CRMs vs Customer Success Platforms: Why Can't We Use Salesforce For That?

Article by

Roi Kiouri

Head of Success & Support @ Perceptual Robotics



May 16, 2023

If you've pitched for new software as a customer success leader, there’s a good chance you've heard this objection: "Why can't we just use Salesforce for that?"

It's a fair question. After all, Salesforce is a powerful platform that costs thousands of dollars and took your org a lot of effort to get running smoothly. And now you want to add another platform, adding 5-figures (at least) per year in software costs, and months of implementation time?

You’d better be armed & ready to answer this question clearly, because the truth is that CRMs like Salesforce aren't fit for customer success’ purposes. I’ll help you find the right words to articulate why.

The main difference between CRMs & customer success platforms (CSPs)

CRMs are designed to track leads, move a prospect through pipeline stages, streamline sales processes, and close deals. They’re built for sales, and generating new business.

CSPs focus on Net Revenue Retention growth by providing tools that let you improve expansion and churn, and the efficiency of your customer success team’s workflows. As the name suggests, they’re tailor made for CS.

CSPs are built to drive NRR growth & workflow efficiencies

We’ll break it down into specific tasks soon, but at a higher level - there are two key components to the ROI on a CSP purchase:

  1. Driving NRR growth
  2. Enabling CS teams to be more efficient

The key to everything is that customer success platforms bring customer data together in one place: product usage, support ticketing, emails, revenue data, survey responses, and more. That lets you create filters, alerts, and automations based on that data (e.g. churn/expansion signals).

Thomas Smeallie, Regional Director at Planhat, articulates the value with an example:

It's really hard to know if one of your accounts has seen a decrease in product usage for a particular feature they've paid for in your product over the last 2 months without a CS platform. Come renewal, if they haven't been using it, they'll want to drop that paid feature. If you can spot the decrease in real-time, you can proactively work towards reaffirming the use-case and value in that feature before you get to that stage.

The other benefit of that unified information? Not checking & updating multiple systems/UIs every day.

Thomas elaborates with more examples on how a CS platform leads to efficiency:

A CS platform can bidirectionally sync with key systems. One action in Planhat could update records in 3-4 other systems - thus saving time. An action from your client, such as a low survey score, could automatically trigger a templated email sent from the CSM to the customer. It removes busy work, and allows CSMs to manage more customers and more ARR.

4 CSP use cases that aren’t possible in a CRM

Looking for specific examples of what your CRM can’t do? I’ve got you covered. Here’s 4.

1. Finding expansion qualified leads & upsell opportunities

In many CS teams, expansion revenue is a KPI & focus. The problem is, it’s pretty tricky to know who is really an expansion opportunity.

By pulling together all your data sources (e.g. product usage, support tickets & emails, revenue data) in one place – you can create a customer health score in your CSP. That score can be used to highlight users that are highly engaged, and nearing their plan limits.

Once set up, that system will give you a simple & accurate list of who your expansion-focused CSMs should be spending time on each week. Here's an example of how Dhiraj Patel (RevOps at Mailmodo) create their health score:

2. Finding at-risk customers to predict & prevent churn

Similarly, a health score can be used to flag churn risks. If product usage drops below a certain threshold, or there has been a lack of communication for too long – a CSP can flag that up.

With an accurate list of customers who could realistically churn soon, CSMs can feel much more confident that they’re working on the right customers to maximize their revenue impact.

3. Automating & streamlining CS workflows

Using health scores & some other triggers, most CSPs have features available to automated tasks.

For example, if a customer health score drops below X, you can assign a task to a CSM, and/or automatically send an email.

Another example might be responding to NPS scores. If a customer gives you a 10, but they’re not utilizing all of your products – that could be a signal for a CSM or an AE to start an expansion playbook. If it’s a very low score, you can trigger a different playbook.

Your CS leadership can create playbooks which provide a structured process for how you handle various scenarios. That’s super helpful for scaling, and ramping up new CSMs. It also makes it much easier to make team-wide process changes by editing the playbooks in your CSP.

The main point here is that each CSM can handle more ARR, or a larger book of business, due to efficiency.

4. Facilitating customer collaboration (customer portals)

Not every CSP has a customer portal feature, but a few do. Vitally and Planhat are two good examples. They let you create a collaborative workspace between your customer success team & your customers. It can be used for things like:

  • Creating ownership by sharing tasks, timelines, & responsibilities
  • Sharing reports & trends (e.g. adoption/usage data)
  • Creating transparency around what’s happening & who’s working on what

That’s not something you can do with a CRM. Here’s an example of what Vitally Docs looks like. It feels like Notion:

Bottom line: CRMs are better than nothing, but they’re not built for customer success

On one hand, CRMs have proven effective in organizing customer data, tracking leads, and automating sales processes. These features allow businesses to stay on top of their customer relationships and improve sales efficiency. From this perspective, CRMs do contribute to customer success by streamlining operations and helping businesses grow.

For a small CS function & relatively small budgets – it’s a lot better than nothing.

On the other hand, CRMs fall short when it comes to directly engaging with customers and fostering their success. CRMs are primarily built to manage contacts and data, rather than nurturing long-term relationships with customers. They lack the tools to proactively address customer needs, provide personalized support, or ensure customer satisfaction. In this regard, CRMs are not designed to solely drive customer success.

To truly achieve customer success, businesses must combine the power of CRM systems with a strong customer success strategy. This includes investing in customer success teams, implementing customer-centric practices, and integrating a specialized customer success platform to complement CRM capabilities. By doing so, organizations can bridge the gap between CRM and customer success, resulting in happier customers, increased revenue, and long-term growth.

Mature companies use CSPs & CRMs together

Like peanut butter and jelly, CSPs and CRMs are a match made in heaven. While they each have their unique strengths, mature companies know that using both together is the ultimate recipe for customer success. Here are some examples of how CSPs and CRMs can work together to create a harmonious and efficient customer success process:

1.  The CRM lays the foundation: CRMs are great for managing customer data, tracking sales activities, and identifying opportunities. They provide a solid foundation for customer success teams to build upon, allowing them to access critical information and insights that inform their strategies.

2.  The CSP adds the sparkle: CSPs bring a whole new level of sophistication to the customer success game. With features like automated workflows, personalized customer success plans, and proactive engagement tools, CSPs enable businesses to provide a truly exceptional customer experience.

3.  Together, they're unstoppable: When combined, CSPs and CRMs form a powerhouse duo that can take customer success to the next level. For example, a business might use their CRM to identify a high-value customer who needs attention, and then use their CSP to create a personalized success plan and automate follow-up tasks.

4.  It's not a competition: While some might argue that CSPs and CRMs are in competition with each other, mature companies know that they're better together. By using both tools, businesses can create a seamless and efficient customer success process that benefits everyone involved.

Final thoughts

As we've seen, CSPs and CRMs are like two sides of the same customer success coin – each with its distinct functionalities and strengths, yet even more powerful when used in tandem. By leveraging the unique capabilities of both platforms, businesses can create a comprehensive and efficient customer success process that delights customers and keeps them coming back for more.

Through the automation and personalization offered by CSPs and the robust data management and sales tracking provided by CRMs, you can effectively address customer needs, enhance productivity, and streamline workflows. And let's not forget the added bonus of a touch of wit and charm that can be injected into customer interactions!

So, if you're looking to elevate your customer success strategy, consider harnessing the power of both CSPs and CRMs. By doing so, you'll be well on your way to creating a customer experience that's truly unforgettable and improving your bottom line in the process. After all, a dynamic duo like CSPs and CRMs is hard to beat!