CRM vs ITSM: What are the Differences & Similarities?

Ezequiel Mancilla May 9, 2022
- 6 min read

In the world of IT, it’s common to see the terms CRM and ITSM being thrown around without much explanation of what they are and what they achieve in the grand scheme of things. The truth is that these tools are integral to any company’s success and learning to identify what they are —and most importantly how they work, should clear up any doubts when trying to implement them in day-to-day IT operations. 

What is ITSM?

The acronym ITSM stands for IT Service Management and in short, it's how IT teams manage their service delivery and how those services reach their customers. It’s an end-to-end affair. Because ITSM’s scope is so broad, it can often be misconstrued as basic IT support. However, the main goal behind ITSM as a tool is to aid as a guideline by taking into account all aspects of a workplace’s technology. This means basic essentials such as computers and servers to more specific things such as software applications vital to a company’s business dealings. 

For a more detailed look at the elements that make up ITSM infrastructures and service management software, we strongly encourage you to read our Definitive Guide to ITSM

What is CRM?

CRM (Customer Relationship Management) on the other hand is a technology used to nurture and manage the relationship and interactions between the company and its customers. When it comes to CRM, it all boils down to growing a company through the improvement of business relationships by connecting to customers, boosting profitability, and streamlining processes. They are not centered around service management. 

Of course, when we talk about CRM, we are essentially referring to a CRM system. A CRM system  is a combination of contact management software, sales pipeline software, and many other tools to manage and streamline your business processes. The great thing about CRM tools is how they can be used to manage customer relationships all throughout a customer lifecycle. This includes marketing, sales, digital commerce, customer service management, and interactions themselves. 

Once a business has a consolidated idea of every customer or potential customer, day-to-day activities and interactions with said companies are managed through a CRM system. For marketing, this means dealing with engagement at the right time and in the right fashion through targeted marketing campaigns, for example. In regards to sales, for instance, agents can more accurately determine how to approach potential clients thanks to databases and forecasting. For customer service agents, this means allowing them to respond to customers through any channel, either from home, in the field, or within the company’s premises. 

In short, a CRM is used for the processes of finding, attracting, winning, nurturing, and retaining profitable customers for the company with the aid of tools specific to CRM such as dashboards that display the aforementioned information in a streamlined and easy-to-understand fashion. An example of a CRM tool could be Microsoft Dynamics CRM or Salesforce CRM. It is wise to compare these tools, whether you are a business decision-maker looking to improve customer relationships, or a nonprofit leader looking to develop a fundraising plan that attracts and retains more donors.


Now that we have a solid grasp of what these two technologies are, we can start to look at how they actually differ one from the other and when it’s better to use one or the other to run a successful and profitable business. 

Perhaps the most noticeable difference is the scope of each of these frameworks. While CRM is focused on profitability and customer retention, ITSM has a much broader scope that doesn’t necessarily equate success with profit but rather a tendency to focus on SLAs, customer experience, asset management, service delivery, and improving the experience and productivity of internal users of IT. Thus, one could say that ITSM has a bigger appeal for those who are looking for more integrated management of all areas in a company. 

However, it’s important to clarify that, in essence, both CRM and ITSM are working towards a common goal: to deliver cost-effective products and services that customers need in a way that is consistent with the goals and strategies of the organization. They both use tools such as call centers and help desks to track issues and events related to customer contracts.

ITSM is usually concerned with the following aspects of IT:

CRM, on the other hand, generally orbits around the following activities: 

To sum it up, ITSM is better than CRM when it comes to achieving compliance with performance standards that have already been agreed to by customers. While CRM is geared toward fostering and expanding customer patronage. 

What can ITSM professionals learn from CRM?

CRM’s laser-focused approach to solutions is something that ITSM professionals can use as a platform for learning how to improve ITSM infrastructures. Let’s take a look at two important lessons that CRM could potentially give to ITSM professionals: 

  • Functionality: ITSM tools often boast a deep and detailed level of customization but it can be detrimental to an infrastructure’s simplicity when it comes to streamlining daily activities. CRM’s approach is mostly centered on assessing situations with customers and adapting the tools to the needs of an ever-changing market. Thus, ITSM professionals could learn from this and narrow down the functionality options to the activities that agents are actually dealing with on a day-to-day basis. 

  • Cloud deployment: Because most CRM implementations are nowadays carried out in the cloud, ITSM professionals could take a page out of the CRM book and start doing this. Though ITSM integrations are slowly gearing towards a hosted variant, some companies have not yet dared to take this leap. CRM has been leading the way in regard to migration to the cloud. Consequently, CRM professionals have a great deal of experience when it comes to smooth deployment.

Where does Enterprise Service Management fit into things?

ESM (Enterprise Service Management) takes all the service management strategies and applies them to the rest of the business. Essentially, it applies all the aspects that make ITSM a good frame of work to enterprise teams beyond IT. It has the same goals as ITSM such as improving efficiency, supporting business needs, and increasing user satisfaction. So, in a way, ESM stands at a sort of middle point between ITSM and CRM. It proves to us that CRM strategies can jell together with ITSM strategies as long as they are correctly integrated within a company’s general infrastructure. 

Bottom Line

CRM systems and tools are an outwards-facing and profit-focused way of managing products and services. They don’t really step outside of this area and they are focused on client retention and sales campaigns. ITSM systems and tools, on the other hand, are broader in scope and are geared towards a more user-centered approach to service management and they generally involve more general aspects of IT such as security and service desk requests. 

Frequently asked questions

What does ITSM stand for?

ITSM stands for IT service management, and it is a framework that includes all the processes and activities to design, create, deliver, and support IT services.

What does CRM stand for?

CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management and it is a technology used to manage interactions with customers and potential customers.

What’s the difference between CRM and ITSM?

CRM is mainly concerned with retaining and gaining new customers as well as profit from goods and services provided by a company. ITSM has to do with an IT user's experience and broader aspects such as security and application support and enhancement. 

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