CRM vs Marketing Automation: Differences, Similarities and Synergies

November 30, 2023
November 30, 2023 Ken Jacobsen

CRM vs Marketing Automation: Differences, Similarities and Synergies

Ever wondered about the difference between a CRM and marketing automation system? We look into differences and similarities to help you decide.

The shift toward remote work and online shopping has transformed our everyday expectations. 79% of customers expect consistent interactions across a company’s departments, and yet more than half still complain about feeling treated like a number or having to repeat information to different sales reps.

Companies are struggling to deliver on customers’ rising expectations. One response to these challenges can be noted in the growing market size of customer relationship management (CRM) tools from $64.41 bn to a projected $71.06 bn in 2023. While that will certainly be part of the solution, many entrepreneurs still can’t decide whether they need a CRM tool, marketing automation or even both.

If that’s you, we’re here to walk you through both categories by providing industry examples and pointers to help you decide which one matches your unique business objectives.


Understanding CRM Software

Customer relationship management systems serve as the backbone of operations for sales and customer service teams, facilitating streamlined interactions and personalized customer engagement. At its core, a CRM system is tailored to cater to sales representatives rather than marketing teams.

It’s geared toward optimizing day-to-day operations and monitoring every customer interaction. To justify the investment in a CRM platform, your sales processes should already be strong. Once you’re in that segment, implementing one can lead to countless benefits across industries.

Enhanced Efficiency and Streamlined Sales Processes

A CRM system, such as the Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 solution, optimizes efficiency by improving sales process management and monitoring for better customer interactions while streamlining the sales process through centralized automation and standardization. This approach enables automated workflows, reducing time spent on repetitive tasks. Moreover, internal alerts ensure sales reps are promptly reminded of account renewals or deadlines, facilitating a more proactive and organized strategy for sales activities.

Personalized Communication and Engagement

Personalization can lower your customer acquisition costs by as much as 50%. By integrating automated workflows, a CRM system helps sales agents focus on personalized communication by providing relevant customer information during an interaction. This allows a sales rep to tackle more challenging client problems and automate repetitive ones.

Improved Customer Insights and Management

Through a CRM system, enterprises gain access to valuable lead, opportunity, order and customer service information, aiding in a deeper understanding of prospect and client needs and preferences, based on past interactions or online activities. It also allows for clear differentiation between new customers and existing customers, tailoring each interaction accordingly. By aligning sales and marketing efforts this way, you’ll ensure that every team member uses targeted messaging and processes at each stage of the buyer’s journey, enhancing overall engagement and customer satisfaction.

You’ll find many different CRM solutions with unique focus areas. Examples of popular CRM systems beside Microsoft Dynamics 365 including Salesforce, HubSpot, Freshworks, Pipedrive, and Zoho. Picking the right one depends on your functionality and business needs, preferred support options, budget and existing infrastructure, among other factors.


Exploring Marketing Automation

CRM systems often include some social media or email capabilities aimed at sales reps and service personnel. A marketing automation solution focuses entirely on streamlining content delivery processes and strategies as well as ca,paign analytics reporting.

The goal is to nurture prospects and customers at all stages of the buyer journey with personalized, timely content at scale. To achieve that, these tools enable businesses to automate repetitive tasks, segment their target audience and craft targeted digital marketing campaigns based on customer behavior and demographics.

While this always involves some type of automation, the levels of that automation can vary. They can range from basic email marketing scheduling to comprehensive advertising platforms that integrate marketing functionalities — from blog post content to social media outreach.

Benefits of Marketing Automation

You may think that marketing or even sales automation will make your brand seem robotic and neglect the human element in customer interactions, but you’ll find the opposite is true. Once you’ve taken repetitive tasks and mundane scheduling off your team’s plate, they can focus on deep, meaningful connections, thus realizing a range of benefits for your business:

Unified brand experience: By using both humans and machines to the best of their abilities, you can leave repetitive copy-and-paste tasks to automation, ensuring a cohesive brand experience across multiple touch points. This will result in higher conversion rates and improved customer engagement.

Enhanced lead management: To manage a lead, you first need to find the time to notice it. Marketing automation tools often include lead-scoring features, allowing businesses to prioritize leads based on their likelihood to convert. This can help inform your marketing team’s interactions with sales and drive measurable results.

Insights and analytics: Production and automation are only half the battle. Without solid analytics, you’re flying blind. Robust customer data gives you the chance to improve campaign performance over time and to inform decisions about product placement and branding with actual customer preferences and behavior patterns.

Automatically triggered emails: Once you’ve analyzed common patterns, it’s easy to set up email triggers that will automatically fire based on predefined actions. This allows you to tailor content to customers at various stages of the sales funnel.

Marketing Automation Examples

There are many marketing automation platforms offering diverse functionalities catering to businesses of various scales and marketing needs. Some also have out-of-the-box integrations to Microsoft Dynamics 365 Sales & Service CRM offerings as well as other CRM solutions like SalesForce.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Insights and Journeys: This combined customer data platform and real-time journey orchestration empower uncovering new insights and deliver personalized customer experiences. With Journeys, an event can trigger a combination of emails, push notifications, and text messages that can operate over either a segment of contacts at a planned time or that can respond to a specific trigger event.

366 Degrees: A platform offering comprehensive marketing automation systems for everything from social media scheduling to sales outreach.

Marketo (Adobe Marketo Engage): Known for its robust features in lead management, email marketing, chat automation and enhanced analytics, Marketo caters to mid-sized and enterprise-level businesses.

Autopilot: Renowned for its user-friendly interface and visual journey builder, making marketing automation accessible to businesses of all sizes and technical expertise levels.

Oracle Eloqua: An enterprise-level marketing automation tool focused on personalized customer experiences and sophisticated campaign management, including lead scoring and artificially enhanced customer engagement features.

io: Offers personalized messaging through behavioral targeting and customer profiles, enabling businesses to engage customers more effectively.

Constant Contact: Popular among small to mid-sized businesses, Constant Contact provides easy-to-use email marketing and automation tools.

ClickDimensions: ClickDimensions allows you to take your Email Marketing and web content and integrate it seamlessly with Microsoft Dynamics 365 CRM modules.

HubSpot: Known for its all-in-one marketing platform, offering CRM, marketing, sales and service tools for businesses of various sizes.

Salesforce Marketing Cloud: Offers a suite of marketing automation tools integrated with Salesforce CRM, enabling personalized customer experiences.

Active Campaign: Renowned for its automation capabilities and email marketing solutions, suitable for small to mid-sized businesses.

Klaviyo: Specializes in e-commerce marketing automation, focusing on data-driven personalized campaigns to drive sales and customer engagement.

Convertkit: Tailored for content creators, providing email marketing and automation tools optimized for bloggers and influencers.

Mailchimp: Known for its user-friendly interface and a wide array of marketing automation features suitable for small businesses.

Pardot: Part of the Salesforce ecosystem, Pardot offers B2B marketing automation solutions integrated with Salesforce CRM.

Encharge: Offers a user-friendly automation platform with features for advanced behavior-based emails, billing integration and CRM sync, empowering businesses to create sophisticated automation workflows.

Hootsuite: Primarily a social media management tool, Hootsuite also offers basic functionalities for AI content creation, social listening and analytics.

Each marketing automation platform mentioned provides unique features and capabilities, catering to different business needs and preferences. By leveraging these tools, your business can streamline marketing efforts, engage customers effectively, and drive growth by nurturing leads through personalized, data-driven strategies. Some of these like Constant Contact, ClickDimensions, and Hubspot can integrate to CRM solutions like Microsoft Dynamics 365 Sales & Service CRM offerings, while others don’t have an existing integration. Make sure you research this as part of your decision making process because an integration between your CRM and eMarketing solution is invaluable.


Signs You Might Need a CRM System or Marketing Automation Software

Understanding the nuances between CRM and marketing automation tools is crucial for businesses trying to identify their current needs, especially when they’re looking for tools to address urgent problems. Each tool serves a distinct purpose. It’s important to understand which challenges vendors attempt to address before blindly picking the one with the most features.

Based on what we’ve discussed, it’s already clear that CRM and marketing automation tools can overlap, at least to a degree. Having a basic understanding of your feature requirements helps you determine where exactly on the spectrum you fit in.

For some enterprises, investing in a dedicated CRM solution would just add unnecessary complexity. Others might benefit from combining a marketing automation tool with their CRM for certain features. You’ll have to consider your team’s technical abilities, industry, budget and a range of other factors, but here are a few signs that can help you move in the right direction.

Signs pointing toward CRM Signs pointing toward marketing automation
Complaints about customer service Contact list getting too big to handle
Losing customers Not converting leads to opportunities
Outgrowing a lead tracking system Clunky content production processes
Inability to keep up with lead flow Too many marketing tools
Losing leads Too much time spent on reporting
Scattered customer data Email overload
Inefficient sales process Lack of personalization
Lack of customer segmentation and analytics Limited engagement across different channels
Relying on manual reporting processes No automated workflows for lead follow-ups or conversion
Inaccurate sales projections Time-consuming social media management
Low customer retention No behavior tracking


The Synergy Between the Marketing and Sales Team

Once you’ve mastered the first hurdle of evaluating your current setup and future software needs, combining CRM and marketing automation solutions can help you realize unparalleled synergies. The beauty lies in how these systems complement each other.

CRM systems, or solutions with a stronger focus on CRM than marketing, excel in managing customer interactions and sales pipelines. Marketing automation tools, on the other hand, will help you streamline campaign execution and analytics reporting. When integrated seamlessly, they form a dynamic duo, leveraging customer data from different types of interactions to inform your branding, customer service and product offering.

That way, customer feedback and complaints can guide your next marketing campaign, and statistics about online engagement and demographics on social media can enable you to find more clients or re-engage existing ones. From enabling personalized messaging and lead scoring to eliminating duplicates and nurturing prospects, the integration can help you gain a deeper understanding of your target audiences.

With robust reporting mechanisms in place, you can also ensure that your communication stays consistent and reflects your relationships with individual customers. After all, nothing is more annoying than receiving a reminder for an offer you’ve already purchased.

For many businesses, this sounds like the ideal solution, but not everybody will need this level of sophistication. When considering the necessity for a CRM, marketing automation or both, you need to conduct a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis. Assess specific needs your employees currently have as well as business and marketing objectives to determine the optimal solution.

Gauge where your team struggles the most and make a decision based on pain points rather than shiny specs. Evaluate the current collaboration patterns between your sales and marketing teams and try to recognize where gaps in data analysis or reporting caused problems.

It can help to consider your industry’s specific market dynamics and your own growth cycles as a company. Depending on your customers’ unique requirements for 1:1 support or the complexity of your product, you may need to rely more heavily on CRM than marketing automation.

An upcoming startup might focus more strongly on lead generation, whereas a more established enterprise might lean toward better managing existing customer relationships. You’ll have to evaluate your business priorities to establish which combination of technologies serves you and your clients best.


The Crucial Role of Integration: Enhancing Email Marketing and Your Sales Funnel

Let’s delve into a manufacturing example to illustrate how integrating CRM and marketing automation can drive business. In the manufacturing industry, CRM systems compile a wealth of data, including past purchases, product preferences, industry-specific needs and engagement history. This data is pivotal for segmenting your customer base. For more complex operations, you may even choose to combine your CRM with an enterprise resource planning and marketing automation solution.

For instance, segmenting clients based on the type of machinery or equipment purchased, maintenance history or contract renewal dates allows for tailored email campaigns offering maintenance tips, upgrade options or special offers aligned with those scenarios.

Keep in mind that the same client may respond to different materials based on where they are in the buyer’s journey.

When they’re still exploring your product lines and showing their interest, your marketing automation funnel could trigger introductory emails with case studies showcasing successful implementations of machinery or equipment.

For clients considering upgrades or additional machinery, personalized emails through automation can provide comparative analyses, cost-benefit breakdowns and client testimonials tailored to their industry.

After a purchase or contract renewal, your CRM could trigger post-sale emails such as thank-you messages, onboarding guides or follow-ups regarding warranty renewals and service agreements.

With both service and marketing personnel looking at the same material, you’ll quickly notice where customers encounter bumps in the road or need a bit more context.


Speak With an Expert Today To Learn How a CRM Can Benefit Your Business

Implementing CRM and marketing automation solutions is a matter requiring self-knowledge and careful planning.

In theory, both types of tools can have tremendous effects on your team’s overall productivity, and therefore on conversion rates and your bottom line. That said, it’s easy to fall for all the bells and whistles in a tool that doesn’t reflect where your business is currently headed, whether it’s focused on a different industry or differently sized enterprises.

Make sure you have a sense of the pain points and problems your teams and customers are already facing before researching any solutions. That way, you know which questions to ask and what to look for in a solution.

If you want to brainstorm what features and options are most important for your organization, The TM Group is here to help. We’ve supported businesses across industries with their CRM, marketing automation and ERP platforms for years. To learn more about the best solutions for your enterprise, talk to one of our experts today.

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