CRM vs. email marketing vs. marketing automation.

That sounds like a lot of intimidating tech software, right? You’re wondering, “What’s the difference? And why do I need any of them??”

To get leads and get them all the way through your product funnel, you need to be organized. The tech trifecta – CRM, email marketing, and marketing automation – exists for that reason.

  • Customer relationship management (CRM) applications can help increase sales by up to 29%, sales productivity by up to 34% and sales forecast accuracy by 42%.
  • 81% of small- and medium-sized businesses still rely on email as their primary customer acquisition channel.
  • A Nucleus Research study found that marketing automation software increased sales productivity by 14.5%

Wow, that’s some impressive stuff, right? But you’re still probably asking two questions:

  1. Do I need all of this software?
  2. What’s the difference between CRM, email, and automation?

Some will tell you that the difference between a sales CRM, email marketing, and marketing automation is simply that one is for sales and others are for marketing.

Ok, cool. Except that’s not really true. They all work together to solve different problems across sales and marketing.

How can their combined capabilities take your business to new heights?

This post will cover:

  • CRM vs email marketing vs. marketing automation – do you really need all of them??
  • How to know when you’re ready for each piece of tech

CRM vs. email marketing vs. marketing automation: “Do I really need all of them?”

Quiz time! Can you guess what the most important thing about this image is?

Here’s a hint: there are 3 important things to find.

If you guessed marketing automation, CRM, and email marketing in one place, then you got it right!

If you didn’t guess right, here’s what you missed.

\These three tech tools work together to turn a lead into a customer.

So, do you really need CRM, email marketing, AND marketing automation?

Yes.

Why? What’s the difference? The main difference lies in the problems that each tool solves for your business.

  • Marketing automation software helps nurture your leads by streamlining and automating marketing-focused actions and tasks.
  • Email marketing helps you reach your customers quickly, easily, and cost-effectively. It feeds into both CRM and marketing automation.
  • A CRM (customer relationship management) is a system to manage all your company’s interactions with current and prospective customers.

Yes, they are different pieces of software – but they overlap.

Each works together to achieve an important goal – converting marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and sales qualified leads (SQLs) into customers.

What lead nurturing challenges can these tools help you solve?

  1. Timing – Sending the right communication at the optimal moments during the length of a sales cycle.
  2. Frequency – Communicating often enough but not too often
  3. Tracking and optimizing – Tracking outcomes and optimizing processes so that you can get more customers in the future

From the top of funnel to the bottom, marketing automation feeds your sales pipeline. Email helps you reach people throughout each phase.

Your email marketing strategy works to get more customers at each stage of your funnel (Source: Capterra)

Your CRM system can sync lead and customer info with marketing automation and email marketing – so you can see which marketing pieces each contact has received and opened. You can…

  • See when sales last reached out to a contact
  • See what they discuss
  • Get reminders and triggers to encourage follow-ups at a good pace

CRM and email marketing

How does CRM help marketing? CRM is all about managing customer relationships. Relationships require communication, and that’s where email marketing comes in.

Your CRM can send automated internal alerts when:

  • A call is scheduled
  • A client’s account is set to renew
  • It’s time to send a second follow-up email

See where a customer is in your sales funnel and take steps to close the deal. Get a complete view of their history with your business, then use that information to make the conversation more personal.

See every step from first demo to the follow-up.

With those insights, you can show people targeted promotional content (that hopefully leads to a sale).

CRM and marketing automation

Imagine having to manually hit send on every email you send to every contact.

And then also having to remember:

  • Who needs to be called when
  • Who’s already heard from you multiple times
  • Who you need to send over the information you promised on a call

Plus, there’s the actual running of your business that still has to get done.

Without help, your head might explode. Hellooooooo marketing automation.

You can automate tasks and communication between CRM and marketing automation software. Then you just get alerted whenever it’s time to add a human touch.


As a lead moves through an automation, they can be added to a deal to keep track of marketing and sales progress simultaneously.

When you get a new qualified lead, you should probably send them an email. But manually sending that email every time would get tedious.

That’s where automation comes in.

Take the above lead nurturing campaign, which is sending a lead magnet to a marketing qualified lead after they’ve submitted their info via an opt-in form.

You want leads to get their content (and it would take forever to send lead magnets one at a time). So you…

  • Set up the automation to send an email (with the content inside)
  • Create a deal for the contact as a part of the automation
  • Set conditions like wait times and other triggers to keep moving your deal through the funnel

With the combined power of marketing automation and CRM, you can send your email follow-up and then automatically create a new CRM deal for them.

How to know when you’re ready for one, two, or all three pieces of business software

How do you know you’re ready for CRM and marketing automation? Here are the signs:

  • Things are slipping through the cracks
  • You’re losing more customers than you’re gaining
  • You have more tasks than your hands (and brain) can handle on a daily basis

But do you need all three of these things at once? And right away? Well on the one hand…

  • 74% of users said their CRM system gives them improved access to customer data – and the ability to give a great customer experience
  • Despite social media’s large audience, email is almost 40 times more effective than Facebook and Twitter combined when it comes to getting new customers
  • 4 in 5 users increased their leads using marketing automation software, and 70% saw an increase in conversions

How soon will you join the marketing automation crew?

Sales and marketing tech can be extremely helpful. To help you decide what you need, ask:

  1. Where are the toughest parts of your sales process? Remembering who you’ve already called and emailed? Or do you need a better way to quickly update contact details without the ink stains on your hands? It might be time to consider a CRM.
  2. What are the little tasks that stifle your productivity? Are you letting important messages slip through the cracks because there are just too many to keep track of? Are you getting more unsubscribes because customers keep getting repeat email campaigns from lists they should have been removed from? Marketing automation can take these headaches away.
  3. What do your leads and customers need? You need a lead management process that works for you, but it also needs to work for your leads. What does your customer experience look like right now? Could communication be better? Is there content they want that they aren’t getting? Tools like these help you send emails, follow-up promptly and automatically add people to campaigns without lifting a finger.

That one last decision still remains…Should you get this tech right now?

Using CRM and marketing automation alongside your email marketing strategy is a great way to optimize your sales and marketing.

Marketing is what brings the leads to the top of the funnel and through to a point where a sales CRM will make a huge difference. Together they work in tandem to increase your chances of nurturing leads all the way to customer conversion.

How can a CRM help??

  • Helping you keep track of who has had first contact and who hasn’t
    Telling you when it’s time to send a follow-up email or a first-time phone call
  • Sending a triggered reminder email that a free trial is ending (and that it’s time to connect again)
  • Showing you who you’ve won and who you’ve lost – and who you can try to connect with again

Many tech platforms (like ActiveCampaign) have all of these software capabilities in one place (or give you the ability to integrate across multiple platforms). You can stack the tech you need, or add and take away things as your needs change.

Remember: whatever tech you choose, it needs to grow with you.