Understanding The Relationship Between Websites, Box Office, and CRM

Ever since publishing an article in July, 2011 that explained the differences between Apps and Mobile Websites I have wanted to tackle another web related issue that tends to be the source for much confusion; in particular, the differences between websites, box office, and customer relationship management solutions (CRM) along with where they do and do not intersect.

In a perfect scenario, all three of these items are seamlessly integrated and the more you learn about each component, the more you’ll notice areas of functionality that overlap. But from a practical perspective, it is useful to analyze which solutions are best for your needs by looking at each component separately.

Primary Component Functionality

Website Solution

  • Serves as the initial and primary point of online contact between organization and patron.
  • Displays event and ticketing information.
  • Used as a primary source for gathering patron information through included form based functionality or incorporating functionality provided by Box Office or CRM solution.
  • Provides static institutional organization.

Box Office Solution

  • Process payments and related online transactions.
  • Process subscription and single ticket sales.
  • Process donation payments.
  • Provides online payment gateway and shopping cart where patrons enter payment information.
  • Maintains a corresponding database of users who purchase tickets or make donations.

CRM Solution

  • Designed to collect and organize user information via specialized database.
  • Information is used to manage online and offline interactions with patrons and fundraising points of contact (grantors, foundations, etc.).
  • Provides a shared resource to organize and synchronize fundraising and marketing activity across the organization.

Where The Lines Begin To Blur

Although all three components can integrate to one degree or another, it is more common for Box Office and CRM solutions to coexist via a shared database that can be housed and managed via the organization’s servers or a remote access system (i.e. cloud based computing).

[quote float=”right”]Helpful Tip: Although it’s easy to slip into situation comedy style confusion between CRM and CMS, here’s how you can keep it straight: the CMS is the user interface to access the data stored in the CRM solution.[/quote]   What distinguishes one solution from another is the respective ability to provide an integrated user interface, or content management system (CMS), to facilitate record management, initiate interaction tasks, and create reports.

Organizations can purchase solutions that provide the basic acquisition, storage, and delivery functionality related to custom records then pay a developer to create a CMS interface or opt for a provider that has developed the latter on top of their existing database.

Another element that fits within multiple components and can even function as a standalone platform is email marketing clients (systems used to create, distribute, and track email communication). Although it is typical for comprehensive CRM and Box Office solutions to include an email marketing client that draws on its corresponding database, it is still one aspect that many arts groups contract as a separate component. And the real beauty here is email marketing clients are comparatively simple to pop in and out of any of the three components.

In general, the field of email marketing client providers has exploded with high quality options; which means competition; which means a highly refined set of choices at competitive prices (especially for nonprofit). In fact, it is a topic that really deserves a post all to its self.

Special Considerations

One of the unfortunate realities for a number of arts groups is they don’t get to control which Box Office solution to use. Instead, they must utilize one or more box office solutions provided by their venues, which can throw a real monkey wrench into the equation from the standpoint that they may or may not be allowed to access the ticket buyer data collected by the venue operating the Box Office solution. As a result, the ability to import/export data to a CRM may be limited or, even worse, require the data be entered manually, one record field at a time.

If your organization falls into this scenario, solutions designed to integrate the CRM and Box Office components may simply not be a viable option. Likewise, the Box Office solution(s) required by your venues may have an even greater impact on the following topic and, ultimately, your decisions regarding which solutions to utilize.

Playing Nice, or, The Big Picture

Once you have a handle on the differences between all three components and how they are designed to work together, it is useful to examine how well one integrates with the others. This is a potentially crucial step in deterring actual costs for any given solution because a competitively priced product that meets your minimum requirements might end up costing a great deal more than the stated cost if their system is difficult to integrate with one of the remaining, necessary components.

EXAMPLE: if a CRM solution needs to integrate something into your website, like a form, to collect user information, the option(s) provided by the former for accomplishing that task can span the following options:

  • Worst: It’s your responsibility to make that happen, regardless of cost, and no additional assistance or consideration is given to the website platform you utilize. Ultimately, your development costs will be comparatively high in order to get the two components working together.
  • Better: They offer an application programming interface (API), which is a special code used to make integration easier when combining two components through something like a php template. Your development costs will be moderate as a well written API makes it easier for programmers to make both components play nice together and add your website’s styling.
  • Best: They provide a platform specific integration tool, such as a type of plugin or add-on module, which provides complete integration and automatically adopts inherent web styling with little to no development costs. In the best of cases, the solutions are provided free of charge by one component provider or the other and all that’s required is turning it on.

You’ll need to determine how to fit these pieces together and to that end, you have quite a few options. More often than not, it isn’t uncommon for service providers from the website component to handle something like integrating elements from the CRM or Box Office but it is increasingly common to have representatives from both providers work together toward integration goals.

Whether or not your organization even needs to consider these options (and related expenses) will depend on a number of variables generated by the combinations of solutions you choose.


Now that you have a better understanding of how these components do and do not fit together and how those interactions can impact actual cost of ownership, you’ll be in a position to examine all three elements at the same time when considering a system overhaul.

If you don’t have that much flexibility, make sure potential providers for any one component know which other components you’re using so there are no unpleasant surprises down the road (“Oh, you use that CRM? Well then, your website is going to cost a lot more if you want to integrate the two.”).

In the end, I hope you have a better understanding of the differences between Websites, Box Office, and CRM solutions. But given the scope of these issues, you might have some additional questions. If so, feel free to send them in and I’ll do my best to provide the answers.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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