13 min read
Jul 19, 2017

CRM vs CEM: Which One Does Your Business Need?

Confused about whether you need a CRM vs CEM? I'll outline the differences between the two and some of the leading software options for both.

Suzie BlaszkiewiczAnalyst

Acronyms and initialisms make people uncomfortable. If they're being thrown around in conversation and you don't know what they mean, you zone out completely, only to come back with smile and a nod, pretending you have any idea what CRM, CEM, ERP, or POS stand for.

Even when you know that CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management and that CEM means Customer Experience Management, you'll likely still be confused about the difference between the two. Drawing a distinction, however, is especially important for first-time buyers making a software purchase- you want to make sure that whatever it is you're buying has all of the features and functionality that your business needs.

I'll go through the difference between CRM vs CEM, and outline some of the leading software options for both types of software, depending on the business goals and strategies that you're trying to achieve.

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Broadly speaking, customer relationship management is "a business strategy that optimizes revenue and profitability while promoting customer satisfaction and loyalty. CRM technologies enable strategy, and identify and manage customer relationships, in person or virtually." The idea is that you can record and store your interaction with every customer so that you can make strategic business decisions that satisfy both the business and your customers.

According to Gartner (research available to clients), CRM software aims to help this business strategy by providing features in four major areas:

  • Sales: Features for sales include capturing, managing, and scoring leads, as well as reporting features that give details into sales figures, and forecasting capabilities.

  • Marketing: Marketing features help target customers at a place and time when they're most likely to convert, based on previous interactions with your company. This can include things like email marketing or drip campaigns.

  • Customer service: Customer service features ensure that no matter which channel your customers contact you on, you have a record of that interaction. This can include email, phone, live chat, and social media, with details being recorded manually or automatically in your CRM.

  • Digital commerce: Digital commerce functions help support online selling by integrating with and supporting various eCommerce channels including social, mobile, and search.

CRM software also includes more general features such as contact management, workflow and task management, reporting and analytics features for sales and performance metrics, and calendar and email integration.


Before diving headfirst into customer experience management, it's important to understand what customer experience, sometimes abbreviated as CX, is all about. According to Gartner (research available to clients), "customer experience begins with the first interaction with a brand, even before the sale, either directly through a brand-controlled channel or through an intermediary, including a customer, a reviewer or advocate, or distributor or agent. Similarly, the customer experience extends well beyond the sale in the same manner, spanning both branded interactions and others outside of its control."

This means that customer experience isn't just down to your company- it's a reflection of everything that your customer interacts with before, during, and after making a purchase.

Customer Experience Management, then, is "the practice of designing and reacting to customer interactions to meet or exceed customer expectations and, thus, increase customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy. It is a strategy that requires process change and many technologies to accomplish."

CEM ensures that you have oversight over all these touch points with which your customer is interacting in order to give them the best possible experience with your brand.

Generally located within the marketing department, CEM features are varied and wide ranging, and can include:

  • Marketing Data and Analytics: Collecting data is an important part of the CX process in order to be able to measure, optimize, and predict customer behavior and business outcome. Features to optimize the process can include analytics reports, A/B testing, and heat mapping.

  • Content Marketing and Management: Content is one of the main ways that a company represents itself both on and offline. Whether it's a blog, video, or social media, creating and promoting content ensures that your customers remain engaged.

  • Multi-Channel Marketing: Multi-channel marketing ensures that you're able to create campaigns and target users on various channels and touchpoints. This includes features for mobile, email, and social marketing.

  • Advocacy Marketing: Advocacy or referral marketing involves making use of your most loyal customers in order to help promote your brand. It gives you more control over what others are saying so that you can leverage these opinions to garner more customers. This includes finding advocates via email marketing, surveys, and social media monitoring tools.

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Which tools are out there?

Now that the difference between CRM vs CEM is clear, we can make a distinction between software tools that are better suited for each.

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If you're looking for a CRM…


Pipedrive is a sales CRM for activity-based sales with pipeline management, sales reporting, and sales forecasting features.

Says one reviewer:

"When I want to keep track of clients, I need to do it quickly and efficiently. Pipedrive offers an incredible value with outstanding ease of use. Using Pipedrive has kept us on track with our clients and has easily increased our attrition rate."

HubSpot CRM

Hubspot CRM is a free CRM from marketing and sales platform HubSpot, ideal for sales teams looking to keep track of their pipeline.

According to one review:

"The HubSpot CRM is a great tool that allows for important marketing and sales alignments as both are able to review all aspects of our leads. This ease of use allows us to quickly qualify out each lead and apply our specific processes. Our agency began using the HubSpot CRM during the early stages when it was a rather simplistic platform that didn't provide much more than basic functionality. Since then, the product has continued to add useful and user-friendly features and I have no doubt this will continue to happen."

Zoho CRM

As part of the Zoho family, Zoho CRM is a classic CRM with features and functionality for sales force automation, marketing automation, customer service, and even inventory management.

One review notes:

"Our Sales team has used Zoho for the last several years to keep track of company sales. The tools in Zoho have really helped our sales team become more efficient know what is in their pipeline."

Netsuite CRM+

The software powerhouse Netsuite offers a robust CRM solution giving a 360 degree customer view that shows all customer interactions and transactions, as well as renewal, upsell, and cross-sell management, eCommerce, and marketing automation features.

As one reviewer notes:

"The NetSuite CRM software is a clean business application that is easy to use and incorporates some of the most popular and most useful CRM tools for interacting with customers, tracking leads and managing email marketing. It is also the only CRM software we reviewed that has an eCommerce application that connects your CRM to your website to track client activity and organize that information into reports and forecasts that you can use to grow your business."

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If you're looking for CEM…


Zarget is an analytics tool for A/B testing and heat mapping to help analyze your website and optimize it for conversions.

According to one reviewer:

"Our team used Zarget to boost conversions on our site. We were not new to CRO and we had tried several tools before settling on Zarget. We set up heatmaps and very soon we could see how our site visitors were using our site. Based on which parts of our site they were ignoring, we made necessary changes, reducing the number of visitors who were leaving our website. It was easy to integrate the code and get started. The dashboard reports were easy to read too. And heatmaps are very simple to use."

HubSpot Marketing

Another HubSpot solution, HubSpot Marketing is a combination sales and marketing automation solution that offers content marketing and social media management tools, as well as email marketing and campaign management features.

Says one reviewer:

"It offers everything you need to manage your marketing from email to lead gen, SEO, blogging, reporting, and social management. It's easy to use, support is fantastic and the HubSpot team works hard to make you successful."


Brand 24 is a social media monitoring tool which tracks and monitors mentions on social networks including Facebook and Twitter, as well monitoring mentions in the news and on blogs.

One review notes:

"Monitoring social mentions of your brand is one thing (and Brand24 does great job here). But the main way we benefit from the tool is finding sales opportunities in social media. Basically we monitor social networks for phrases that are used by people that might need our service. Then we simply join the conversation."


Ambassador is a referral marketing solution that lets you create and track referral campaigns with customers, influencer, or affiliates, offering incentives for referrals.

Says one reviewer:

The simplicity of setting up campaigns, the ability to monitor every ambassador and their sales, and the ability to pay ambassadors all in one tool! I have tried numerous other softwares […] and this software hands down does it all, they have just released a new look and function which supports the backend that much better.

More about CRM:

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