Quick! What’s the difference between a CRM and marketing automation software?

Inbound marketing CRM

by Margery Murphy on May 15, 2020

Hint: it’s not as simple as a CRM is for sales and marketing automation is for marketing. Each type of software has some unique features geared toward sales or marketing audiences, but there is also plenty of overlap. There are many options for sales and marketing tech out there with different combinations of features and the ability to customize to meet your needs. Here we will clarify the general differences and similarities.

As we have said before, the quality and detail of the data you input determines the value you get out of any system. Data entry and maintenance must be part of your SOP: neither a CRM nor marketing automation software will excel at anything without clean data, or with gaps and inconsistencies in records, or if you’re not using them regularly.


How they Differ on Key Features

Contact information and data structure

Both kinds of platforms store contact and company information like name, address, phone number, email, etc. Both usually include fields for adding notes and details of phone calls or site visits, and both can usually send and track emails to individual contacts.

CRMs commonly have an account-based structure, but you will still need to make some decisions about how your data is structured when setting up a CRM. For example, will you create a new account for each of the same company’s locations or will they be lumped together? Both a CRM and marketing automation software allow you to manage and sort and run reports based on contact info.

Some CRM programs gather a large amount of company information beyond general firmographics to include revenue and monetary value, number of employees, and some fields you can define yourself. For example, you may be able to set up fields for target personas or quoting history. And because they are designed to track customer engagement and sales activity, they usually include a way to track a prospect’s progress through the sales cycle so you can keep an eye on your pipeline. All of this allows you to review the details of an account quickly in a central location, which means more accurate lead scoring and forecasting. Not to mention the ability to easily review and update an account’s history.  

Marketing automation software usually includes basic contact information, but may not include the details about deals won or sales cycle progress. Some group contacts by company or account, but others leave you to structure your data into lists that you define yourself.

Outreach, web, and email activity

While both platforms can usually track calls, visits, and emails sent to individuals, including if and when emails were opened, marketing automation software can show you how entire groups interacted with a particular email or social media post. This ability to analyze behaviors of user-defined groups (for example if you created lists of contacts for a/b testing, specific industries, those who have downloaded a particular ebook) allows you to tweak content and distribution channels for the biggest impact. It also saves the steps of sorting CRM contacts into opened/didn’t open lists and then sending them a second email individually. Many programs also show you statistics about things like which links were clicked or what documents were downloaded.

Marketing automation software often lets you create email templates, web pages, and manage your site directly through the software. A CRM can send a templated email, but may not support the same amount of design and content creation features. You may also have to spend time writing, importing, and setting up each new email template and triggering them for individual contacts.

Metrics, reports, and analytics

Both tools have the ability to sort and compile data into lists or generate statistics based on data fields. Of course, the reports and analytics you can obtain depend on what types of data you’ve been entering  and how accurate it is. For example, you can’t figure out your average time to close a deal if you’re not inputting the dates of each and every touch with a prospect.

Generally speaking, the more detail you add to contact records, and the more consistent the data, the more useful and detailed your reports and analytics will be. If each of your reps uses a different term to refer to the same thing (e.g. one says “lead” one says “opportunity” and another says “appointment” but they’re referring to the same type of interaction) it will be hard to know exactly how many contacts are at which stage.

Running reports and pulling data from a CRM or marketing automation software into another program that compiles dashboards is often complex. Your IT or data management staff can help you determine what reports can or can’t be compiled, and any caveats to the resulting information.


Putting it all together

Without a doubt, both of these tools are popular and useful:

  • Businesses that leverage CRM software see sales increase by 29%, sales productivity increase by 34%, and sales forecast accuracy increase by 42%. (Salesforce)
  • 74% of CRM software users said that their CRM system gave them improved access to customer data. (Ringlead, cited by Capterra)
  • 75% of marketers say they currently use at least one type of marketing automation tool. (Social Media Today “State of Marketing Automation Survey Report” 2019, cited by emailMonday)
  • Optimizing productivity, increasing marketing ROI, and improving campaign management are top objectives for using marketing automation tools. (Adestra, “State of Marketing Automation Benchmarks for Success” 2017)

When it comes to managing sales activity and inbound marketing, many companies benefit from adopting both types of software. Recently, there has been interest in getting the best of both worlds by syncing or integrating CRM and marketing automation packages, especially in an effort to align sales and marketing departments. One such example is the collaboration between Salesforce’s CRM and Hubspot, a popular marketing automation tool. Both are web-based and offer standard and customizable features for data management, outreach, and more.

A major advantage to integrating these kinds of tools is to help nurture prospects with increased visibility into their engagement with you via your website, social media, downloads, and email campaigns. For example, we know many B2B prospects spend time on product discovery and research before reaching out to a rep, or may have been interacting with your content long before you reach out to them. Having a record of this interaction and insight into their needs/interests (even down to which emails they received and their replies) in your CRM would be helpful during future outreach and sales interactions with them. These aspects of marketing automation analytics provide rich background for sales reps to leverage. It might also become easier to see who you’ve lost touch with and need to re-engage with via an email or calling campaign.

There are some sticking points, however, to combining two proprietary tools. How data is structured (i.e. by account or as individual contacts), the available fields, or how fields are defined in each tool can make report data clunky. Further, the way search capabilities are set up behind the scenes, some of which is built into the software’s code, may limit the ways you can pull data. There may be canned reports or analytics tools that you cannot access when the two softwares are combined. Or there could be some fields in one that are not present in the other, and may have to be populated manually or by running reports and populating tables.

Do you use a CRM, marketing automation, both, or neither? There are many options and many ways to configure these tools to your best advantage. Whether you need help selecting the right tool(s) for your needs, want to take your data management to the next level, or are curious how a CRM or marketing automation can help your business, we can help – please get in touch today!






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