The Difference Between Stakeholder Engagement and Customer Relationship Management Software

I frequently get asked the following questions:

  • Can I use our company’s CRM software for stakeholder engagement?
  • Is there any difference between Stakeholder Engagement and CRM?

Below, we have a guest post by Sarah Busque from Boréalis to answer these  questions and provide deeper insight. Boréalis is the leading stakeholder engagement software company, based in Canada, but operating world-wide, and here in South Africa too.

Over to you, Sarah!


What’s the Difference Between Stakeholder Engagement and Customer Relationship Management Software?

By Sarah Busque , Communications Advisor at Boréalis

There is always a bit of confusion regarding understanding and responding to customers and stakeholders.

If all my customers are stakeholders, does that automatically mean that all my stakeholders are customers too? Well, not really. Let’s dig into what a stakeholder is and what a customer is.

According to Business, a customer is:

“A party that receives or consumes products (goods or services) and has the ability to choose between different products and suppliers.”

On the other hand, according to the IFC’s guidebook on stakeholder engagement: A Good Practice Handbook for Companies Doing Business in Emerging Markets, a stakeholder is:

“Stakeholders are persons or groups who are directly or indirectly affected by a project, as well as those who may have interests in a project and/or the ability to influence its outcome, either positively or negatively. Stakeholders may include locally affected communities or individuals and their formal and informal representatives, national or local government authorities, politicians, religious leaders, civil society organizations and groups with special interests, the academic community, or other businesses.”

A comparison of the two definitions emphasizes the deeper complexity that defines stakeholders. Customers’ interest generally lies in purchasing a service or product and decision-making power, while that even if stakeholders are not interested or involved in a project, it still can have an impact on them. Plus, they can sometimes even have decision-making power about it.

A customer is a person (or an organization) to whom you want to sell something. The tenor of the relationship is focused on addressing the customer problems and overcoming objections and service difficulties. You want to continue to sell the product or provide the service. The metrics are sales achieved, repeat orders and customer satisfaction.

A stakeholder relationship, on the other hand, might not entail buying anything from you in the commercial sense. A stakeholder can take the form of a community near your operations, a regulator, an industry body, or a social media action group. The tenor of the relationship is on building long-term relationships of trust and increasing the Licence to Operate for your organization. The metrics are clear management of the issues, careful deployment of engagement behaviours and actions to sustain the quality of relationships.

Different Relationships, Different Objectives

Customer Relationship Management systems has been evolving swiftly. It has become more complicated with sales depending on new technologies and platforms including the Internet (just think about online shopping), social media, search engine optimisation (SEO), inbound marketing, etc. Even if only the CRM systems evolving and adapting to these new opportunities will remain leaders, the sales funnel itself has remained pretty much the same.

The 4 stages of the buying process:

  • Awareness
  • Consideration
  • Decision
  • Retention

These stages represent the classic sales pipeline (the client-provider relation management), on which CRM approach is built.

When it comes to stakeholder engagement, the methodology is different. As mentioned above, it’s not all stakeholders who will be interested in a project. Furthermore, not all of them have as much influence in the process of making decisions. Still, all stakeholders need to be taken into account in order to build a robust engagement strategy.

While the sales process is pretty much the same for all products (with little variances between business to business and business to consumer); a good stakeholder engagement plan needs to be aligned with the specific requirements of every project. A single company can have multiple engagement strategies for each one of its projects.

There are 12 steps to build a great stakeholder engagement strategy, which you’ll be able to find out more details about in this article.

In determining how we address stakeholders, we use the following set of questions:

  • Does the stakeholder have a fundamental impact on your organization’s performance?
  • Can your organization clearly state what you want from the stakeholder?
  • Is the relationship dynamic? Do you want it to grow?
  • Can your organization exist without the stakeholder?

If you answer positively to most of these questions – you are dealing with a stakeholder, and you need to take special care of the relationship!

The reason why you are reading this article is probably because you are confronting a stakeholder engagement problem and you are looking for a solution that’ll ease your work. We hope that this article has been of some help in clarifying the details. I’d like to end on a positive note: there are plenty of solutions out there and it’s up to you to find the one that better suits your needs.

Of course, we’ve seen organizations that tweak CRM systems in order to use them to manage their stakeholder engagement. And out of those, there might be some that did an OK job. But that being said, stakeholder engagement software is and will always remain the best to plan, engage, centralize, measure, analyze, and report on the multifaceted social relationships generated by stakeholder engagement activities.

Boréalis has been a pioneer in combining Corporate Social Responsibility and technology since the early 2000s:

  • Our stakeholder engagement cloud application is the only one on the market that’s standard and ready to deploy.
  • It’s a great tool for land access, monitoring and compliance, baseline studies, strategic social investments, and more).
  • You can use any device to upload and download information, anywhere where you have an internet connection.
  • It is 100% cloud-based – cloud security alliance aligned, with 10 major updates annually (we invest over $1 million / year in R&D), with a powerful Analytics tool and enterprise integration.
  • All your stakeholder engagement information is available at your fingertips.

You’d like to see how we can help? Contact us at!

Author: James Forson

James Forson spends a great deal of time near the centre of an intricate Venn diagram where management consulting, fiction and business writing, social investment governance, home-grown vegetables and procrastination overlap.