Business Intelligence vs. CRM: Which one is best for you?

3 mins to read
Business Intelligence vs. CRM: Which one is best for you?

There is an ongoing debate on whether Business Intelligence (BI) or Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is more effective in helping a business succeed. The software comparison happens because BI and CRM tools share a number of the same functions – most notably in using historical data to identify key trends that businesses can leverage to their advantage.

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However, industry experts are still at odds in determining the best analytics solution for businesses. In this blog, we take on this long-standing battle between BI and CRM, and discuss the key differences between them to help you uncover the best analytical tool for your business.

Business Intelligence and CRM Tools: What is the difference?

BI tools and CRM tools were built for different purposes.

BI was developed with a strategic need in mind – the need for intelligence that informs strategic business decisions. As businesses faced unstable economic conditions and became more competitive, knowledge became a source of success. With the evolution of media and customer power, the size of organisational data grew at an exponential rate and this data unstructured and hard to interpret. BI was born in order to rationalise large volumes of data into reports that deliver insight, which then formed the basis of predictions of future conditions, allowing businesses to prepare in advance. The analytics side of BI involves external elements such as market / industry data and competitor performance to generate a comprehensive strategic report. BI, is therefore not centred around one specific part of the business and is focused on the business as a whole.

CRM, on the other hand, is more consumer-centric. It is referred to as a complete system that helps a business execute almost every part of the customer experience, from marketing, sales, support and service. With tight competition, business goals went beyond making a sale and towards retaining customers. Soon, business leaders knew they needed to create better customer relationships to survive in the market. There was an unmistakable need for better customer service and later, customer experience. Since then, CRM has been leveraged by businesses to help them build better customer relationships. CRM data is very important data which can help a business retain loyal customers, however, this data can be incorporated in your BI tool, alongside other aspects that affect business growth, allowing for a birds eye view of all aspects of your business. 

Multiple vs. single data source

Both BI and CRM tools are equipped with advanced reporting capabilities, but they differ in their capabilities to source data.

BI tools have been known for their ability to draw data from multiple sources to build comprehensive reports. They are also able to consolidate several types of data points to deliver clear reports. Since BI is equipped with visualisation capabilities, these reports can be presented in charts, graphs or infographics that help the analysts efficiently identify trends and draw insights from the data.

CRMs, however, are capable of accessing data stored only in connected databases. Furthermore, older CRMs were only able to source data stored in their very own database. If data is stored in an external database, the data cannot be used in CRM reporting. However, more solution providers are developing advanced CRMs that have the ability to integrate with several databases, in order to make the CRM become a single source of data. As a result, more businesses have used CRM integration to enhance their reporting capabilities.

Analyst vs. Sales / Marketing

With BI, a business needs a skilled analyst with a strong business background. A technologically savvy IT staff member is not the answer. While they may be competent in using the tool, they will not be skilled to identify pieces of insightful information that can inform strategic decisions. This is also true for the planning and implementation stages, as BI strategy needs to be informed by business objectives, not technical requirements.

CRM typically informs staff focused on sales or marketing. As with BI, your IT staff is not the answer. Reporting and customising the tool may come easy to them, but there’s more to CRM than reporting. You need a skilled salesperson or marketer to truly leverage the tool in building better customer relationships and analyse results to discover trends that can help in delivering a better consumer experience.

What does this mean for you?

The choice of BI vs. CRM depends on the goal you want to accomplish. For an objective centred around your customers’ experience, CRM is the way to go. For a complete business-focused analysis involving external factors, BI is the answer.

Regardless of the option you take, both solutions are based on the concept of sales analytics to help you leverage data for strategic purposes and ultimately, business growth.


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