The 3 Types of CRM Explained: Everything You Need To Know

Woman Doing CRM

Customer relationship management (CRM) software plays an important role in helping your business connect with customers. The best CRM software offers tools for generating leads, marketing to customers, providing customer support, and more.

However, not every CRM platform takes the same approach to fostering customer relationships. CRMs can be divided into three categories: operational, analytical, and collaborative. It’s important to choose the right type of CRM to ensure you’re getting the tools you need to run your business successfully.

In this guide, we’ll explain the three types of CRM platforms and give examples of when to use each.

What Are the 3 Types of CRM?

Brief overview:

  • Operational: Visualize a customer’s journey and automate tasks like email marketing and customer service.
  • Analytical: Analyze customer data and generate insights into sales trends and successful marketing techniques.
  • Collaborative: Ensure employees from different departments have access to the same customer data, including their interactions with your company.

Read on to discover more about each type of CRM.

1. Operational CRMs

Operational CRMs are designed to streamline complex marketing, sales, and customer service tasks to make your employees more productive. They often include automation features, such as the ability to send marketing emails based on triggers—like a customer viewing a product online.

An operational CRM is best suited for businesses that want to save time on repetitive tasks and free up employees to focus on the aspects of customer relationships that require a human touch.

How an Operational CRM Works

Marketing, sales, and customer service teams will each use an operational CRM in different ways.

Marketing Features

Marketing teams can use an operational CRM to set up automatic customer touchpoints. For example, your team can configure a CRM for email marketing to send a follow-up email when a customer visits your website or abandons items in their cart.

Some marketing-focused CRM platforms will even connect to your website to help you build personalized customer journeys automatically. For example, your CRM can suggest products based on a customer’s purchase history or offer personalized discounts as a reward for loyalty.

Sales Features

Many operational CRMs offer automated lead scoring to help your sales team identify high-potential customers who are likely to convert. Your team can also generate pipelines and workflows to hand off customers from one sales agent to another as they move through your company’s deal funnel.

Operational CRMs also have relatively basic but important productivity tools for sales agents. For example, they can help your agents schedule meetings and automatically transcribe sales calls.

Customer Service Features

Operational CRMs enable your customer service agents to set up chatbots or create a support ticketing system. They can also automatically tag incoming service requests, directing them to the right agent.

Many platforms will automatically send a survey to customers following a service request. This is important for tracking the quality of the customer support your team is delivering.

Operational CRMs Are Great For

Operational CRMs excel at helping your marketing, sales, and service teams work more efficiently. They can save time and increase brand awareness, revenue, and customer satisfaction. Many operational CRMs also include basic analytical capabilities, allowing your teams to identify what’s working and what’s not.

Since they offer different tools for different teams, operational CRMs can cause siloing within your marketing, sales, and service departments. So, this type of software works best for companies with linear sales funnels, where customers pass from one team to the next in distinct phases of the customer lifecycle.

Examples of Operational CRM Providers

  • Zoho CRM
  • HubSpot
  • Salesforce
  • Pipedrive
  • Agile
  • Insightly

2. Analytical CRMs

Analytical CRMs focus on collecting and analyzing customer data to help your company identify new markets, increase sales, and better serve existing customers. They typically have advanced tools for building databases and mining data to find patterns. These platforms can also run complex statistical analyses and produce visualizations and reports.

Analytical CRM software is sometimes called strategic CRM software because it’s often used to leverage customer data for strategic decision-making. However, it can also inform day-to-day decisions, such as how frequently to send marketing emails.

How an Analytical CRM Works

Analytical CRM platforms provide three major functions: database development, data mining, and reporting.

Database Development

Analytical CRMs help your business automatically collect customer data into centralized databases where it can be quickly searched or accessed for further analysis.

You can pull in data from multiple sources, including an operational CRM, your website, point-of-sale systems, and more. Some analytical CRMs can also collect data from social media sites or import large consumer databases provided by data brokers.

Data Mining

Data mining is a broad term that describes the process of finding patterns in large datasets. Analytical CRM platforms offer multiple ways to slice and dice your data, such as by time, customer attributes, product categories, and more.

Here are some examples of what you can learn using data mining:

  • The efficacy of your marketing campaigns in acquiring new customers or driving sales
  • Which customer type (based on location, income, etc.) produces the most revenue for your business
  • Whether the key attributes that define your customer base are changing over time
  • How your customers use your products
  • The issues your customer support team deals with most frequently

Notably, a growing number of analytical CRM tools are incorporating AI to help you find more patterns in your data and determine if they’re meaningful for your business.


Analytical CRMs typically offer multiple ways to visualize your data, including customizable charts and graphics. You can produce reports automatically, making it easier to share insights with managers and other decision-makers in your company.

Analytical CRMs Are Great For

Analytical CRMs are outstanding tools for businesses that have extensive customer data and want to put it to use. You can use this type of platform to design effective marketing campaigns, identify high-value customers, improve your products, and more.

The benefits of an analytical CRM are strategic by nature, so these platforms are best suited for high-level managers and executives. Companies may want to consider building a dedicated data analytics team to get the most out of an analytical CRM.

Examples of Analytical CRM Providers

  • Tableau
  • Grow
  • Domo
  • Datapine
  • Metabase

3. Collaborative CRMs

Collaborative CRMs are designed to ensure your marketing, sales, and service teams work together to provide a seamless customer experience. They prioritize data-sharing so that all agents know what interactions have taken place between a customer and your company.

The goal is to make customers feel like they’re interacting with your brand as a single entity instead of multiple separate departments.

How a Collaborative CRM Works

Collaborative CRM platforms offer three key features to help your teams work together.

Interaction Management

Collaborative CRMs ensure that every interaction your business has with a customer is documented and shared across your marketing, sales, and service teams. These platforms save phone call transcripts, email conversations, live chat messages, and more. Employees can add notes or flags to any interaction, making it easier to search these records in the future.

The benefit of this system is that when a sales agent prepares to close a deal, they can see every marketing email that’s been sent to a customer. Similarly, when a customer contacts your service team with a question, the support agent can see every interaction during the sales process as well as previous service requests.

Channel Management

Collaborative CRM platforms also help you connect with customers across multiple channels, including phone, email, live chat, social media, and more. You can see customers’ preferred communication channels based on their past interactions and initiate channel-specific conversations directly from your CRM.

Channel management tools can also help you decide which channels to develop further. For example, if your customers primarily communicate by live chat, you may want to add a chatbot to direct them to service agents better.

Document Management

You can also use a collaborative CRM to store customer-related documents in the cloud. Most platforms include comprehensive document management features, such as file tagging, annotation, and access control.

The benefit of storing documents in a collaborative CRM is that they’re available to all of your marketing, sales, and service employees rather than siloed into three different storage spaces.

Collaborative CRMs Are Great For

Collaborative CRMs excel at breaking down barriers between your marketing, sales, and service teams—which often have a tendency to form information silos. Collaborative CRMs make it easy to share data and ensure that your business has a memory of past interactions with each customer.

This platform type is more geared toward customer service and building brand loyalty than landing new deals. So, it’s especially suitable for companies that have a large base of repeat customers.

Examples of Collaborative CRM Providers

  • Sugar
  • Zendesk
  • Bitrix24
  • Sage
  • Copper

Comparison of CRM Types

The table below offers a summary of the three types of CRMs and how they differ.

Operational CRMsAnalytical CRMsCollaborative CRMs
How they workOffer productivity features for marketing, sales, and customer service teamsCollect and analyze customer data to identify new markets, increase sales, and better serve existing customersShare data between your marketing, sales, and service teams to provide a seamless customer experience
  • Create automated workflows to eliminate repetitive tasks
  • Dedicated features for each part of your sales cycle
  • Wide range of integrations
  • Leverage your customer data to boost sales
  • AI tools help you mine your data for patterns
  • Powerful visualizations and reporting tools
  • Marketing, sales, and service employees are all on the same page
  • Easily connect with customers over multiple channels
  • Deliver a unified brand experience for customers
  • Can lead to siloing within your teams
  • May require building a dedicated data analytics team
  • More helpful for customer service than marketing or sales
Best forCompanies with linear sales funnels that want to boost employee productivityCompanies that want to derive insights from extensive customer dataCompanies that want to deliver outstanding customer service or break down walls between departments
Example providers
  • Zoho CRM
  • HubSpot
  • Salesforce
  • Tableau
  • Grow
  • Domo
  • Sugar
  • Zendesk
  • Bitrix24

Types of CRMs: Example Use Cases

Let’s take a look at some example CRM use cases to see how the three different types can help you achieve your business goals.

Operational CRM Example – Building Personalized Customer Journeys With Zoho CRM

Zoho CRM’s Journey Builder feature enables you to automate and personalize the consumer process. To start building a relationship with a first-time visitor to your site, you can use Journey Builder to create appropriate automatic follow-ups to encourage a conversion.

For example, if the visitor looked at a product but didn’t purchase it, Zoho CRM can send an email with a link to the product and a discount code. If they did purchase the product, you can send promotional emails suggesting related products they might also like. And, if your potential customer doesn’t return to your site after several days, Journey Builder can send another email with a different promotional offer.

You can also use Journey Builder for marketing across channels. For example, instead of sending an email, you can market to a potential customer with search or social media ads. Journey Builder can ensure the ad they see has a photo of the item they looked at but didn’t purchase.

Personalized marketing journeys can be more effective at converting leads into customers than one-size-fits-all campaigns. They also help to encourage repeat purchases and build brand loyalty.

Analytical CRM Example – Finding Your Business’ Best Customers With Tableau

Tableau is an analytics CRM from Salesforce. It uses AI to help you get deeper insights from your customer data to find your highest-revenue demographic. With this information, you can market to similar audiences to attract additional lucrative customers. While visualizing your data this way can be helpful, AI features take the analysis one step further.

Tableau’s AI can build multi-factor models to determine which variables drive the most revenue for your business. For example, you might find that women aged 50 or older, living in Colorado, and interested in home decor, spend the most money with your company.

You can re-run this analysis over time to monitor changes. This is a good way to check whether your marketing efforts toward a specific audience are effective.

Collaborative CRM Example – Delivering Outstanding Customer Service With Sugar

Sugar is a collaborative CRM that makes it easy to share information between your sales and service teams.

When a customer contacts your help desk with a problem, Sugar enables your service agents to see all past interactions between the customer and your company. The platform grades each customer’s outlook toward your company as positive, neutral, or negative based on their previous communication.

With this information, agents can offer personalized greetings, such as thanking them for purchasing a specific product or being a customer for some years. They can also see if a customer has had an issue with the same product before, and ensure they don’t repeat support options that didn’t work out.

Support calls go faster this way, allowing agents to take more calls and reducing wait times for customers. In addition, customers leave every support interaction feeling like they received personalized treatment from your business.

Do You Need All 3 Types of CRM?

Whether you need all three types of CRM depends on your business goals. For example, many small- and medium-sized business owners will find everything they need in an operational CRM. However, as their business grows, they may find that adding a collaborative CRM allows them to increase customer retention and reduce siloing between departments.

Analytical CRM software is usually only necessary for larger businesses that have huge volumes of customer data.

Notably, many platforms provide features of all three CRM types. For example, Salesforce is primarily an operational CRM, but it has tons of analytical and collaborative tools as well. Salesforce also offers add-on modules, such as Einstein AI and Data Cloud, that you can purchase to increase your analytical capabilities as your business develops.

Next Steps

Choosing the right CRM platform for your business is critical to unlocking the full potential of your marketing, sales, and service teams. An operational CRM is best for building automated workflows, while an analytical CRM is best for analyzing customer data to make strategic decisions. A collaborative CRM helps your customer-facing teams work together to improve the customer experience.

Check out our guides to the best CRM software for small businesses and the best CRM software for sales teams to find the top platform for your company.

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of CRM does my business need?
Most businesses will benefit from an operational CRM because it offers features to automate essential marketing, sales, and customer service tasks. Many operational CRMs also include features of analytical and collaborative CRMs to help your business with strategic planning and customer retention.
What is a strategic CRM?
A strategic CRM is another term for an analytical CRM. Analytical CRMs leverage customer data to help you make strategic business decisions, such as which audiences to focus your marketing efforts on or how to reduce customer service requests.
What is the difference between a CRM and an ERP?
Customer relationship management (CRM) software focuses on marketing, sales, and customer service. It’s all about building relationships with customers. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software is used to manage every aspect of your business, from inventory and accounting to shipping. Some ERP platforms include a built-in CRM module.
Written by:
Michael is a prolific business and B2B tech writer whose articles have been published on many well-known sites, including TechRadar Pro, Business Insider and Tom's Guide. Over the past six years, he has kept readers up-to-date with the latest business technology, corporate finance matters and emerging business trends. A successful small business owner and entrepreneur, Michael has his finger firmly on the pulse of B2B tech, finance and business.