Do I Need Both CRM and Marketing Automation?


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Does your business need a customer relationship management (CRM) system and a marketing automation system? Although these two systems are well known for improving business processes, it is necessary for your marketing and sales leaders to understand the difference between the two, as well as the benefits they bring when used together.

Keeping up with technology and making decisions on IT expenditures is a daunting task due to the many options available in the market at various price points. For the most part, these expenditures are long-term investments toward expediting processes, freeing up human resources, making a profit and staying ahead of the competition – fundamental goals for any business.

CRM vs Marketing Automation

A CRM manages customer relationships, from leads to sales, throughout the sales lifecycle. Besides building and fostering customer relationships, a CRM helps market efficiently, sell effectively, and interact and respond to customers in real-time. In addition, a CRM platform offers insights into market trends and events that can help drive revenue and profits. So, CRM is extremely sales-focused where as a marketing automation system is relevantly marketing-focused.

A marketing automation system focuses on brand awareness, customer acquisition, and customer retention by generating new leads and identifying opportunities to cross-sell or upsell to existing customers. Top-of-the-funnel activity can then be followed using marketing automation to track prospect behaviors such as website visits, open emails, subscriptions to your blog or completed forms. Furthermore, marketers benefit from a marketing automation system by scheduling and tracking campaigns and simply providing a mass output of business to customer communications.

There are two specific objectives and a very distinct overlap – the customer. For example, where did the customer come from? To answer a question with a question, which came first, the chicken or the egg? Did the customer come from a relationship managed in CRM or a lead from marketing automation?

If your organization only has a CRM, the marketing department can benefit from the data stored in the CRM. However, this comes at the cost of increased manual effort and time constraints, not to mention opportunity costs. The benefits brought on by a CRM revolve around two key factors: how your CRM is built and the resource talent you have available. With that said, ensure that your CRM is built properly by answering the following:

– Are you collecting the right data?
– Is the data accurate?
– Can you easily export the data?
– Do you have the right resources to create the marketing output, track it
and get the data back into CRM for your sales team to execute?

Also, with a CRM, the sales process lifecycle may be streamlined for lead capturing, account creation, contact setup, opportunity management, product catalog, quote management, order management or invoice management. In addition, you can optimize the CRM sales process to boost sales and help guide you through the journey. But, if you don’t have a CRM and are managing the sales process through another application, such as Excel, costs are much higher with minimal long-term benefits. This also means you’ll have scarce resources, limited data and more manual work to do.

When to Integrate a Marketing Automation System

By leveraging marketing automation, you can efficiently market through various channels, such as social media, websites, email, or events to effectively gain a potential customer’s attention. Integrating a marketing automation system in combination with CRM brings the sales lifecycle to a full circle.

Once you’ve won their attention through these initial efforts, whether it was through an email campaign, tracking website traffic, or hosting an event, you can then begin to refine the data collected. Above all, this results in a focused marketing effort that highlights products or services to generate new leads, and due to integration, then puts those in front of a sales person in real-time.

With a qualified lead and CRM collecting all digital touch points, from human interactions phone calls, emails and meetings, the sales lifecycle begins. At the same time the sales team has a single view of the customer, managers also have the ability to monitor productivity, while the marketing team has the data needed to develop future marketing efforts to facilitate cross selling or up selling.

It’s also worth noting that many marketing automation systems contain tremendous “out of the box” functionality to easily measure and slice and dice results, allowing the marketing team to focus on the creative aspects of their job.

Final Thoughts

If you’re having a difficult time deciding whether your business needs both a CRM and marketing automation system, evaluate and identify your challenges when viewing your sales funnel. Each system is different but both systems may be valuable to either of your sales or marketing teams.

Additionally, most marketing automation systems allow data to sync to a CRM or vice versa to a marketing automation system by facilitating easy access through one system. In contrast, if you are leaning towards a CRM and marketing automation system together, there are plenty of CRM systems in the market that already include both.


  1. Hi Dawn, interesting article, but I wonder why you postulate a marketing system being necessary on top of a CRM system. CRM encompasses marketing, sales, and service. There are some (mostly SFA) vendors around touting SFA as CRM but that is not the case.

    A well run business with serious intentions of improving customer engagement and customer experience needs all three of the pillars integrated and supported by a strong analytics component.

    2 ct from Down Under

  2. Thomas, I think your point needs clarification. All CRMs do not encompass marketing. Yes, Salesforce does and yes some marketing automation systems now have a CRM component, but this is not an absolute. There are many CRMs both big and small that doen’t encompass marketing automation. I think Dawn’s point is that by integrating the 2 it helps to provide a more complete view of the customer AND the ability to execute on servicing the customer whether by campaigns or support/service.

  3. Wayne, it is quite simple actually and I am pretty authoritative here 😉 – and far from being alone. A ‘CRM’ that does not encompass marketing, sales, and service is not a CRM. It is marketing automation, salesforce automation, field service, contact management, activity management, or … In essence it is a subset of CRM.

    There are a lot of different systems out there supporting different subsets of CRM. This in itself is really not a bad thing. Best of breed is a very valid strategy for a customer. But it is quite an exaggeration for all of these best of breed or specialised vendors to claim having/selling a CRM. If one works with best of breed solutions it is paramount to integrate them. For that it needs a platform strategy, but this is a totally different discussion then.

    This confusion with CRM happens mostly in the area of Salesforce Automation. SFA is an important part of CRM but it is not CRM. This distinction is quite important as customers get totally confused.

    And there are more than only Salesforce that have a CRM solution. Think SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, Sugar, Sage, Pega, BPM, Zoho, to name just a few of different sizes. A CRM can come in different ‘modules’ (aka clouds).

    In summary, if the question would have been: Do you need both SFA and Marketing Automation? my answer would have been a resounding ‘Yes’!

    I hope this clarifies, Wayne. Happy to continue the discussion. How do you define ‘CRM’ from a systems point of view (not as a strategy).


  4. Thomas, in my experience many people use the term ‘CRM’ to mean sales automation. Doesn’t means it’s technically correct, but could explain the confusion.

    Some so-called “CRMs” are SFA, others include marketing automation and/or customer service. So it’s easy to see — depending on your view of the term — how using CRM and marketing automation could make sense.

    Do a search on CRM and you’ll see many SFA vendors advertising themselves that way. And why shouldn’t they. The king of CRMs said it sold a ‘CRM’ system in its early days, when of course what it provided at that time was just SFA.

    Interestingly, you almost never see a customer service or marketing automation vendor point solution using the term ‘CRM’. The implication is clear: to some CRM = SFA.

  5. Right, Bob. It is not correct 😉

    And many vendors are using it wrong, I know. For example one of my favourites: Nimble. It muddies the waters and adds to confusion. Subsequently there is dissatisfaction on the customer side.

    Sadly we see the same as with CRM becoming a technology as opposed to a strategy. I see it as part of our job to keep the waters as clear as possible, even if it is kinda fighting wind mills.

    So, what would be a good definition of CRM?


  6. In my book Hooked on Customers, I wrote this about CRM:
    Despite proclamations that CRM is a strategy, the view on the street is that CRM means using tools to extract more value from a customer base. Tactics typically include targeted marketing campaigns, automating sales processes, and cutting service costs.

    Essentially, I see CRM (as commonly implemented) as an inside-out way of focusing on customers via technology to get more value (sales, profits) out of a customer base. A better term for it was what Gartner originally proposed: TERM or Technology Enabled Relationship Marketing.

    CEM, on the other hand, is an outside-in approach to increase customer loyalty, and thereby drive business outcomes. But its foundation is starting with what customers care about.

    Top brands do both well. I’ve found great “CRM” case studies that also practiced CEM (by focusing on CSAT etc.) and “CEM” stories that did the opposite. These are complementary ideas but have a different orientation.

    While CRM has been saddled with a tech meaning for some time, CX is heading in that direction too. I was just at a Gartner conference where SAP exhibited its “Customer Experience” solution comprised of marketing and sales solutions. VoC (EFM) vendors imply if not outright state that CXM includes using a survey tool (or CX platform as Qualtics proclaims).

    CRM and CEM can be strategies, but that’s really up to the implementing companies. If they just install a tool without a plan, it doesn’t really matter how industry experts define the terms.

    But keep up the good fight. Many windmills await!

  7. Thomas, thank you for the question. I couldn’t agree more with Wayne’s response.

    In my experience, customer relationship management would be best managed through a single tool that comprehensively addresses the needs for sales, marketing and service equally.

  8. thanks Bob, yes. The planet is full of them (and counting 😉 )

    “CRM and CEM can be strategies, but that’s really up to the implementing companies. If they just install a tool without a plan, it doesn’t really matter how industry experts define the terms.” You are right on both counts here and should add that implementing either without a strategy is a (the) recipe for failure. I would also agree with your view on CRM vs. CEM except for the ‘loyalty’ term. I’d rather say that it focuses more on customer outcomes to achieve business outcomes, but that is probably a marginality. One could also argue that ‘CRM’, as a more transactionally oriented set of technologies, is part of ‘CEM’.


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