13 min read
Aug 24, 2017

CRM vs. Marketing Automation: Which One Does Your Small Business Need?

CRM vs. marketing automation software is like selling vs. marketing: kind of the same, but kind of different. Here's which software you should be using.

Suzie BlaszkiewiczAnalyst

CRM and marketing automation are like two peas in a pod. Sales is about trying to convince someone to buy a product or use a service. Marketing is… well, kind of the same thing, at least to some extent. Marketing uses a less direct method, but with the same end goal - trying to get someone to buy a product or use a service. The major difference is that while marketing brings in prospects, sales helps close the deal. This is why it can be difficult for small businesses trying to decide whether they need a CRM, or if they'd be better off using marketing automation software.

GetApp's latest research report about CRM software shows that 24 percent of small businesses are looking for marketing automation features within their CRM. While some CRMs do have marketing features, there's a clear distinction between CRM and marketing automation that will make one software better for your needs than the other.

For those still trying to clean the lens on the distinction between CRM vs. marketing automation, I'll go through the major differences below to help you decide which software you need, and suggest some options best suited for each.

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CRM vs. marketing automation


CRM, also known as customer relationship management, is software predominantly used by sales teams to manage customers and leads. More than just a filing system for customer information, it provides details about where each customer is in the sales process (or "pipeline", in business lingo), as well as an overview of sales figures and forecasts. Typical CRM features include:

  • Contact and lead management to keep track of and manage the sales process on a per customer basis.

  • Task management to allow different members of the team to assign, schedule, and complete tasks related to the sales process.

  • Workflow management to automate the sales process and set up triggers for next actions based on previous interactions.

  • Analytics and reporting to give insight into the health of the sales cycle and provide useful data for making sales forecasts.

  • Email integration to track client communication and send emails from within the CRM.

While most CRMs don't venture too far into the marketing automation realm, features such as email integration and follow-up reminders can serve a marketing purpose when sending out email blasts to customers based on their current status in the pipeline or their previous activity.

Marketing automation

The key differentiator between marketing automation and CRM software is that while CRMs are focused on sales dollars coming in, marketing automation is all about keeping track of marketing dollars going out. With a marketing automation solution, you'll be able to see which online marketing campaigns are most effective at bringing in and keeping customers. Typical marketing automation features include:

  • Email marketing to send out email campaigns, including newsletters and promotions, action-based triggers, and drip email campaigns.

  • Segmentation to be able to place customers in different buckets based on past activity and target them specifically with distinct campaigns.

  • A/B testing to test variations of campaigns to see which ones are most effective.

  • Tracking and analytics to see how customers are interacting with your campaigns and to assess the effectiveness of campaigns on a macro level.

  • Multi-channel marketing to send out tailored campaigns via various channels, including mobile, social media, and email marketing.

While marketing automation software can include features for lead management and lead scoring, more thorough features for managing customers and sales pipelines are typically found in a CRM.

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Which tools are out there?

While CRM and marketing automation may overlap in some respects, not all CRM and marketing software do both (or even the same) things. What both CRM and marketing automation software can benefit from is an information exchange, which is why being able to integrate the two is important. Below are some popular CRM and marketing automation options, and which related software they integrate with.

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If you're looking for a CRM tool…

Salesforce Sales Cloud

Salesforce is the classic powerhouse CRM built for salespeople serious about cutting some deals. The robust suite includes analytics, forecasting, and even incorporates artificial intelligence to help sales teams make smarter decisions when managing their pipeline.

According to one reviewer:

"Using Salesforce daily for keeping track of sales and sales activity. Makes my life soo much easier. Easy to use and helps make my daily tasks much simplier. This product helps keep me organized and is great for reporting."

Marketing automation integrations: Salesforce integrates with a ton of popular marketing automation suites, including ActiveCampaign, Autopilot, and its own B2B marketing software, Pardot.

Zoho CRM

Zoho is another well-known name in the CRM world with features for lead and task management, workflow management, and the ever-important email integration. It's popular among those looking for an affordable solution that still has a full set of powerful features for pipeline management and lead follow-up.

Says one reviewer:

"We recently set up Zoho CRM because the freemium CRM product we were using wasn't sufficient enough to grow with our company. We've been impressed with the features and flexibility in the CRM for the price point. It has filled our needs well. The feature I appreciate the most is the ability to email directly from the CRM and track if the emails are delivered, opened, etc."

Marketing automation integrations: Zoho integrates with marketing automation tools including ActiveCampaign, HubSpot Marketing, and SALESmanago.


Another go-to sales management tool, Pipedrive offers a visual view of the sales pipeline so that you can see the status of each deal and get an idea of which customer to target next. Its visual format also lends itself well to its timeline view, which shows the history of certain customers or deals to help know what to act on next.

One reviewer notes:

"The user interface is great which makes our team actually use the CRM in the first place. Moreover, we are able to define different pipelines tailored to each market/segment. Finally, all the information and statistics are there. Easy-to-use yet capable of covering all of our needs. This is the fourth CRM software that we are trying and we are sold. Pipedrive is the best."

Marketing automation integrations: Pipedrive counts integrations with ActiveDEMAND, ActiveCampaign, and HubSpot Marketing among its list of marketing automation integrations.

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If you're looking for a marketing automation tool…

HubSpot Marketing

The big name in marketing automation, HubSpot Marketing is many a marketer's go-to tool for anything from email marketing and social media, to blogging and marketing channel analytics. Its hefty feature set also includes lead management, conversion tracking, and full-funnel analytics functions.

Says one reviewer:

"I like that as a marketer you can brainstorm, collaborate, edit and publish content easily. I also like that the sales and marketing tools are all in one area with a simple click in the corner to switch back and forth. The social media publishing tool is easy to understand and the reporting is basic enough for simple reports. They are always listening to customer ideas and improving the software!"

CRM integrations: HubSpot offers its own HubSpot CRM, but it also integrates with popular CRMs including Copper, Salesforce Sales Cloud, and Nimble.


As a marketing automation, email marketing, and joint sales/CRM platform, ActiveCampaign is a robust piece of software whose feature set leans heavily toward its email marketing functionality. With campaign creation, campaign automation, and list segmentation, it uses its sales and CRM features to help target leads at the right stage of the funnel.

Says one reviewer:

"Nurturing leads has never been so easy. The way Activecampaign seamlessly bridges together emails, forms, and deal pipelines has empowered me to have so much more visibility into how my emails are performing, who and how people are engaging with them, provide clear and automated opportunities for potential customers to engage further, and then automatically add people straight to different lead pipelines based on their level of readiness. From there I can add custom fields, add any tags or info I need to remember info about people, create tasks to followup (or notes for other team members) and create email automations based on their behaviors."

CRM integrations: If you're not using ActiveCampaign's CRM features, it also integrates with Pipedrive, Pipeliner CRM, Zendesk Sell, and Zoho CRM, among many others.


Keap is another marketing automation tool with sales and CRM features that can help streamline the entire marketing and sales cycle. Its campaign builder, personalization features, and landing page builder let you target and capture customers, while its website tracking and reporting features help determine which campaigns have been most successful.

According to one reviewer:

"I love that Infusionsoft puts so many things into one product: CRM, eCommerce, billing, marketing automation, etc. I LOVE building an automated machine and then just letting it do its thing. Currently we have five marketing channels running, and they all feed leads into Infusionsoft with lead source tracking, sales rep assignment, and automated follow up. It's awesome."

CRM integrations: Aside from it's own integrated CRM, you can also integrate Keap with Mothernode CRM and Repsly Mobile CRM.

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Better together

If you're planning on marketing and selling (and let's be honest, you can't really do one without the other), having the right software for each function is really important. While marketing automation software is more likely to have features that include CRM functionality for selling and marketing together, CRM software is generally focused toward straight sales and customer management. If you want to know more about what makes good CRM and marketing automation software:

More about CRM:

More about marketing automation:

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