What's the Difference Between a CRM and a Marketing Automation Platform?

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It probably won’t surprise you to learn that customer relationship management (CRM) software and marketing automation software are VERY different from one another. Yet, it seems that many people still get the two confused. It’s understandable, because on the surface each one can appear to be somewhat similar. A closer look will show us that each platform serves very different purposes. Since it’s so important that sales and marketing teams understand the differences between the two systems, let’s examine the functionality and intended audiences for both CRM and marketing automation platforms, and see why they aren’t so interchangeable.


What Are the Primary Differences Between Marketing Automation and CRM?

The most obvious difference between the two platforms is that CRM software is sales-focused, while marketing automation software is, you guessed it, marketing-focused. But what does that really mean? It all boils down to the target audience, and the target audience is generally determined by where a prospect is in the sales funnel—although keep in mind that there is definitely a reporting component to the differences as well. This becomes clearer when we look at each of these platforms individually.



The Purpose of Marketing Automation Software

Marketing automation most often engages in top-of-the-funnel activities. Typical uses include scheduling and tracking marketing activities, like email campaigns and mass B2B or B2C communications. Most marketing automation systems (like the emfluence Marketing Platform) also allow you to track activities that indicate levels of interest from potential prospects, including website visits, email openings, and content or form downloads.


Marketing automation software gives you the ability to segment prospects into appropriate emailing lists based on customizable criteria that best fit your business purposes. It can also give you powerful lead-nurturing functionality, including the ability to deliver triggered emails at exactly the right time in the customer journey. Or you can schedule “drip” email campaigns to keep your company visible throughout the nurturing process.


This system also gives you powerful analytical tools that shows you what worked and what didn’t after a campaign has ended. This helps the marketing arm of an organization fine-tune their strategy for future campaigns, leading to better sales results over the long run. In a nutshell, marketing automation platforms gives you powerful tools that foster leads, preparing them to be delivered to your sales team. As a lead progresses through the funnel and transforms into qualified sales leads, it’s usually time to start tracking them in a CRM.


CRM Software - a Database and More for Sales

A CRM platform (like Microsoft Dynamics 365 CE/Sales allows you to store all kinds of contact information about leads once they have been handed off to the sales team. This info can include all of the necessary basic information, like names, titles, and addresses. But a CRM can also log data, like how long a person has been a customer, the dates and results of phone calls and other customer touchpoints, as well as past purchasing records, and records of emails sent from sales or the customer service team.


CRMs usually have the capability to send alerts to sales personnel for things like scheduled calls with clients, updates on order processing, and when a client’s birthday is coming up. All of this helps the sales team understand as much as possible about a prospect or existing customer, allowing them to build personal relationships that deliver results over time.


Sales teams utilize CRM data to help them organize and optimize direct interactions between the company and their customers to maintain existing relationships that lead to increased sales and customer satisfaction. Since a CRM system allows the sales team to have visibility into where a potential customer is in the sales process, it helps them identify the most likely buyers, leading to more sales.



We’ve seen how each of these platforms are quite different. While the marketing automation system feeds data into the CRM system, it’s these systems’ users and target audiences that make it necessary for both to perform separate tasks. It isn’t the norm for the sales team to have visibility and access into a company’s marketing automation system. At the same time, it’s rare for marketing personnel to be users of the CRM system—although they should be if they want to ensure the data they’re pulling from a CRM system is functioning as it should in the marketing automation system (more on that here).


And while ideally the two systems should be integrated to work together, it helps to have a clear understanding of the differences between the two platforms. What matters most in the end is the quality of the leads that go from the marketing automation platform to the sales team and their CRM system. Knowing how to get the most out of both systems leads to greater sales success down the road.



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