CRM And Marketing Automation: What’s The Difference?

If you’re confused about the difference between customer relationship management software (CRM) and marketing automation software, you’re not alone.

While sales and marketing are two of the most fundamental aspects of any enterprise, the number of tools available to facilitate them has skyrocketed over the last several years.

CRM And Marketing Automation: What's The Difference?

Even though CRM and marketing automation are designed to make working with your company’s leads and customers easier, several key differences between the two systems are essential to understand to use each effectively.

Businesses that clearly distinguish between their marketing and sales teams will easily understand which tool is right for which department and why.

What Is Marketing Automation Software?

The fundamental role of marketing automation software is to capture, qualify, and engage any user who has expressed interest in your company’s products or services.

How a user expresses interest will vary depending on your business, but some common examples include:

  • Downloading a guide or white paper
  • Requesting a product demo
  • Repeat visits to your website
  • Engaging with your business on social media
  • Asking for a sales rep to contact them

Each of these scenarios is different and must be responded to differently. Marketing automation software allows your marketing team to decide what type of response to give to a particular user and then automatically send it based on a series of rules you define.

At a “nuts and bolts” level, marketing automation tools like HubSpot, Marketo, and Pardot allow you to put specialized lead forms on your website. When a user fills out a form, the information they provide is captured and added into your marketing automation database.

Once captured, the software can automatically send follow-up emails (AKA “drip” or “nurture” emails) to each contact with additional information or offers that you specify. While every marketing automation tool has a range of other features, this is the core functionality loop that each system provides.

The end goal of all this work is to determine which leads are genuinely interested in your company’s products and/or services, and pass those leads on to your sales team to be developed further. This handoff often means a contact will move from the marketing automation software database into the sales team’s CRM system … (see what we did there?)

What Is CRM Software?

Even though customer relationship management software came along many years before marketing automation software, most businesses today use it to manage clients and leads passed on from marketing automation tools.

The fundamental role of modern cloud-based CRM is very different than marketing automation and, in many ways, much more straightforward. Its purpose is primarily to:

  • Track and manage leads through the sales funnel
  • Manage existing customer relationships more easily
  • Allow users access to prospect and customer data from any location

Salespeople understand that no two customers or prospects are the same. Each one they work with will need a slightly different approach. What CRM does very well (when used as intended) is to keep all the communications with a given contact in one place.

In that contact record, your sales reps can quickly scan the entire communication history with their contact and decide what steps must be taken to convert or retain a customer.

An example of this would be the marketing team passing along a lead who has requested a product demo. Once that lead goes into the CRM system, a salesperson can call or email the lead to set up a time for the demo or ask further qualification questions.

All communications between that lead and the sales rep will be logged in your CRM software. Your salespeople can easily keep track of what the next steps are for any given prospect at any time. After the demo, your salesperson can decide to further develop that lead, disqualify them based on internal qualifications, or decide to return to that lead at a later date.

There is a wide range of CRM solutions available, just as there are for marketing automation. While big brands like Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, and SugarCRM tend to dominate the enterprise marketplace, there are literally dozens of other boutique brands that serve a variety of different niches.

Which Tool Is Right For You?

If your business has clearly defined marketing and sales departments, the ideal solution is to have both CRM and marketing automation software working together in harmony.

However, even though marketing automation is at the top of the funnel, many businesses choose to start with CRM and add marketing automation at a later date. CRM fills what is usually the more critical role of organizing a business’s existing clients and leads into one place. Once that objective has been achieved, there will be a place for leads created by marketing automation tools to go.

Choosing The Right Solution

Once you’ve decided if you want CRM, marketing automation, or CRM and marketing automation together, you’ll have to decide which solution(s) you want for your business.

Further complicating the issue is that some vendors offer both types of software, often at a discount when purchased together. While tempting, there may be a strong case for choosing from two different vendors.

If your organization is considering CRM and marketing automation but isn’t sure which tool is the right choice, we’re here to help. We offer vendor-neutral evaluations of your business requirements and make a recommendation based on what tools will meet your needs.

Daryn Reif

Co-founder and Managing Partner at CRM Switch

CRM Switch Co-founder & Managing Partner

Over his 25-year career as a management consultant, Daryn has served as a trusted advisor to numerous companies spanning a wide array of industries, including manufacturing, distribution, technology, and telecommunications. Daryn specializes in digital transformation strategy and change management.


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