Marketing Automation vs. Customer Relationship Management: What is the difference?

The biggest barrier to adoption of marketing automation (MA) is a complete lack of understanding of what it is and what it does. That is also the single biggest barrier to effective use of customer relationship management (CRM) software.

 The biggest barrier to adoption of marketing automation (MA) is a complete lack of understanding of what it is and what it does. That is also the single biggest barrier to effective use of customer relationship management (CRM) software.


According to the Content Marketing Institute, (CMI) which issues reports on the state of the content marketing),the use of content marketing as a strategy is growing and is prevalent in growing companies. However, only 39 percent of the companies reporting having a strategy are claiming to see results, which tracks well with the stat that 35 percent have a documented strategy.  


To check those numbers, we approached more than 50 companies in the past year and asked them if they were doing and we focused on the use of marketing automation tools as part of the documented strategy and, if so, what were they using.  Less than half of companies actually had a clear understanding of what content marketing actually is which tracked well with the CMI study Howver 43 said they were using marketing automation tools identifying Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics, primarily. We found that interesting because neither are MA platforms. They are CRM platforms.  So, in this post we would like to spell out the difference.




  • CRM will help you manage the relationship of customers you already have.




  • MA helps you create new customers.




It is that simple, but let’s expand a bit.


As Salesforce defines CRM: “You can store customer and prospect contact information, accounts, leads and sales opportunities in one central location, ideally in the cloud so the information is accessible by many, in real time.” That’s a really good thing… once you have the customer on the hook. Getting them on the hook is the job of the MA platform.


Marketing is a combination of advertising, public relations, social media and just plain relationships. Until MA technology came along, that required an overwhelming amount of work for a few people, or an overwhelming amount of personnel to do it well. An MA platform does for a marketing team, what CRM does for the sales team, and does it with relatively low cost and complexity, depending on what platform you choose (see previous post).


Some CRMs, like Salesforce and Dynamics have options for marketing automation, but none of the companies we talked to were using those options because they are expensive, difficult to understand and buggy. In fact, none of them were using the CRM capabilities to their fullest, even though they were spending thousands of dollars every year on the tools (and almost all were unhappy with the results).


All MA companies we talked to provide integration with leading CRM platforms. Some MA platforms, like Hubspot and Sharpspring, offer CRMs included in their offerings at no additional cost, although they are not as robust as a leading provider, like Salesforce. However, since most companies are not using their CRMs to their fullest potential, it is something of a waste of money to have a top-of-the-line CRM in place. 


With that in mind, a company hoping to get the most out of automation on a minimal budget, it makes more sense to purchase a subscription to an MA service than a CRM. And if you can afford the cost of a leading CRM, adding an MA service will increase the value and ROI of all your sales and marketing efforts.


Your company might be one of the few that has truly embraced modern digital marketing, but it is unlikely, especially if you have not seriously considered a marketing automation platform. From our personal experience at Footwasher Media, our use of MA has increased our ability to find new leads by an order of magnitude. Our clients who adopt it willingly have seen similar results. Those that rely only on the CRM do not see growth.


In our next post, we will get into the specific value of these tools in respect to content strategy and development.


If you'd like to talk about how to figure out this content strategy thing, drop us a line.