How CRM, Marketing Automation Software Differ

How CRM, Marketing Automation Software Differ | Defined Ventures, Inc.

Welcome to 2018!

The first quarter of a new year is often a time of reflection for those of us in business; we review last year’s position and decide how we can improve on it in the coming year. For many, that means assessing new tools and resources that may have the power to significantly benefit our business.

CRM and marketing automation are two of this year’s biggest business buzzwords – and with good reason. Both solutions provide businesses with unique solutions for improving the customer relationship, customer experience, and sales workflows from initial curiosity all the way to conversion. Likewise, both solutions share a significant amount of features and abilities…but that does not mean they are the same in use or application.

CRM and marketing automation are, in many ways, even more different than they are similar. They address the same unique problem – managing customers and boosting sales or conversions – but differ in approach. For you, the business owner trying to decide which is best, that fact drives home the need for further in-depth investigation of the differences.

To help you find the right solution, we’ll break down the exact definition of CRM and marketing automation. Be sure to review the features lists; these paint a much clearer image of how both technologies work, making their differences much clearer.

What Is CRM?

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a technology, often provided in application or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) form, that provides  businesses with easy tools for managing customer relationships. This includes tracking leads, connecting or communicating with customers, and even identifying opportunities to improve profitability within customer data.

Rather than focusing on closing sales, CRM focuses on providing the ability to improve the customer experience and close the sale. That’s why most CRM platforms cater strictly to sales departments and their needs – including account information, conversion and funnel data, and lifecycle tracking.

CRM Features

Every CRM system differs slightly in feature provision. Some brands offer very basic systems that do little more than manage contacts, while others go beyond traditional CRM offerings into financial management and advanced AI or chatbots. That said, the most common provided features include:

Contact Management

Add, store, access, and organize customer contact information, including a basic customer profile (e.g., email, telephone) with demographics.

Lead Generation

Generate new leads and/or reassess current clients for remarketing opportunities. Create and track organic and inorganic lead development (e.g., referrals and cold lead generation).

Lifecycle Tracking

Tracks leads and/or clients from initial curiosity all the way through conversion; Provides easy access to customer lifecycle position automatically.

Track Statistics

Provides fast access to important data like sales activity, promotions, deals, discounts, and forecasts.

Customized Pipelines

Adjust your sales pipeline on the fly to better suit the needs of each campaign and/or customer.

Track Tasks

Assign each member of the sales team tasks, track their completion, and hone workflows that make sense between departments and/or employees.


Automates tedious relationship management workflows, including autoresponding, filtering data, processing orders, and more. This frees sales staff up for person-to-person communication. CRM automation is sales force automation (SFA) rather than marketing automation.

Order Processing

Places and tracks orders from initial placement all the way through fulfilment and even delivery. May also track returns.


Analyzes customer relationship data to find patterns and/or opportunities, while also providing you with the ability to visualize data in seconds, if desired. Provides “useful in action” visualization options that present important data clearly and in the right way.

People and Relationships

Focuses not necessarily on marketing campaigns, but on the people and relationships marketing campaigns target in the first place. This includes behavioral patterns, interaction styles, personas, and behavioral sales lifecycle advancement or stagnation indicators.

CRM solutions are right for your business if your business needs assistance with managing the customer relationship or experience – including communication and contacts. For sales teams and individual sellers, it is an invaluable tool improving productivity, efficiency, workflows, and overall customer service. Sales team members can automatically access all interactions, they are better able to identify and chase down on-the-spot opportunities to convert or encourage pipeline advancement. When they speak to customers, they have all the information they need to sell.

What Is Marketing Automation?

Marketing automation is newer than CRM, and it differs from CRM in a few key ways. Rather than always focusing customer experience, marketing automation focuses on leads, communication and opportunities.

“Wait a minute. Isn’t that what you just said CRM does?”

Yes – this is a true statement.

What’s different is the fact that marketing automation doesn’t focus on the entire sales pipeline or making actual sales. It also doesn’t really focus on lead generation, although most platforms offer the ability to identify prospective leads from communication channels.

Think of the difference between marketing and sales departments. To a sales department, leads and customer experience are a means to an end. They may encourage people to call in and place an order, but they won’t ultimately make the sale. Instead, it is the salesperson who “seals the deal.”

Marketing, on the other hand, focuses on creating campaigns and marketing information or opportunities that drive the customer to progress to sales in the first place. It is heavily communication driven (including social media), and largely focuses on automating workflows associated with that portion of a marketing campaign.

Many experts liken marketing automation systems to content management systems; this is, in fact, a somewhat sage assumption. Both marketing automation and content management focus on creating and delivering the right content to the right people at the right time. Unlike sales, marketing automation systems focus on  the message, rather than the product, service, or final sale. This definition does mean that marketing automation is often more about the content at the core, rather than the sale or actual person-to-person communication.

Marketing Automation Features

We know that marketing automation is more about the message, while CRM is more about the customer relationship, experience, and sales pipeline. To really drive home the differences between these two useful systems, let’s take a look at marketing automation’s most common features:

Multi-Channel Integration

The ability to seamlessly integrate with multiple sales and marketing channels. This includes your website, Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, Instagram, and other social media or in-person efforts.

Lead Identification and Scoring

Gives you the power to track leads and identify exactly how likely they are to convert or be susceptible to remarketing attempts. Often uses lead scoring measures to trigger other workflows, like calls from sales or autoresponder emails with discounts.

Email Blasting/Marketing

Let’s you set up highly targeted email marketing campaigns and automate nearly every step of the process. Unlike classic email marketing, offers a much more specific and targeted approach to email campaigns to help you get the right message out to the right people – at the right time.

Progressive Profiling

Gathers information on each lead or contact over time, gradually creating a bigger and more useful profile for them. In AI-driven marketing automation systems, this often includes contacts, communication, and behavior prediction. Unlike standard profiling, progressive profiling works with the customer based on how they interact, gently encouraging them along the pipeline. It vastly improves conversion attempt timing in many cases.

Dynamic Content Creation and Tracking

Develop your content based on the customer’s needs in real-time. This includes creating forms and web pages that probe the customer for information, delivering a solution based on their responses. Marketing automation then allows you to track how on-target your dynamic content is and adjust it for better results. In the realm of sales, this often manifests as targeted or dynamically interactive sales processes.

Lead Nurturing

Unlike lead nurturing in sales, marketing-based lead nurturing focuses on the creation of campaigns that “drip” content in to leads to nurture them at just the right time. This may include actions like sending out a promotional email on signup, sending out a discount if a customer hasn’t visited in a while, or 1:1 messaging customers at all points throughout the lifecycle.

Lead Assignment

Send leads to the right person at the right time to secure the sale. Based on lead scoring and a variety of other features, lets you automate where leads go based on specific parameters. These parameters may include frequency of sale, likelihood of conversion, or even frequency of contact.

With these features outlined, it becomes remarkably clear that there are really more differences than similarities between these two valuable tools. In many ways, marketing automation provides the “fuel” that keeps CRM working to its best capacity. Marketing focuses on campaigning and communicating with leads, funneling warmer leads into the CRM system for sales to pick up and work with.

The biggest takeaway for businesses from this article is that CRM and marketing automation both serve very valid needs within business. However, they are not even close to the same, and to attempt to use one to serve the needs of the other is to introduce serious potential problems or even cripple conversion prospects along the way. The best way to approach your decision is to find two systems that synchronize and work together seamlessly and flawlessly, providing both your marketing department and sales department with everything they need to succeed.


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