In a simple Google search on the main business software for customer relationship management, two names come up repeatedly: CRM and Marketing Automation. Despite some obvious similarities, these softwares are actually designed to perform two different yet complementary activities.

With this post, we’ll take an in-depth look at these softwares, explaining what they are, the functions they perform, and the (non-trivial) differences between the two. Finally, we’ll discuss the points of contact between the two applications and how they can be used together.


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Marketing Automation: a software for marketing teams 

Marketing Automation was created to help take advantage of all the unique marketing opportunities that the internet offers

While we’ve talked about what is marketing automation in depth in another post, essentialy, a marketing automation software is a software that interfaces with an email server, a website, social media, and ads for two purposes:  

  • encourage visitors, readers, etc. to leave their contact information (becoming authenticated users – this is known as lead generation
  • record useful information about their interests and behaviors. If integrated correctly, the marketing automation tool will make it possible to know which pages a user has visited, which emails they have opened or not, and so on, depending on the digital touchpoints with which the software is integrated. 

The purpose of Marketing Automation is to create a database with a large history of data on users (all the actions they have performed), in order to record their interests and degree of interest, and push them, with the right levers, towards the purchase (lead nurturing).  

In fact, a Marketing Automation suite allows you to assign a positive (or negative) score to contacts based on actions to measure the “temperature” of each contact, a particularly useful feature for B2B. For example, the software might assign 10 points if a user opens an email, 20 if they go to a certain page on the site, 40 if they download an e-book or whitepaper on a certain topic. The higher the score, the more likely it is that the potential customer is interested in your products and services.  

In this same way– depending on the actions performed, emails opened, resources downloaded etc.. – tags can also be assigned to users, in order to record which topic, product, or service they have shown interest in. 

Based on the information collected, it then becomes possible to segment the database into groups of users with similar interests and “temperatures” and then prepare tailored campaigns for each set of users by using a combination of tools such as forms, pop-ups, emails, landing pages, and downloadable resources.  

The campaigns are totally automated by the software according to the if-then-else approach, which allows you to prepare certain emails or to use certain pop-ups only when certain conditions occur in order to create different paths towards the ultimate goal, the purchase (or the request for a contact). Hence, the name “marketing automation.” 


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CRM: business negotiations and support 

If the name Marketing Automation derives from a feature of the product – automation – CRMs take their name from the business philosophy at their core: customer relationship management. 

Born in the 1980s in America, Customer Relationship Management was conceived out of database marketing where companies could begin to keep a record of customer information in a shared digital format, known as lead management. From here, the term eventually became synonymous with the first software that made this type of management possible.   

A CRM is software dedicated to the sales and after-sales department. The contacts of all customers (active and inactive) are stored within the software and users can access this information to update the records and record the offers issued, deadlines, products of interest, customer needs, or even put an appointment on the calendar and set a reminder.  

Some CRMs also allow customers to directly open tickets for requesting technical and commercial assistance, functioning in all respects as assistance and customer care software.  

In the past, CRMs had to be installed directly on-premise on company servers, which naturally raised their price considerably and made them a solution that only a few (large) companies could afford. 

Today, CRMs are relatively widespread, even among small- and medium-sized companies, thanks to the emergence of the SaaS model (Software as a Service accessible via the internet), which allows you to access your CRM from any device with an internet connection and to replace the high costs of on-premise with an annual license at a much lower price.  


Contact points and differences 

In short, then:  

  • Marketing Automation is software that allows you to perform lead generation activities on the website and other touchpoints (social, webinars) and cultivate the relationship with the potential customer by recording their interests and sending personalized and automated communications, and it operates on large numbers and audiences.  
  • CRM is an application designed for accounts and salespeople to manage contact with very hot customers and leads, which tends to be a small group of people. When properly configured, it can also be used as a ticketing system for managing customer assistance. 

Both are contact management software, one for sales and accounts, the other for the marketing team.  

In this sense, it could happen (indeed it is the practice) that the same customer can be present in both, both as a sales contact or customer in the CRM, and as a marketing target in the Marketing Automation software. Customers and potential customers are therefore the closest point of contact between the two softwares, which, while it opens the door to synergy between the two (we’ll talk about this in a moment), it can also be potentially risky if there is no communication between the two departments that use them. 

An example of what could happen is that the interests and products desired by a certain lead have been noted by the salesperson in the CRM, but that Marketing has not been made aware of this and therefore continues to send generic communications.  

On the other hand, it could happen that the company’s historic customer in the CRM is treated as one of many in the marketing automation software (when it should be treated as a gold customer). 

You want to avoid both of these scenarios, and the way to do it is by integrating the two softwares.


CRM and Marketing Automation: Use both to make the most of them 

To understand why, we need to start with the classic sales funnel model. 

In this classic scheme, potential customers become actual customers by going through a series of stages (four or more depending on the schematic). Let’s look at the most well-known structure: 

  • Awareness: they are intrigued and learn about the product/service 
  • Consideration: they compare what they know about the product with their needs and competitors 
  • Decision: they decide to give the product/service a chance (free trial or contact request) 
  • Action: they buy the product/service 

In each of these stages or steps, the audience of potential customers tends to contract, hence the funnel shape. 

We can see how the first two steps are the responsibility of marketing: creating product awareness, informing, and pushing the anonymous visitor to become a lead (lead generation) to be cultivated with emails and tailored messages. 

The last two steps of the funnel are the responsibility of sales: it is the salespeople who then close the deal, who consolidate the decision made by the lead, and transform it into a real customer.

By integrating Marketing Automation with CRM, at an IT level (via API, but this would require its own post) and at a functional level, getting teams used to using the software in synergy, we can recreate and monitor the customer journey in detail. 

  • The customer arrives on the site (via organic search, ads, etc.) and leaves their data (for example in exchange for a free e-book) 
  • The contact information is generated within the marketing automation software and tagged according to the interests recorded 
  • The contact is approached with communications that are relevant to their interests 
  • For each action taken that reveals interest receives a score 

When this score is high enough, which means the contact has expressed sufficient interest, or the contact opts for a free trial, the potential customer is passed to the sales department on the CRM to be tracked and finally contacted. 

  • The lead is contacted by the sales team  
  • Once the interest is confirmed, negotiations are started and a quote is presented 
  • The customer accepts the offer (action) and becomes a customer 

The funnel and all of these steps can vary naturally depending on the audience and your business. What remains is the advantage of having two softwares that operate in a synergistic way on the same users even though they have different functions, and in this way they allow you to monitor the funnel in its entirety.