| Jun 29, 2022 | | 7 min read

What’s the difference between CRM and marketing automation?


Just over 60 percent of organizations say marketing automation is one of the areas they’re spending more budget on in the next year (FinancesOnline). Even more say they’re investing in automation more generally.

Automation has many benefits for almost every part of your business. Of course, to get the most benefit out of automation, you need to be sure you’re adopting the right tools.

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That’s why it’s helpful to know the difference between CRM and marketing automation. There are similarities between these two tools, but they have different uses.

What is CRM?

“CRM” stands for “customer relationship management.” Most people connect the term with CRM platforms or systems. These technological tools help your teams connect and build better relationships with your customers.

Most CRM platforms are sales-focused, which means they’re meant to help your sales teams. This usually translates to automation functions focused improving the sales process.

Automation with a CRM might include:

  • Scheduling and rescheduling appointments
  • Sending “thank-you” messages after closed deals
  • Sending other notifications, like reminders or shipping details
  • Assigning new contacts and moving contacts into the pipeline
  • Following up with new leads and existing customers

With some CRM platforms, you can even automate the creation of tasks in your pipeline.

What is marketing automation?

Marketing automation has a different focus than a CRM. It’s more concerned with marketing than sales.

Better integration for your sales and marketing teams might be a goal you’re working toward. Yet, there’s a reason the two of them are still primarily separate. Marketing has different goals than sales.

The people creating marketing automation tools understand that reality. As a result, they’ve added different features to support marketing goals. Marketing automation can include:

  • Ad campaigns
  • Social media posting
  • Sending out email newsletters, updates, nurture workflows, and so on
  • Delivering content downloads
  • Lead scoring

There are plenty of other options, but you might notice a theme here. Many marketing tasks focus on content.

Marketing’s primary goal is to get the word out about your company and what it offers. By contrast, sales wants to sell and close deals. Of course, raising brand awareness and getting people interested in what you do is often Step 1 toward a sale. At the same time, it’s not a formal part of the sales process.

Lead generation and scoring are also often in the marketing department’s wheelhouse. Your sales team might do some prospecting, but your marketing team is usually responsible for the top of the sales funnel.

How CRM and marketing automation differ

Using these definitions for CRM and marketing automation, it’s easier to see the differences. Marketing automation tools focus on automating marketing tasks. They support the goals of increasing brand awareness and brand visibility, as well as nurturing leads down the funnel.

A sales CRM, by contrast, automates sales functions. The focus is making it easier for your sales reps to streamline the sale and close more deals.

Do you need CRM or marketing automation?

Which tool you need usually depends on where you want to focus your automation efforts.

What if you have great content, but you’re struggling to get it in front of people? Marketing automation might be the right choice for your business. The same is true if you have a large customer database. Sending email campaigns by hand is overwhelming when you have thousands of contacts.

Marketing automation can also be the right choice when your customer list is small. In this case, you might be looking to grow your pipeline by adding more leads. Automation helps fill the funnel by letting lead generation run in the background.

Signs you need a CRM include customers complaining about poor service. CRM tools can help you reach out to unhappy customers. They also foster better communication and improved service. The long and short of it is your customers are more likely to be happy if you’re using a CRM.

Another common sign you should be looking for a CRM is that your customers keep getting “lost.” The buyer journey is more complex than ever. This complexity increases the chances that your teams are passing customers back and forth. Busy or overwhelmed teams might forget to respond or lose sight of what would otherwise be an easy sale.

The CRM helps your team stay on top of these tasks. In addition, a CRM makes visualization of the customer journey easier. In turn, your reps can hop back in and seal the deal with appropriate support for the customer.

Helping sales and marketing align

More and more, sales and marketing overlap with one another. That’s one reason there’s so much confusion about CRM vs. marketing automation. At first glance, sales and marketing look very similar. In turn, the tools they use can look like the same thing.

At the end of the day, your sales team and your marketing department have different goals. There’s absolutely no reason they can’t work together, though.

More business leaders are realizing this. They’re looking to create better sales and marketing alignment. While the two teams have different goals, working together can help them achieve more (TechTarget).

Marketing may be creating content, but is anyone reading it? At the same time, salespeople often complain about not having the right content to share with customers. With integrated tools, marketing gets feedback from sales about what kind of content they need. With that information, the marketing team can create high-value content.

They can also then direct sales to the right materials to support the deal. Marketing creates better content, sales finds the support they need, and your customers walk away happy.

Lead generation is another activity where sales and marketing collaboration improves the outcome. Marketing can focus on activities that lead to more prospects. At the same time, sales can share data showcasing which leads are most likely to turn into customers. Buyer personas and more can help marketing find not just more leads but high-quality leads.

CRM and marketing automation work together

Much like you want your sales and marketing teams to align, it’s better if your CRM and marketing automation tools work well together.

You’ll want to think about this reality as you research marketing automation and sales CRM tools. Do the systems you’re looking at integrate with each other?

If they don’t, that could cause more headaches. Data from either your marketing department or your sales teams could end up siloed (Forbes). Worse, your teams could waste valuable time entering data more than once.

Being unable to share data could also mean being unable to share reports instantly. Sales and marketing might want to track different KPIs, but sharing reports can demonstrate how teams can support each other.

Overlap between CRM and marketing automation

There are some similarities between the automations a sales CRM has and what a marketing automation tool can do. For example, both platforms can help you automate and manage the many emails your teams need to send.

Collecting data and crunching the numbers to gain insight is another key area of overlap for these platforms. You want to be able to automate certain reports.

Automatically assigning leads and contacts are also common in both sales and marketing. Even automating task creation can be useful to both sales and marketing teams.

Look for a platform that offers automation tools in all these areas and more. Beyond that, take a look for platforms that let you integrate or add more functions and systems. Adding marketing integrations for tools you’re already using is always the better choice.

Some platforms even let you think beyond sales and marketing. You can add project management and much more.

Choose the right tools to grow your business

Your sales pipeline starts with your marketing team. It doesn’t end once your sales reps have closed the deal. The right tools can help you streamline this process and make your teams more efficient. They can even help you build a more robust pipeline.

Whether it's a sales CRM or marketing automation, technology can help your business grow. With the right tools, your team can deliver more of what your customers really want.

About the Author

Solange Messier is the Content Strategy Manager at Vendasta. Solange has spent the majority of her career in content marketing helping companies improve how they connect with their prospects and customers. Her diverse background includes magazine publishing, book publishing, marketing agencies, payment processing, and tech. When she's not working, Solange can be found spending time with her family, running, and volunteering.

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