Navigating the complexity of Public Affairs: Why SRM is more than just another CRM

Customer relationship management and CRM-systems have been around for a long time and many are familiar with the concept; however, stakeholder relationship management - SRM - is a more recent concept and product group. Sometimes the question arises, whether the latter is actually needed: We already have a CRM-system - why do we need an SRM as well?

It is not surprising that this question comes up: From an internal point of view, both CRM and SRM is about sharing information and increasing transparency internally on a team or within a company. Both types of systems are also used with the same goal: To build strong and lasting relationships with external entities. 

However, even though the answer to the question is of course up to the individual organization, we will argue that the difference is often so important that it shouldn't be written off. 

Customers versus stakeholders

First and foremost, the two groups are fundamentally different. Customers are, self-evidently, limited to being businesses or people buying services and products. Stakeholders, on the other hand, can vary much more broadly; from politicians and administrators, to competitors, members, suppliers, or industry experts. The common denominator for these is that they all have an impact on the success of the organization to a smaller or larger degree - but not necessarily because they buy a product. Their influence can be on legislation, brand awareness and reputation, competing products, legal… and the list goes on. 

This broad variety in stakeholders also means that they are more likely to have conflicting or contradictory interests; this is much rarer for clients, where one customers' action or purchase rarely influences others. 

From an SRM-view, stakeholders can thus be defined as anyone with the power, will, or opportunity to influence the success or failure of your organization. 

Relation and end goal

With this definition of the target group, it also follows that the relation between the organization and stakeholders at large is different from the relationship with a client. 

Client relations are often relatively linear and the process is more predictable; following the sales funnel towards "sale" or "lost", although of course with potential resale or renewal, but all in all following the same recipe. 

Stakeholder relations are more complex. They can take many different turns, be in various states and flow back and forth between states, and they rarely move towards an end goal. Instead, they are ongoing. Even if, for example, a piece of legislation is adopted or a project is approved, you keep your relations to the relevant stakeholders. 

Another difference worth mentioning is that in managing stakeholder relations, the interaction and relation has a value in and off itself. When tracking client relations, each interaction is a means that should contribute to what you are really tracking: Revenue/income. 

More than just tracking

Lastly, your ideal stakeholder relations management system should not only support your tracking of relations, but also assist in monitoring their activities and opinions; Have they made any public announcements of relevance to you? What recent activities do they have on, say, SoMe? Answering these questions as well as discovering new stakeholders who enter the landscape is also something you should look for in an SRM system. 

While a CRM can be extremely useful when you are working to meet the needs of clients and organize the relationship with them, an SRM offers a more comprehensive functionality that allows for all the different factors that influences the success of your Public Affairs efforts. 

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