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What’s The Difference Between CRM and Marketing Automation Software?

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Do you remember the day when someone first told you that Great Britain and England weren’t actually synonymous? Yeah. That was rough.

I could have sworn that they were the same thing too! Finally though, someone explained to me that my mistake was completely understandable and actually very common. Great Britain is comprised of England, Scotland, and Wales, so England is just one part of Great Britain. It’s confusing, I know.

Map of worlds. Great Britain. 3d

People often have a very similar reaction when they realize that CRM software and marketing automation software are different. For those of you to whom this is news, it’s ok! At face value, both seem to be the same thing (like Great Britain and England), but they serve two distinct purposes.

One of the main differences between the two types of software is who they target. Primarily, CRM software is sales-focused, while marketing automation software is (aptly) marketing-focused.

Salesforce, a leading CRM software provider, defines CRM as, “a strategy for managing all your company’s interactions with current and prospective customers”. A CRM system saves information such as a customers addresses, names, phone numbers, and interactions with the company.

On the flip side, Marketo, a leading marketing automation software provider, describes marketing automation software as a system that, “allows companies to streamline, automate, and measure marketing tasks and workflows”.

While marketing automation stores similar information as a CRM, such as your leads’ contact details (email, address, phone number, company name, job title, etc.), that’s about all they typically share.


Marketing automation allows you to follow a prospect’s top-of-funnel activities, such as when they visit your website, open an email, read your blog, or fill out a form. Marketers commonly use marketing automation software to schedule and track marketing campaigns, especially email campaigns and mass business to customer communications. Some benefits of marketing automation software include:

  • The ability to easily segment prospects into the appropriate mailing lists based on their past interactions with your company or their interests and preferences.
  • Lead nurturing functionality, which allows you to automatically send triggered emails at the time when a person is most interested in your product or service. You can also schedule a series of emails in a “drip” campaign, so that your company stays top-of-mind with prospects.
  • Once a campaign has ended, the system generates analytics showing how successful the campaign was.

In other words, marketing automation helps to foster leads and get them ready for the sales team. Once the lead has progressed through to the bottom-of-the-funnel and become a qualified sales lead (and eventually a customer), that’s when companies typically start to track their interactions through a CRM. CRMs store information like how long a contact has been a customer, records of any purchases they have made in the past, the dates and notes of any phone conversations you’ve had with the contact, a record of inbound emails they’ve sent to your sales and customer service team, and more.=

Sales and Customer Service teams use CRM data to optimize one-on-one interaction between the company and the customer to increase sales and customer satisfaction. Some benefits of having a CRM include:

  • Sales personnel can see where a customer is in the sales process and help them close the deal.
  • Your business can offer targeted promotional material that’s more likely to lead to a sale and build good faith between you and your customer.
  • When speaking to a customer, you can have a full picture of who they are and their history with your company, helping to make the conversation as personal and successful as possible.
  • Many CRMs can also sync with social media outlets so you can keep track of which outlets are leading to the most traffic and what people are saying about your company.
  • The system can send internal alerts when a call is scheduled, when a client’s account is set to renew, or even when a customer’s birthday is coming up so that your sales and service reps know to reach out.

Simply put, CRM systems help to secure sales by making the sales process a more personal experience for the customer.

So while CRM and marketing automation systems may look like the same thing at first glance, they cater to different roles in an organization, and their differences make them more valuable to the unique teams they serve.

But you may be wondering, why would we track half of the prospect’s’ interactions in one software system (marketing automation) and the other half in another system (CRM)?

Good question.

Most marketing automation solutions allow you to sync your data with your CRM, so that all of a prospects’ activities are accessible through one solution. Many companies sync the information both ways so that their marketing team knows what’s going on in sales, and their sales and customer service teams know the history that marketing has had with a particular prospect or customer.

Additionally, many CRM companies have developed or acquired marketing automation software, so there are a handful of systems that include both all in one system. A few examples of these hybrid CRM/Marketing Automation providers include:

So, that’s the guide to the difference between CRM and marketing automation software! If you’re still stuck with deciding whether your business needs a CRM, Marketing Automation, neither, or both, now you know the difference! Look to your sales funnel to see where you have the biggest challenges to help guide your decision. Typically, small businesses begin by adopting a CRM to optimize the bottom of the funnel and close more deals, and then as they grow and invest more in marketing, they select a marketing automation system that will integrate with their CRM.

Need help deciding which CRM or Marketing Automation software is right for you? Let Capterra’s advisors suggest a few options!

Looking for Marketing Automation software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Marketing Automation software solutions.

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About the Author

Abigail Justen

Abigail Justen is a software analyst at Capterra, a company that loves connecting buyers and sellers of business software. She specializes in sales and marketing technology. She's a Broadway aficionado who enjoys to play some soccer on the side.


Great info, thanks for this comparison. I would really love to see more examples of the software, and would really love to see an information on ERP software. Thanks again

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CRM and Marketing Automation Software will rather be the same in meaning when it would ever come something that will overall attain good gains to any enterprise; absolutely inevitable tools. Technically defining, CRM will be like more concentrated on information and followups performed concerning the customers. Whereas, marketing automation tool will go with measuring company’s well-organized hierarchy to manage promotional activities – to escalate its progress; nicely detailed facts, appreciate!

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[…] to find time to build and manage client relationships personally. The good news is that you can get sophisticated CRM software that does much of it on your behalf. It enables you […]

[…] Most people use the terms “CRM” and “Sales Marketing Automation” interchangeably, but they’re actually two different things. Here’s where they differ and why it matters. […]

[…] find time to build and manage client relationships personally. The good news is that you can get sophisticated CRM software that does much of it on your behalf. It enables you […]

I wonder when SFA software actually became CRM software! I mean, most of the CRM solutions you see around today are more SFA solutions. I was looking at one of the blogs your fellow analysts wrote and I think the name she uses, CXM is more what these solutions today are.

Great post and clarification. Personally I use as it’s cheap and designed for small business owners like myself. It’s not so much of a crm but more of a marketing automation tool and lead tracking which helps my marketing efforts. The problem I find with most marketing automation systems is that its way too expensive for small business owners.

For companies that can’t decide on how to kill all the birds with one stone, it’s good to know that most of marketing automation functionality can be supported within a CRM system too! For example, everything that falls into lead management (lead segmentation, personalized email marketing, lead nurturing, analytics) can be activated within CRM software through either in-built tools or customization, depending on how complex requirements are. I tell more on the benefits of this approach for SMEs here:

You forgot Northern Ireland

Actually Josh, Great Britain only refers to the island of Britain itself. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the official term for the political entity that includes both the island of Britain and the province of Northern Ireland.

CRM integration is definitely key to the success of marketing automation. While these are two similar tools, it’s the differences between them that make them so compatible. CRM is more focused on collecting knowledge about existing customer accounts and managing new-customer pipelines while Marketing Automation is more focused on orchestrating one-to-one communication with early-stage prospects and routing new prospects to manage subsequent marketing and sales actions.

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