Tech questions answered: is a CRM a database?

Q: Is a CRM a database?

A: They’re similar, but no. A CRM is to a database what Office is to Windows. And yet, the terms tend to get confused — particularly due to their relationship with data.

So, here’s a simple overview of how the two technologies compare and contrast.

What is a database?

A database is a (typically) computerised system that stores information (or data). Along with a DBMS – a database management system – they make data easy to search, filter and use. In some cases, they show the relationship between different data points.

Databases are one of the most prolific methods of storing data.

What is a CRM?

CRM is short for ‘customer relationship management’. It’s a term that covers a variety of strategies, technologies and practices focused on managing the relationships between businesses and their customers. Typically, ‘a CRM’ refers to CRM software.

CRM software is a tool designed to help businesses by recording, reporting, and analysing data on customer interactions.

How do these technologies work?

So, both technologies store data and make it more accessible for businesses. To answer ‘is a CRM a database’, then, we need to look at how these technologies work.

In general, there are two different types of database: relational, and non-relational. Relational databases show the relationship between data points. Non-relational databases do not.

Typically, tools like automation help with loading data into a database. From there, a database management system, or DBMS, acts as an interface that allows you to use the database. This is often accessed using structured query language (SQL).

CRM systems, meanwhile, only use the database as a foundation — as well as technologies like automation, for instance — to work. From there, they offer a host of sales, marketing, and support services with an accessible user interface rich with dashboards and visual, user-friendly modules.

In short, a database stores data using things like spreadsheets, to be accessed using things like SQL. A CRM, meanwhile, works using the data within a database to power things like forecasting, customer account admin, email marketing, and more.

What’s a memorable difference between the two?

The difference between a database and a CRM can be summed up as ‘past vs future’.

Databases are often considered to be there to store information about past business. It’s there to keep track of the things that have happened with your customers. From chat transcripts and contact information, to previous purchases and total spend with the company.

Conversely, a CRM is more concerned with future business. It doesn’t just look to store and offer up past data — rather, it processes that data and provides analysis to help you support future interactions with the customer. For instance, analytics to suggest which products to advertise to each customer. Reminders for follow-ups, alerts for valuable customers, and so on.

Tech questions: answered

Is a CRM a database? No.

To recap, a database is a system charged with storing organised data and allowing access to said data. A CRM is a software system that uses that data to aid with customer relationship management.

It’s easy to get the two confused. They both deal with data, after all. But remember, databases store past business. CRMs help you look to the future.

Useful links

ELI5: the relational vs non-relational database

A history of email spam

Database vs CRM: a Windows and Office analogy