(This post originally appeared on Forbes)
Is there really a difference between a project management and a customer relationship management application? Maybe you can make the case if you’re running a larger organization.
But if you’re a small business owner or in charge of a team, the line is really blurred. So much so that it may persuade you to re-consider a project management application like Asana, (or one of its many competitors) in lieu of a customer relationship management application like Salesforce.com (or any of its many competitors).
Just think about it. Call it a sales opportunity or a marketing campaign, but aren’t these things just projects? You’re organizing targets and assembling teams. You’re setting up tasks and creating appointments. You’re making calls. You’re logging activities and taking notes. You’re collaborating with people in your company. You’re generating documents and sending emails. You’re tracking progress all the way through resolution, good or bad and then you’re getting reports during and after your projects telling you how you did.
CRM systems do this. But then again, so do many project managers.
If you don’t believe me, take a look at Asana’s website. The application, which has more than 70,000 organizations using it, is being positioned to manage projects for any team within an organization and that includes sales and marketing teams. The company says its software will track sales pipelines, onboard new accounts, manage activities and perform goal tracking. On the marketing end, Asana users can create campaigns, coordinate activities, track responses and provide metrics.
Just this month, Asana introduced a new set of workflow rules that puts its platform on a more equal footing with many CRM applications. These workflows will auto-assign teammates to new tasks based on a custom field status (e.g. type of work) or on a parent project, set and shift due dates, assign work to the right people and trigger follow-ups when information changes.
CRM companies will say that their offerings do much more and that their capabilities are far more robust than just a simple project manager and in many cases they’re right. Great CRM systems have advanced opportunity management, service desk capabilities and are customer communication capabilities that include website integrations, chat and email which leverage artificial intelligence algorithms.
All of those features are great for larger organizations. But does the typical 50 or 100-person company – my company’s bread and butter client – need all that?
For this market, I’m finding that that more and more project managers (like Asana) are pretty much doing what CRM systems do. The good ones integrate with many cloud based services as well as all the popular email, calendar and communication systems. They do a good job of tracking activities on projects and within contacts and accounts and managing interactions.
But more importantly, their features expand beyond just sales and marketing.
They reach into human resources, accounting, operations and any other part of a business that has a project, which basically means every part of every business because isn’t everything just a project? Aren’t we launching new products, scheduling a trip, hiring a new manager, redecorating an office or planning a holiday party? When you think about it, shouldn’t your CRM system be doing all of this?
Many CRM vendors do offer project management capabilities, add-ons or separate modules. But a project management application like Asana has all of this as part of its core functions. It’s designed to be used by an entire organization in addition to the sales and marketing team.
My company does not offer any project management applications. We’ve been selling CRM systems for many years. But as I’ve watched project managers grow I’ve also been taking note of their overlap with the very products that we offer. More and more I’m starting to realize that, for many of our SMB clients, a project manager might actually be better idea for these companies.
Someday in the not too distant future, I think vendors of both types of these applications will realize that they’re pretty much doing the same thing as each other.