CRM vs. Marketing Automation – The Complete Guide

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Customer relationship management (CRM) and marketing automation are similar in many ways. But you can’t trade one for the other because they’re not the same—they’re actually best used in conjunction. When you use the right tools together, you can align your sales, marketing, and customer support teams to deliver excellent customer experiences at every touchpoint. If you’re wondering how to do so, this guide covers everything you need to know.

The 7 Best Marketing Automation Software

The best way to see what this software can do for your business is to start automating your marketing processes–from there, you can see what actions really move the needle.

Almost all of our recommendations for marketing automation software will let you start for free:

  1. Constant Contact – Best marketing automation for most
  2. ActiveCampaign – Best for marketing and sales automation
  3. Keap – Best for growing service-based businesses
  4. Brevo (formerly Sendinblue) – Most feature-rich marketing automation software
  5. Campaigner – Best for advanced email automation
  6. Rejoiner – Best for ecommerce businesses
  7. Act-On – Best software for reporting and real-time analytics

Why Comparing CRM vs. Marketing Automation Is So Important

CRM software and marketing automation tools commonly overlap features, but they’re two very different ideas. Understanding the differences between CRM and marketing automation will give you deep insight into when to use which and why (hint: in most cases, you should use both).

Marketing automation focuses on the top of the sales funnel by helping you automate repetitive tasks around creating awareness and building interest in your business. With it, you can send targeted mass emails or text messages, nurture cold leads, and monitor the results of your efforts.

CRM takes over as those at the top of the funnel get closer to buying something. These tools focus on helping you build deeper relationships with potential customers by tracking their movement in your sales funnel, logging interactions, and giving your sales team the tools they need to close the deal. CRMs support lead qualification, actions early on in the sales cycle, quote generation, order confirmation, fulfillment, and more.

So while the two have similar features, the goal behind why you use each one is very different. In a perfect world, you use both of these tools together since neither covers the entire funnel.

Marketing automation and CRM work in tandem rather than independently. Think of the two systems as runners in a relay race. Marketing automation primes prospects before handing them over to your CRM to close the sale at the right time.

Rather than picking one system over the other, focus your efforts on aligning marketing automation and CRM to your business. The concept is so popular, there’s even a word for it: “smarketing”.

Quick Tips to Improve Your Sales and Marketing Strategies Today

You don’t want to waste time, and you certainly don’t want to waste your customer’s attention. What do they really want? What do they really care about enough to open an email, opt into a text campaign, or make a purchase?

The key to setting your campaigns on autopilot is understanding your customers–that’s why CRM and other contact management solutions are always part of the marketing automation discussion.

Constant Contact, our #1 pick for marketing automation software, lets you track everything you need to about your customers in order to automate emails and texts.

Constant Contact landing page for marketing automation features

Since their acquisition of CRM powerhouse SharpSpring, Constant Contact has been adding new ways to combine these powerful tools.

When you sign up for Constant Contact, you’ll have 60 days to test drive the marketing automation features, including landing pages, sign-up forms, list segmenting, autoresponders, and basic email marketing tools.

Using tools that combine marketing automation and CRM is just one way to integrate both systems to drive sales and marketing. But even if you use two separate tools, using them the right way is key.

So, let’s look at our top quick tips you can implement in the next 24 hours for fast wins in your marketing and sales strategies.

Leverage the Right Tools

It is impossible to overstate the importance of choosing the right CRM and marketing automation tools for your business and your team. Both come in all shapes, sizes, and flavors, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing.

On the good side, the perfect tools for you do exist—and on the not-so-good side, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of tools and combinations of tools to sort through.

If you’re not a fan of Constant Contact, want something a little beefier, or want to check out the top CRM options on the market, you can see our top picks here. We spent several weeks diving into features, pricing, use cases, customer support, and more to highlight the clear winners in the category. We did the same for marketing automation tools here.

Collecting emails and phone numbers doesn’t mean anything unless you have the tools you need to convert those leads into customers.

Software like HubSpot is built with interdepartmental synergy in mind. It is much easier to guide leads through the sales funnel, seamlessly handing over leads from marketing, sales, and even customer service—it crosses the chasm between CRM and marketing automation, delivering everything you need to get started in one package.

But you can do the same by combining dedicated CRM and marketing automation tools together.

Regardless of the tool(s) you choose, centralize data and seeing a 360-degree view of your customers and leads are crucial. Keeping a record of customer inquiries, purchases, support tickets, behavior, and interactions should be effortless as well.

Beyond that, pay close attention to third-party integrations to turn your CRM and marketing automation solution into a command center for your entire business. Integrations for collaboration, content management, accounting, data extraction, scheduling, social media, and analytics are among some of the most important integrations to focus on.

Automate as Much as Possible

Repetitive manual tasks take valuable time away from your team. Your marketing, sales, and customer service teams are better utilized when performing their core functions.

A significant advantage of CRM and marketing automation tools is they take care of these repetitive tasks for you. Some of the tasks you should consider automating include:

  • Logging customer interactions
  • Creating personalized email sequences
  • Customer queries (using chatbot software)
  • Data entry
  • Content delivery
  • Campaign analytics
  • Reporting
  • Segmenting contacts

The more time your team spends priming leads and closing deals, the better for your bottom line.

Implement Drip Marketing

There is a fine line between drip marketing and spamming potential clients. You want to practice restraint as much as possible. However, drip messaging is a great way to build rapport and trust with potential clients if done right.

The idea is to send contacts a sequence of emails, newsletters, or other campaign material. Drip messaging is versatile and is mostly automated. You can send out emails automatically based on a pre-set time frame, triggers, or actions performed.

For example, if a prospect has been hovering around your page, you can automatically send them more information about your product to help them make a final decision. Additionally, you can send welcome emails as soon as prospects subscribe to your form or newsletter.

The main thing to remember is to keep your emails relevant. Focus on adding value rather than sending out emails or promotional content for its own sake.

Train Your Teams

Even the best CRM and marketing automation is only as good as the person using it. Choose software that is intuitive and easy to use. Even then, your teams will need formal training. Fortunately, most software providers include training modules along with their products.

Without training, you might find your team is misusing software or neglecting key features that could streamline your marketing and sales process.

Apply Lead Scoring

Lead scoring is a perfect example of where marketing meets sales and why it’s essential to merge the two functions. With lead scoring, you assign a score to each prospect based on their engagement level. This might be a tall order if you have more than a hundred leads, but tools like HubSpot automate this process for you.

The software uses predefined metrics to calculate and assign a lead score. For example, the tool picks up on engagement signals like how many times users visit your pricing or quotes pages or their engagement with emails. This way, you can predict the best time to send in the sales team and prioritize your marketing and sales tasks.

Lead segmentation also goes hand in hand with lead scoring. The idea here is to divide your contact list into small groups with similar characteristics. For example, you can group leads who have added products into their cart into one segment and those that downloaded your PDF in another.

Lead segmentation ensures that you are assigning the correct strategies to the right leads at the right time.

Long Term Strategies for Enhancing Sales and Marketing Collaboration  

In the spirit of bringing together your marketing and sales teams, here are a few long-term strategies to foster synergy and collaboration:

Create a Buyer Persona

While your marketing team might have a good grasp of the consumer, they do not have the full picture. Short of communicating directly with prospects, it is difficult to figure out the unique challenges your product or service cannot solve. This blind spot might be costing you valuable leads and closes.

A buyer persona is a research-based profile of your customer. This profile helps to paint a full picture of who your customers are, what they are like, how they make decisions, and the challenges they face.

Get your marketing and sales teams involved in creating the buyer persona. This way, you get cross-departmental alignment. The marketing, sales, and customer service teams will have a consistent picture of who your customers are and the challenges your business solves for them.

This crucial profile has additional benefits, including:

  • Helping the marketing team craft highly-targeted content strategies and marketing copy
  • It can be a reference guide when building product roadmaps
  • Supports the sales team build rapport with potential customers
  • Customer service can solve your customer’s problems more efficiently

Track Joint KPIs

Like the buyer persona, tracking joint KPIs helps unify your sales and marketing teams behind a common goal. Broadly speaking, sales performance indicators are number-based. These may include deals closed, contracts renewed, and new accounts.

Marketing metrics tend to be based on brand awareness, quality, and quantity. It is easier to sync the two teams for better performance by coming up with shared performance metrics. Additionally, you can track weaknesses from a wide-eyed view, allowing you to streamline the sales funnel top-to-bottom.

Focus on Quality Leads

Many marketing reps simply send all their leads to sales without a second thought. Often, sales reps have to work harder with nothing to show for their efforts. Instead, focus your marketing team’s efforts on people that have already shown interest in your product or service.

Some of the ways to achieve this include:

Social media promotions – social media is a gold mine for contact lists. Consider posting offers and promotions that require users to leave their email address to participate.

Newsletter opt-in – subscribers to your email newsletter are already interested in your product or service. Consider integrating newsletter opt-in to your website or blog.

Content gates – you can capture potential customers in the awareness stage by offering valuable content. Downloadable PDFs are a great way to provide this information and build trust and rapport with potential clients.   

It also helps if you have dedicated sales personnel or a team to qualify the leads. This strategy ensures that the teams’ nurturing and conversion efforts give good returns.

Align Your Sales and Marketing Teams

CRM tools offer a great launching pad for synergizing your sales and marketing efforts. These systems provide a common database so different departments can access critical client information in all stages of the sales and marketing funnels.

Additionally, a team member leaving doesn’t mean they get to walk out with valuable leads. New or existing team members can easily pick up where the previous agent left off, guaranteeing continuity in the long term.

Communication also plays a crucial role in aligning both teams. For example, your sales team should inform your marketing team about their campaign’s engagement and revenue impact. Creating a friendly and honest channel of communication between both teams makes it easier to guide potential clients through the funnel rather than haphazardly handing them off across departments.

Implement a Closed-Loop Feedback System

While your sales and marketing teams may be communicating regularly, it’s not always easy or practical to record every single insight.

A brainstorming session can help to bypass this problem. Both teams can share their insights on lead generation, marketing campaigns, content, and so on. Additionally, shared documents allow for a centralized place to collect ideas and references across departments.

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