for a singular client, there’s no reason to have all of that customer’s information cluttering the project workstream. A lot of the customer data will be irrelevant to the project itself.

2. All-in-one programs are rare and expensive.

There aren’t many software options that offer both true CRM and project management capabilities. Existing solutions today include JobNimbus and Insightly. But why opt for these programs when you can get free and open source project management and free CRM solutions? Those options are outstanding for small businesses with a tight budget.

What about CRM software options with project management plugins and vice-versa?

crm_pms_filler3

A plugin is a compromise and should be dealt with on a company-specific basis. For many companies, they don’t need a robust project management solution, but they do need a task manager to go with their CRM. It makes a lot of sense for a company to invest in a standout CRM system with that plugin feature.

As for project management software, sometimes teams need a very specific type of PM software, like Agile project management software, and only have to manage a few external clients. The opposite would apply to them; get a strong project management system with a CRM plugin.

I reached out to Andy Mahood of Taskfeed, one of Salesforce’s best project management plugins. He also argues that some plugins are just as good as software itself (though I would add that it’s much tougher to demo and find the right software solution with the right plugin on your own!). He disagrees with my conclusions strongly, and not without merit. He writes,

“If you are business who runs client projects then your projects should be linked to, if not inside your CRM. This could be client projects for a marketing agency, professional services business, or post-sales customer onboarding project for a B2B SaaS business, examples are numerous. 

When your project management is baked into your CRM you can track leads, manage sales and deliver the project all within the same app. Imagine moving seamlessly from a won deal straight through to delivery of the project within the same system without retyping details. Templates can be defined for repeatable aspects of projects and project dashboards show performance across teams. Your customer projects and tasks will sit alongside your customers, contacts, and deals. This you should realize is no small thing and can in itself deliver substantial competitive advantage. Not only do you increase visibility and communication but you have a single hub for reporting.”

Indeed, if you can find veritable plugins that offer robust solutions for your CRM and project management software, run with it.

Just make sure that that’s what you really want.

More?

I’m sure that Andy Mahood isn’t the only person who disagrees with me. Do you think you should keep your CRM and project management software separate? Should you integrate the two? What has your experience been one way or the other?

I look forward to seeing your stories and comments below!

Looking for Project Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Project Management software solutions.

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About the Author

Rachel Burger

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Rachel is a content strategist for Targetprocess, a project management tool dedicated to scalable and accessible visual management. She specializes in project management tips, tools, and tricks, and continues to play a foundational role in recognizing and strategizing for the future of Agile in the workplace. On the rare occasion Rachel isn't writing, she's reading, hiking, jogging, or spending time with her friends and family.

Comments

Great article! It’s really a tough decision about whether or not to keep your CRM and Project Management separate, or opt for an “all-in-one” solution. They each have their pros and cons. Personally, for my business we decided to go with an all-in-one tool, for mainly one reason: convenience. Being able to handle CRM functions, and Project Management, (not to mention other things like billing, client portals, and so on) in one place is just so helpful, and really cuts down on A) time spent retyping details from one system to another, and B) having to keep up with different logins and passwords.

My team has been using a tool called SuiteDash (https://suitedash.com/) for some time now, and it really fits our needs well. It has strong CRM and Project Management components, including time tracking inside projects and tasks. It has a bunch of other useful features also, such as estimates and invoicing functionality. Essentially, I can run my entire business using just one tool (and one username and password), for a incredibly reasonable monthly fee.

Good read although I will contend a few points you make or questions rather. The question “why not use a free CRM or free Project Management CRM?” Indicates your lack of experience in enterprise or business software. Free CRMs, I.e. Open Source, are development platforms and are projects in of themselves. Unless your company is fewer than 10 users and broke, these are about as good as trying go mountain biking in poorly maintained old Huffy. In other words, these Open Source or free CRMs or PM tools are not products, they’re projects that require a developer(s) to build and then maintain. Software is not like a fixed good, it’s complex and always needs optimization, hence the reason Apple consistently releases new iOS versions.
You had me sold until you made that point and then I noticed you seem to weigh cost too high on criteria for making a CRM/PM or Tech decision. This is oversimplification and while I’m not suggesting you throw money away, making decisions for your business based something being free or cheaper than the alternative sounds more like you’re shopping for clothes or some commodity. It’s not strategic or focused on growth. If you’re at a 10-15 person company that doesn’t care about creating revenue, sure, go use some piece of crap tool ZOHO or an Open Source version of a CRM. Most of the successful companies I’ve worked with don’t make these kinds of choices.
Anyway I;m sure you have a counterarugment to what I’m stating, I’d like to hear it. Show me two company that has consistent growth that runs on a free CRM and generate more Than $50 mil. In annual revenue, and I;ll take back my statements. Point being, even if you’re not $50 mil. I would hope you want to be and so why get all your users on some shit tool you’re going to need to dump in a couple years anyway?

A massive component of a successful project is stakeholder management, and this requires a double up of many CRM like functions. For us, our projects are all service builds, and they need to be heavily linked to customers with notifications and conversations.

Our CRM requirements fall into three camps pre-sale, provisioning/project, and post-sale.

Traditionally this means 3 separate systems that need to be integrated into a foundation system (for us billing).

Rachel I like your style of writing but you miss the important facts. First Open Source is as stated earlier – work in progress and if a business is focused on free, they are focused on growth. So in short you get what you pay for. As to analysis of crm to transition to pm. The sale turns into a sale or a program which is many projects to one. If not all in one, then they have to share data seamlessly at turnover. So for creative firms it is better to avoid open source and focus on growth.

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