Database vs CRM: a Windows and Office analogy

You’ve heard of databases, of database management systems, and of CRMs. In fact, you likely use these things in your business.

For some, the differentiation between a database and a CRM isn’t so clear — they both involve customer data, after all. But the truth is, the two are very different.

As it turns out, the question of database vs CRM is a bit like asking the difference between Windows and Office.

The foundations

Before getting into the differences and the analogy, it’s a good idea to clarify the two key terms in question.

  • Database

A database is a system (typically computerised) that stores organised information, or data. There are different types of database depending on the type of data you’re storing. A database is usually controlled using a database management system, or DBMS. This is software that serves as the interface between the database and the user.

  • CRM

CRM is shorthand for customer relationship management. When people talk about CRM, they’re typically referring to CRM software. (As is the case with this article.) So, CRM means a CRM system: software designed to help businesses record, report and analyse data on their interactions with customers.

Windows vs Office

Another key piece of knowledge for this analogy is understanding the difference between Windows and Office.

  • Windows

Windows is an operating system. An operating system is the baseline software that manages the computer’s memory, processes, software, and hardware. It’s what allows users to communicate and use the computer.

You can think of it as the layer of software between your computer hardware, and your software applications.

  • Office

Office refers to a collection of software applications and services developed by Microsoft. This includes familiar programs such as Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Teams, Publisher, Outlook, and so on.

So, Office covers a whole bundle of functionality, all different, and all geared towards increasing work productivity and efficiency.

Database vs CRM: the analogy

In this analogy, the database (management system) is Windows, and the CRM is Office.

To elaborate, the database forms a foundation, like Windows the operating system does. Akin to Office, meanwhile, the CRM acts using this database foundation. For Office, it’s Windows. For the CRM, it’s the database management system.

In other words, the database allows the CRM to work.

Plus, just as Office consists of a variety of functions and services, (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etcetera) so too does the CRM consist of a variety of processes and techniques. For instance, data analytics, emails, calendar management — it streamlines your sales.

Note: both databases and CRM software use the operating system of a computer. DBMS is not, itself, an operating system.

Database vs CRM

Even though they both can involve the use of customer data, a database and a CRM are very different technologies.

To sum up, a database acts as the storage for data — and provides a foundation for the CRM system. The CRM system, meanwhile, comprises a host of functionalities that use this data to help you manage your customer relationships, and support sales and marketing.

Useful links

What is a database? A 500-word overview

ELI5: the relational vs non-relational database

GTD and automation