What is the Difference between CRM and Marketing Automation?

What is the difference between customer relationship management (CRM) and marketing automation?

The main differences are on type of users, core function, goal and role in the buyer’s journey. CRM and marketing automation are different processes with different purposes and utilize distinct tools. The confusion usually arises because both CRM and marketing automation typically deal with the same information (contacts, lists, profiles, etc.) and similarly work with leads. How each of the system manage and utilize those leads and information are entirely separate matters. To get a clearer picture, let’s go over what CRM and marketing automation do.

Main Differences: CRM vs. Marketing Automation

There are four main differences between CRM and marketing automation. Let’s take a look at each one:

1. Type of Users

Marketing automation platforms are used by marketers while CRM programs are utilized by sales people. Both offer automation, analytics and reporting features to streamline daily tasks and provide users with important metrics and insights on the progress, efficiency and effectiveness of marketing campaigns as well as sales activities and efforts. As said earlier, they may handle the same customer information but employ it for different activities and operations.

2. Key Function

The primary function of marketing automation is to generate leads from marketing campaigns. A lead can be an individual or business that express interest in your product or services and may come as a result of referral or through direct response to your campaigns such as promotion, publicity, or advertising.

In other words, any of the top marketing automation software solutions help the marketing team generate leads which are potential customers. To do that, the marketing needs to know all it can about the lead or contact such as email address, buying preferences, etc. and store the information in a database.

On the other hand, CRM assists the sales team to nurture those leads from information collected in the contact or lead database. Sales people use CRM to analyze the information gathered, categorize and qualify contacts, and follow through with offers or discounts and other similar campaigns, all aimed at transforming leads in to buying customers.

Furthermore, CRM is used by the sales team for retaining existing customers. The software has tools to gather information and feedback from various customer channels, and analyze said information to provide the sales team with customers’ behavior, interaction history with your company, and purchasing trends, among others. Armed with customer knowledge, sales teams can craft targeted offers and loyalty campaigns to enhance customer retention.

3. Goal

Marketing automation is designed to help generate marketing qualified leads (MQLs) to be handed over to sales. Meanwhile, CRM’s goal is to convert MQLs to sales qualified leads (SQLs) and ultimately to sales. MQL basically pertains to engaged leads while SQL refers to vetted prospects. Although the respective goals are different as you can see where one ends and the other begins in the sales funnel, marketing automation and CRM have complementary roles in the effort to transform leads into customers.

Let’s cite an example. Your marketing team puts up landing pages in your business website, brings in clicks, and captures leads interacting with your content. These leads are commencing contact but how much they are interested has yet to be determined, so your team engages them by providing relevant info. Leads are then scored depending on the actions or responses they take. These contacts become MQLs up to the point they are ready to be transferred to marketing.

The next part of the process is triggered once the sales team takes over, continues engaging with the leads, and vets for their level of interest as well as capability to purchase. When leads have been assessed as viable prospects, they now become SQLs. In this specific journey from MQL to SQL as well as the overall process that cover the stages from lead to customer, the features and capabilities of marketing automation and CRM come into play. Now, there is a variety of lead prospecting automation techniques that can help you realize the said goals.

4. Role in the Buyer’s Journey

From the above example, you can picture the roles played by marketing automation and CRM. The former is to create awareness of your products and services while the latter is to set up or prepare for purchase. They are separate roles but at the same time complementary, unifying the two funnels that make up the buyer’s journey. Below you can see the stages in the sales pipeline that are handled by marketing automation and CRM.

Features of CRM

CRM software is the main platform of your sales team and sales agents to improve their productivity and enhance customer interaction with the end goal of closing sales. It is designed to help your company manage its relationship as well as interactions with all customers and prospects. For this purpose, CRM software brings with it features and capabilities such as the following:

  1. Contact management – organizes your contacts by categories for easy sorting or retrieval. For all intents and purposes, this feature is sufficient for a small business to undertake a CRM program like email campaigns or classifying customers based on their records.
  2. Sales automation – this main component of CRM software automates the sales process from prospecting to customer inquiry and sending out replies to order taking. It helps you follow up and capture leads.
  3. Communication channels – this feature gives you the capability to connect, respond, and interact with customers and prospects from various channels including email, phone, IM or live chat, social media, and forums.
  4. Task/workflow management – this lets you efficiently manage activities and schedules, and come up with a contact plan.

HubSpot CRM offers a completely free plan to quickly get your sales team up and running.

The great thing is that CRM integration features allow it to work with most marketing automation platforms, giving your sales team access to customer information collated by your marketing them. Likewise, marketing automation integration means the software can connect with CRM tools and make available relevant information from the marketing end.

Popular examples of CRM software include:

  1. HubSpot CRM – a fully integrated CRM platform for SMBs that carry all essential CRM features. The highly regarded CRM is completely free and connects to all contact and customer channels, offers unlimited storage, has wide integration, and keeps a centralized hub of information for sales, marketing, and service support. It is easy to get started with this app, just sign up for a HubSpot CRM free app here.
  2. Freshsales – designed for high-velocity sales teams to keep track of contacts while solving their inquiries. It can track emails and events, offers interactive pipeline management, and has an advanced lead scoring system. The vendor has a comprehensive free trial; simply sign up for a Freshsales free trial here.
  3. Pipedrive – a highly regarded CRM and sales pipelines management system for sole vendors and developing businesses. It is highly customizable and supports several languages and currencies, making it ideal for global sales operations. You can sign up for a Pipedrive free trial here and enjoy all the features at once.
  4. Zoho CRM – award-winning web-based CRM to help you attract, retain, and grow your customers. It specializes in managing leads and contacts, and the sales pipeline. It can scale to any type and size of business and can engage customers in any channel. When you sign up for a Zoho CRM free trial here you can use all the features at no cost.
  5. bpm’online CRM – a dynamic CRM platform that facilitates your team, process and data alignment tasks. It provides a comprehensive set of software solutions to speed up your service, sales, and market activities, all of which can be deployed as one CRM system or as separate applications. Simply sign up for a bpm’online CRM free trial here to start using this software.

Want to know in detail the above systems? Read our top CRM software for small business here.

Features of Marketing Automation

Marketing automation software helps the marketing team generate leads and manage contacts. As such, the software is equipped with these features:

  1. Lead management – this helps you generate, onboard, nurture, and automate leads. It comes with tools to track and analyze a lead’s activities such as website visits, email opens, completing forms on your website, or reading your blogs. It is also able to forecast lead generation and measure ROI of your marketing strategies.
  2. Email marketing – this allows you to compile a contact list from various sources and channels, and send targeted messages, onboard customers, and share both informative as well as promotional content.
  3. Market segmentation – the system can automatically classify and assign the lead to a marketing segment based on information gathered from your lead’s activities and interactions. With analytics, marketers get to know which leads are likely to be converted into customers. Hot and qualified leads, with all relevant profiles and information, are them pursued by the sales team.
  4. A/B testing – this essential marketing automation software features enable you to use advanced email segmentation to test the effectiveness of different campaigns, compare results, and to optimize and determine the best approach for your marketing strategies.

Exponea gives you analytics and reporting tools to help you understand your marketing performance.

Some other features of marketing automation software are analytics and reporting, resource management, social and online marketing, landing pages, and mobile optimization.

Best examples of marketing automation software include:

  1. HubSpot Marketing – An advanced system that brings all of your marketing efforts together to help your team grow traffic and increase conversions. It helps your team prepare and optimize engaging content, and distribute it to the right audience. You can test its features at no cost when you sign up for a HubSpot Marketing free trial here.
  2. Exponea – Blends analytics and engagement automation to improve customer experience. It enriches campaigns with artificial intelligence and leverages detailed contact information to make marketing campaigns more effective. It is easy to try its features when you sign up for an Exponea free trial here.
  3. Marketo – A comprehensive platform for marketing automation, customer engagement, and marketing management. It has robust social marketing capability, allowing you to share, engage, and promote through social media.
  4. Active Campaign – All-in-one marketing platform that offers a variety of tools to help SMBs acquire and engage customers. It offers built in CRM and sales automation functionalities to help you manage leads through the whole sales journey.
  5. Pardot – A B2B marketing automation and lead management software that enables your sales teams to manage online marketing campaigns. It offers advanced analytics tools that provide insights on the effectiveness of your campaigns.

If you are a starting business and want to have an in-depth look at the products above and others like it, you can; there are marketing automation tools for small businesses that you can look into.

Why is marketing automation important?

Today’s market and consumers require modern tools and approaches and a good marketing automation solution will provide you those. It consolidates your marketing processes, integrates them with sales for alignment, frees you from mundane daily admin tasks, and lets you come up with more engaging marketing content. However, it is recommended that you observe best practices for inbound marketing to make the process not only effective but seamless as well. Overall, these capabilities can result in even more benefits for your company in terms of:

  • Boosting productivity
  • Supercharging your campaigns
  • Making multi-channel marketing easier
  • Making audience targeting smarter
  • Simplifying lead and progress tracking
  • Reducing staffing and administrative costs
  • Increasing company bottom line

Although a CRM may be the first requirement if you are a growing business that needs to support your sales team with all the necessary tools, you may find the need for a marketing automation solution not far behind. This is especially so when your number of contacts expands and your lead generation activities level up.


CRM and marketing automation differ in purpose, users, and uses. It is, however, not a choice between two systems since each plays an important role in your business – driving productivity and efficiency of your sales team and marketing team, and ensuring the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns and sales efforts. Furthermore, the connectivity of each system is such that they can integrate with one another and share and access information.

Choosing the right CRM for you is not that easy. But if you have to get one initially, go for a CRM but make sure that you can immediately set up a marketing automation system once your situation calls for it. A good CRM foundation is HubSpot CRM; not only because it is 100% free, but it is highly scalable to match your growing needs.

Getting started with it is easy when you sign up for a HubSpot CRM free app here.

There are just so many leads, prospects, and customers from so many channels in the present digitally connected world that you may need both a CRM and marketing automation software to adequately manage all of them, just to put your business on the sure and safe side.

Adam Goldberg

By Adam Goldberg

Adam Goldberg is a senior market research analyst and one of the key customer experience technology and CRM pioneers working for the FinancesOnline review team. He has been cooperating with FinancesOnline for over 5 years now. During that time Andrew has analyzed more than 2,000 CRM solutions and he’s well-known for his honest reviews and his unique perspective on challenges and opportunities posed by customer-centric innovation. He’s a strong believer in business process automation and the role it plays in customer data management, conversational intelligence, and customer engagement. His work has been mentioned in many major publications and media sites, including MSN, Springer, TheNextWeb, and CIO.

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