What is customer relationship marketing vs customer relationship management?

The differences between customer relationship marketing and customer relationship management can be confusing. Here's what you need to know.

By Josh Bean, Director, Marketing

Published September 3, 2019
Last updated September 22, 2020

“I want to implement CRM,” your sales manager says to you via email. “Do some research on what this would look like for our company.” Sounds like a straightforward project? Not quite. First, clarification is in order.

The acronym “CRM” is shared by customer relationship marketing and customer relationship management. Though the two terms are quite different, they complement each other and can be applied to sales and marketing processes.

Customer relationship marketing is supported by customer relationship management

Think of customer relationship marketing as a strategy and customer relationship management as an action. The latter can be used to carry out the former. To understand these concepts better, let’s break down the definition of each, their stages, and examples of each one.

According to Techopedia, customer relationship marketing is “a business process in which client relationships, customer loyalty, and brand value are built through marketing strategies and activities.” It’s a long-term strategy focused on the customer relationship, not on a single transaction.

Relationship marketing can be divided into four stages:

  • Establish the initial relationship.This stage is also called “exploratory” as it includes initial activities and conversations to determine if a customer and company are a good fit for each other’s needs. Consider it the first impression.
  • Get to know each other. The “basic” stage takes the customer relationship a step further. A company attempts to prove to potential customers that they understand their needs, sharing helpful resources and communicating the value of their product/service.
  • Develop a deeper relationship. A potential customer shouldn’t stay in the “basic” stage too long. Multiple departments need to become involved in this, the “collaborated” stage, and work together to nurture the customer relationship.
  • Become committed partners. The “interconnected” stage means that your company has forged a connection with your customer that’s hard to break. Departments are working together to create a seamless experience. Customers completely trust your company and are incentivized to stick around for the long-term.

An excellent example of successful relationship marketing is PrescribeWellness. According to Human Marketing, the B2B company (which works with thousands of local pharmacies across the U.S.) created “a separate site showing their solutions to expand their services, reach more patients, improve adherence and loyalty, and streamline operations.” The site is easy to navigate and aesthetically pleasing for customers.

The PrescribeWellness website is specially designed to generate new leads as it shows that the company cares about customer needs, which strengthens the customer relationship.

PrescribeWellness customer relationship marketing strategy


On the flip side, customer relationship management is managing potential and current customer relationships through collecting and analyzing customer data. It’s powered by the customer relationship management software.

The four stages of customer relationship management are

  • Collect data. Insert contact and business information into a CRM.
  • Analyze data. Automatically pull into insightful reports about customers.
  • Develop customer strategies. Use the data to create things like personalized campaigns.
  • Act on strategies. Make the customer’s life better based on what you know about them.

Zendesk Sell is an example of a CRM tool. Contact information for potential and current customers is easily added into the platform. Sell then automatically pulls this information into helpful reports such as Deal Sources to see which deal sources bring your company the most business.

Deal source report in CRM


For example, in the chart above, the website is proving to be a reliable deal source. Your sales team could use this information to work with marketing on further improving lead generation capabilities on your website. In other words, the info provided by your CRM tool could give you insights to revamp your site — similar to PrescribeWellness’ customer relationship marketing strategy of overhauling their website.

Benefits of customer relationship marketing

Benefits of both concepts coincide with each other. A CRM tool helps achieve the goals laid out in customer relationship marketing. And vice versa: When customers are happy and interacting with a company, more data is inserted in your CRM tool which benefits customer management.

  • Build strong relationships with current and potential customers. By implementing relationship marketing strategies, you up the loyalty of your customers and demonstrate that you view them as a relationship, not a transaction.
  • Improve customer retention. The better you understand potential and current customers and can solve their pain points, the more likely they'll stick around.
  • Increase the chance of quality referrals. When customers are happy, they’re more likely to refer your business. And according to one source, referral leads convert 30% better than leads generated from other marketing channels.

With these benefits in mind, experiment with different relationship marketing strategies.

Customer relationship marketing strategies (and how a CRM supports it)

Customer relationship marketing is all about getting to know your customers and using this knowledge to continually strengthen the relationship. A CRM software helps with building these relationships.

Here are four customer relationship marketing strategies and how to use your CRM with each one.

1. Personalize interactions through knowledge about customer value/needs. View customer data (e.g., budget, decision-makers, customer value, conversations, etc.) within your CRM. Segment customers by this information and personalize their experiences. For example, maybe you segment customers by revenue. You then create a VIP package for your most profitable customers that includes exclusive resources and one-on-one consulting.

2. Focus on customer-centric metrics. Metrics such as Customer Lifetime Value and Net Promoter Score ensure that the customer relationship is the central focus across departments. You can easily review key performance indicators (KPI) reports directly in your CRM, including charts and graphs for visual reference.

Lifetime value metric

3. Use content marketing to meet customer needs. Content marketing is an effective way to take customer needs and turn them into helpful content (like this piece) for any part of the sales funnel. Create case studies, eBooks, walkthrough guides, and videos based on what customers are asking for and leverage yourself as an influencer and a value-provider. Ensure that customers’ conversations are all on one platform (your CRM) and see what resources customers need from sales and support.

4. Monitor customer conversations across departments for consistent customer messaging. Seventy-two percent of consumers think that having to repeat themselves — first to sales, then to support, etc. — is a sign of poor customer service. Integrate support tickets so no conversation falls through the cracks. For example, you can connect Zendesk Sell with Zendesk Support. If an issue or upsell opportunity comes up, support reps can easily forward customer tickets to the right sales rep. Sales reps can also see what support reps are telling customers and if their messaging aligns.

Support ticket in CRM


And these strategies only touch the surface of customer relationship marketing strategies. Email marketing, social media management, and reward programs are other excellent strategies that can be combined with your CRM. Do your research and find ones that match your company’s brand.

Give customer relationship marketing a try

According to Ann Handley, head of content at MarketingProfs, “Even when you are marketing to your entire audience or customer base, you are still simply speaking to a single human at any given time.”

That’s the premise of customer relationship marketing — investing time and developing strategies to build strong relationships with individual customers. Use customer relationship marketing in conjunction with CRM software to make the most of every customer relationship.

This post originally ran on the Base blog. Please visit if you’d like to learn more about Zendesk Sell.