Marketing Automation vs CRM – What’s the Difference?


It’s not uncommon for people to confuse the functions of a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system and marketing automation. Once you understand the differences, it’s easy to see how these not only differ, but how each are both necessary tools that complement each other and help grow your business.

Definitions first

CRMs are focused on organizing customer information and tracking customer interactions throughout the customer lifecycle, while marketing automation is focused on promoting one-to-one communication for obtaining new customers through marketing and sales activities.



To sum it up: CRM software is sales-focused, while marketing automation software is (aptly) marketing-focused.

Who uses what

In general, both tools are used by the sales team and the marketing teams. On a day-to-day basis, your salespeople and account managers will mostly be in the CRM since it helps boost tracking and targeting capabilities with existing customer data files. The CRM was designed with sales in mind to help them make more effective use of their time and to provide a complete view of customers. Your marketing team will be in the marketing automation platform more often.

Marketing automation was designed to help marketers reach out with personalized, one-on-one communications based on contact behaviour. It helps build contact lists and ensure that the right message reaches a contact at the right time.

Once the leads come out of the marketing automation platform, however, the sales team will jump on them. Here is a closer look at how these two play with one another:

Marketing automation allows you to follow a prospect’s top-of-funnel activities, such as when they visit your website, open an email, read your blog, or fill out a form. In addition, marketing automation software allows you to schedule and track marketing campaigns, especially email campaigns and mass business to customer communications. Some benefits of marketing automation software include:

  • The ability to easily segment prospects into the appropriate mailing lists based on their past interactions with your company or their interests and preferences.
  • Lead nurturing functionality, which allows you to automatically send triggered emails at the time when a person is most interested in your product or service. You can also schedule a series of emails in a “drip” campaign, so that your company stays top-of-mind with prospects.
  • Once a campaign has ended, the system generates analytics showing how successful the campaign was.

In other words, marketing automation helps to foster leads and get them ready for the sales team. Once the lead has progressed through to the bottom-of-the-funnel and become a qualified sales lead (and eventually a customer), that’s when companies typically start to track their interactions through a CRM. CRMs store information like how long a contact has been a customer, records of any purchases they have made in the past, the dates and notes of any phone conversations you’ve had with the contact, a record of inbound emails they’ve sent to your sales and customer service team, and more.

The beauty of a great marketing automation platform and a quality CRM is that they will integrate nicely with each other, making everyone, and everything more effective.

CRM tools are able to help manage your clients in a general sense, but it really takes a lot of effort and expertise to try and nurture each and every lead that comes to your site with a CRM alone. You’ll need the help of marketing automation to effectively drive leads.

So while CRM and marketing automation systems may look like the same thing at first glance, they cater to different roles in an organization, and their differences make them more valuable to the unique teams they serve.

But you may be wondering, why would we track half of the prospect’s’ interactions in one software system (marketing automation) and the other half in another system (CRM)? Good question.

What if I told you that you could have both systems built into one software?

Most marketing automation solutions allow you to sync your data with your CRM, so that all of a prospects’ activities are accessible through one solution. Many companies sync the information both ways so that their marketing team knows what’s going on in sales, and their sales and customer service teams know the history that marketing has had with a particular prospect or customer.

Additionally, many CRM companies have developed or acquired marketing automation software, so there are a handful of systems that include both all in one system.