Use the CRM Functionality Starfish When You Update Your CRM

By: on May 19, 2017

Customer relationship management (CRM) is a difficult topic to define—that’s why we’ve tried to do it over and over and over again.

It’s hard enough to understand in theory, and it only gets more difficult when you’re looking to add CRM software to your company, or update the CRM system you already have.

But what if I told you there was a starfish that provided you with all the information you need to know about how CRM functionality breaks down?

Unfortunately, this isn’t a Finding Nemo-esque talking starfish, but rather the “CRM Starfish,” as introduced by Gartner analyst Ed Thompson in the report CRM Application Functionality Starfish (available to Gartner clients).

The CRM Starfish is a graphic representation of the five main arms that make up CRM for enterprise-level businesses.

By breaking down each arm into specific components, the CRM Starfish provides you with detailed information on what aspects of CRM functionality are being used by companies across the globe, giving you valuable insight into what you need to think about in order to update CRM at your own company.

Five Top-Level CRM Application Functionality Categories

Source: Gartner (August 2016), “CRM Application Functionality Starfish,” by Ed Thompson


As Thompson explains, “It’s designed purely because when someone says, ‘Hey, I want to do some CRM,’ we want to be able to say, ‘What do you mean by CRM?'”

Here are the four categories of the starfish we’ll cover in depth:

Customer Service
Digital Commerce & Field Service (For Enterprise Only)


Gartner’s coverage of the CRM Starfish is focused on large, enterprise-level businesses, so a lot of the functions they list may not be applicable to small and midsize businesses (SMBs) like yours.

However, sales functionalities are integral to the success of any business, and SMBs are no exception.

The CRM Starfish subdivides sales as follows:

Detailed Low-Level CRM Application Functionality Categories (Sales)

Source: Gartner (August 2016), “CRM Application Functionality Starfish,” by Ed Thompson


Many of these functions are best suited for large enterprises. Let’s break down the two most important of these functions for SMBs:

Sales execution: Sales force automation (SFA) is the bread-and-butter of CRM for most small businesses. SFA software will help you manage your sales team’s activities, while also helping the team close more deals, by tracking interactions with customers, clients and sales prospects and keeping detailed records on those interactions.

This will be the home for your contact management database—which is one of the defining aspects of CRM software.

Sales analytics: Using the data stored in the SFA database, small businesses can also get a lot of mileage out of sales analytics tools, which will enable them to create reports based on past sales. These reports provide helpful predictions for the future that can aid in planning ahead.


Marketing is another subsection of CRM that most SMBs will find useful. No matter how successful your company’s sales team is, they’re not going to be of much use if nobody knows about your products or services. That’s why marketing is as important to SMBs as it is to enterprise-level businesses.

As with sales, however, the marketing subsection of the CRM Starfish is divided into a robust amount of categories:

Detailed Low-Level CRM Application Functionality Categories (Marketing)

Source: Gartner (August 2016), “CRM Application Functionality Starfish,” by Ed Thompson


Here are the most important of these functions for SMBs:

Digital marketing hub: Marketing automation, like SFA, depends upon access to a database of contacts who you can reach out to with your marketing message.

This database lives within the digital marketing hub, providing you with the same kind of streamlining, records and basic analytics that you get out of a sales force database.

Multichannel campaign management: Despite the daunting title this is actually a fairly straightforward (if complex) set of tools that will allow you to track your marketing campaigns across a variety of platforms and media, from email to social media to phone calls.

Marketing today takes multiple forms, and multichannel tools are crucial if you want to launch and maintain a campaign that reaches the most set of eyes.

Social marketing: Social marketing tools will help you become better at content marketing through social media and other interactive websites. You can track the level of social engagement with your content (clicks, shares, “likes” and so forth) in order to provide you with a better idea of what types of inbound content work best for your business model.

Customer Service

No matter how big or small your business is, customer service is going to be extremely important. What differs based on size, however, is just how much you will need a software system to help you provide good service to your customers.

Most small businesses can likely survive with a general contact management database which allows them to track customer complaints and interactions. When you only have a few calls or emails for customer service a day, it’s easy enough to track and take care of these issues as they arise.

As businesses grow, they require customer service software to help them make sure that customer concerns are addressed quickly and efficiently.

This leads to a robust list of functions for the customer service subsection of the CRM Starfish:

Detailed Low-Level CRM Application Functionality Categories (Customer Service)

Source: Gartner (August 2016), “CRM Application Functionality Starfish,” by Ed Thompson


For a growing SMB looking to manage increasing amounts of customer problems, one set of functions stands out:

Customer engagement center: These tools provide the basic suite of functionality you’ll require to set up automated systems that respond to customer needs, whether that is through a call center, email response, web chat or other forms of outreach and contact.

All of these will feed into and out of a case management/problem resolution center that tracks each point of contact and ensures that customer needs are met and complaints are resolved in a timely, satisfactory manner.

Digital Commerce & Field Service (For Enterprise Only)

For the enterprise-level businesses that Gartner caters the starfish towards, digital commerce and field service functionalities are an important part of any CRM suite.

Most SMBs, however, won’t find much value in these functions.

Detailed Low-Level CRM Application Functionality Categories (Digital Commerce & Field Service)

Source: Gartner (August 2016), “CRM Application Functionality Starfish,” by Ed Thompson


For smaller businesses, looking for smaller-scale software solutions, digital commerce probably falls a bit outside of the margins of CRM software. It likely wouldn’t make for a smart investment.

You might be better off seeking out a separate, small-scale e-commerce platform that can integrate with your CRM.

Similarly, for SMBs, a CRM system that integrates field service tools may be overly pricey. As with digital commerce, you might be better off looking for a separate, smaller field service system that you can integrate with your CRM software.

Alternatively, a robust customer service module for your CRM system might provide you with all of your CRM needs within the service realm.

Conclusion & Next Steps

According to Ed Thompson, the Gartner analyst who created the CRM Starfish, “When people say the term CRM, they have a preconception of what they think they mean.” The CRM Starfish exists to help companies understand the world of CRM functionality so that they can surpass those preconceptions and have a clearer idea of what they’re looking for when buying or updating their CRM.

Remember, your SMB will have its own unique needs—you must discover which investments in CRM functionality will be of the highest value to you.

A realtor, for example, will want to focus on the sales and marketing arms of the starfish in order to reach out to and keep track of the highest possible number of leads and prospects. A mail order retailer, on the other hand, might want to invest in the customer service arm in order to keep those customers happy and attended to.

Using this article as a guide to the functions that will be most useful for your business, here’s some next steps as you figure out how to make the CRM Starfish work for you:

  • Email me at for more information. I’m happy to help you figure out what your own CRM needs might be and connect you to one of our expert software advisors for a free, no-obligation consultation!

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How Customer Experience Analytics Can Benefit Your Small Business

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