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Understanding the differences between an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system and a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool is crucial for CFOs looking to streamline their operations and improve overall efficiency; but when it comes time to buy, it's ERP vs CRM: which system will be more beneficial for your organization?

While both ERPs and CRMs are essential for managing different aspects of a company's operations, they serve different purposes. 

In this article, I’ll delve into the key differences between ERPs and CRMs to help you determine which system is the right fit for your business and the best way to implement these tools. 

Understanding The Fundamentals: What Are ERP And CRM Solutions?

ERP and CRM solutions are two (arguably essential) tools that help businesses streamline their operations and improve efficiency. 

Enterprise Resource Planning Systems

An ERP focuses on integrating various aspects of a company's operations, such as finance, inventory management, and human resources, into a centralized system. This enables businesses to automate processes, reduce errors, and make informed decisions based on real-time data. 

ERP systems provide benefits such as improved productivity, cost savings, and better resource allocation. They enable business process automation, increase visibility across departments, and streamline financial operations.

Customer Relationship Management Systems

On the other hand, a CRM is primarily focused on managing customer interactions and relationships. CRM software solutions help businesses track customer interactions, manage sales and marketing activities, and improve customer service.

CRM systems offer benefits such as enhanced customer satisfaction, improved customer retention, and (usually) increased sales. They provide a holistic view of customer interactions, help businesses track leads and sales opportunities, and enable personalized customer communication.

Implementing ERP or CRM software solutions can significantly impact a business's operations and bottom line.

Therefore, understanding where ERP vs CRM systems differ is going to be the best way to identify the biggest ROI opportunity here.

What ERP Systems Focus On

Best Use Case: CFOs that want to optimize their internal operations.

ERP systems offer numerous benefits for financial leaders in streamlining their operations and improving efficiency. One of the key advantages of ERP software solutions is improved productivity. 

By automating various business processes, such as finance, inventory management, and human resources, ERP systems eliminate the need for manual data entry and reduce errors. This not only saves time but also increases accuracy and allows financial leaders to make informed decisions based on real-time data.

Additionally, ERP systems provide cost savings by centralizing and standardizing processes. By eliminating redundant systems and improving resource allocation, businesses can reduce costs associated with duplicate efforts and unnecessary expenses. 

ERP systems generally allow financial leaders to monitor and manage financial operations more effectively.

However, implementing an ERP system brings about its own challenges, as ERP implementation can be a complex and time-consuming process, requiring significant investment of time and resources. 

It may involve system customization, data migration, and employee training. Plus, off-the-shelf ERP systems may not always provide the level of flexibility required by some businesses, as they are designed to handle standardized processes.

Despite these limitations, the benefits of ERP systems, such as improved productivity and cost savings, make them an attractive option for financial leaders looking to optimize their company's operations. 

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Overview Of CRM Tools

Best Use Case: CFOs that want to improve their customer-facing operations, including sales and customer support.

CRM systems offer a range of benefits for CFOs who are looking to improve their company's financial performance and customer relationships. 

One key benefit of CRM software is enhanced customer satisfaction. By providing a holistic view of customer interactions, CRM systems help businesses tailor their communication and services to meet customer needs, leading to higher satisfaction levels.

As you’d expect, higher customer satisfaction leads to increased sales, but that’s not the only way CRMs improve the bottom line. 

CRM systems can significantly increase sales by enabling businesses to track leads and sales opportunities more effectively. By capturing and analyzing customer data, CFOs can identify trends and make informed decisions to optimize their sales and marketing strategies. 

However, it is important to consider the limitations of CRM systems as well. CRM implementation can also be complex and require significant investment in terms of time, resources, and employee training. 

With that said, it’s temporary pain for long-term gain. If you’re looking to improve customer relationships to drive financial success, implementing a CRM is a great option.

4 Tips For Staying Up to Date on Tech

With how rapidly new programs, software, and technologies are coming out, staying updated on the latest technologies can feel overwhelming, especially for busy CFOs. 

However, there are strategies you can employ to combat this overwhelm and ensure you stay ahead of the curve. 

1. Prioritize Your Current Needs

Understand your specific business requirements and prioritize technologies that address those needs. Whether it's a CRM, an ERP, or something else entirely, focus on solutions that will have the greatest impact on your organization's efficiency and profitability.

2. Seek Expert Advice

Consult with technology experts or attend industry conferences to gain insights into the latest advancements and trends. If that feels a bit too formal, connect with peers and network with professionals in your field to get their take on the options available.

3. Embrace Continuous Learning

As with anything else in your work world, it’s going to benefit you to invest time in self-education and continuous learning. 

Follow relevant industry publications and blogs (like our weekly newsletter designed to address these very topics!), attend webinars, and participate in online courses to stay updated on the latest technologies and their potential impact on your business.

4. Collaborate with IT

If you don’t have the time… who else would? That’s right, IT.

Foster a collaborative relationship with your IT department and ask them to let you know if they see anything that could be good for you to look into.

By working closely with IT, you can ensure that you are aware of any new tools or systems that could streamline your operations, without getting overwhelmed with all of the news sources out there.

Choosing Between Systems

When it comes to choosing between an ERP and CRM system, evaluating your business needs is crucial. 

ERP systems are designed to streamline operations, automate processes, and increase visibility across departments. CRM systems focus on managing customer interactions, improving customer satisfaction, and increasing sales

If your needs are spread across both camps, you can identify what will generate the best ROI using these 5 steps:

  1. Identify your business' specific challenges/goals.
  2. Assign a score to each item, with the most important item receiving the highest score (& descending from there).
  3. Identify the main features of each system.
  4. Score each system based on your challenges/goals.
  5. Once you've decided on the best type of system to use, you can score specific products using the same scale to determine the best-fit tool for you.

Pro Tip:

If you’re having a hard time deciding which features are most important, don’t just listen to the loudest voice in the room. Focus on the items that are going to drive the greatest financial impact.

By evaluating your specific business needs and considering the features of each system, you can make an informed decision about which system - or whether a combination of both - will best support your organization's goals and optimize your business processes.

Tracking Financial Impact

Tracking the financial impact of your business operations is crucial for improving them. 

When it comes to deciding which system is right for you, consider which metrics you have the least data on; these will likely be what you could learn the most by tracking.

ERP systems provide features such as resource allocation tracking, allowing you to monitor costs, revenue, and profitability.

On the other hand, CRM systems offer functionalities like sales tracking and customer relationship management, helping you identify the financial impact of your marketing and sales efforts.

If your goal in implementing these systems is to simply “run a better business”, you might want to consider implementing a catch-all solution (ie an ERP system that has a CRM module built into it) or choosing both an ERP and a CRM, making sure they play nicely together.

Communicating Financial Results To Non-Finance Executives

As a CFO, effectively communicating financial results to non-finance executives is a crucial skill. Non-finance executives may not have a deep understanding of financial terminology and concepts, which can make it challenging to convey complex financial information. 

To make reporting easier, your consideration list might look a little something like this:

  • Use clear and concise language
  • Avoid jargon and technical terms
  • Focus on providing a high-level overview of the financial results
  • Use visual aids, such as charts and graphs, to present the information in a more digestible format 
  • Clearly outline key takeaways and the impact on organizational goals and objectives
  • Use real examples to illustrate your points

But that isn’t new information to you.

The question is: how can you do this without employing a full-time staff member on presentation creation?

By making software do the work for you.

By taking data straight out of your ERP or CRM system - or better yet, teaching other executives how to use the systems themselves - you’ll be able to hit all of the items on that communication checklist with ease.

Action Plan – Getting Technology Adoption

Now that you have a better understanding of the difference between ERP and CRM systems, it's time to take action toward technology adoption. 

Here are some actionable steps you can take to evaluate and implement the right system for your business:

1. Research and Compare

Let’s assume you’ve already followed the steps I outlined earlier and you have a clear idea of what you’re looking for. The next step is to conduct thorough research on the ERP and CRM solutions available in the market. 

Compare their features, functionalities, and pricing to find the best fit for your organization. Consider factors such as scalability, ease of use, and integration capabilities.

If you don’t have the time to do the research you need to, move straight to the next step.

2. Consult with Experts

Seek advice from trusted technology experts or consultants who specialize in ERP and CRM systems. 

They can provide valuable insights and guidance to help you make an informed decision or, if you don’t exactly know where to start, can help choose the right system for you.

3. Pilot Projects

Before signing any expensive, multi-year contracts, find out what sort of taste test the software providers have available; after all, most enterprise off-the-shelf tools will at least have something for you to try.

Consider implementing small-scale pilot projects with the appropriate staff to test the chosen system before fully committing. This will allow you to evaluate its effectiveness and ensure it meets your specific business needs.

4. Train Your Team

This can’t be understated: Invest in employee training to ensure a smooth transition to the new system. 

Your team isn’t going to know how it works right away, nor should you assume they do. If you want the launch to work, you need to provide comprehensive training sessions to familiarize your team with the features and functionalities of your chosen system.

5. Monitor and Evaluate

This barely needs saying but I’ll list it anyway: be specific in your post-implementation monitoring.

Monitor the KPIs that you’re aiming to improve, as well as the performance of the implemented system through feedback from your team. This can help you determine if it’s doing what you thought it would and, if not, what the real issue is.

What Else Is Missing?

Whether you’ve chosen to implement an ERP, CRM, both, or neither, it’s great that you’re here - that means you’re taking the steps to level your business up.

There are countless technologies available to help systemize and improve your financial ops - and my team and I cover all of it. 

Subscribe to our newsletter for expert advice, guides, and recommendations on the best technologies and trends in the world of modern finance to make sure you aren’t missing a thing! 

By Simon Litt

Simon Litt is the Editor of The CFO Club, where he shares his passion for all things money-related. Performing research, talking to experts, and calling on his own professional background, he'll be working hard to ensure that The CFO Club is an indispensable resource for anyone seeking to stay informed on the latest financial trends and topics in the world of tech.

Prior to editing this publication, Simon spent years working in, and running his own, investor relations agency, servicing public companies that wanted to reach and connect deeper with their shareholder base. Simon's experience includes constructing comprehensive budgets for IR activities, consulting CEOs & executive teams on best practices for the public markets, and facilitating compliant communications training.