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Do You Need a CRM, a Marketing Automation Tool, or Both?

by Josh Santiago
7 minutes read

Today, it seems that marketing automation and customer relationship management systems are the same since both handle contacts, leads, accounts, and companies. With all this feature parity, how do you know which system is right for your team?

Well, let’s take a look at what the differences between the sales and marketing roles are since many companies struggle with defining these roles. I believe that marketing and specifically the outbound teams, who need marketing automation the most, should be focused on getting the right message to the right leads, at the right time. Once they reach the stage where they have the right level of engagement they are passed off to sales for further qualification. The ones that don’t are kept in the marketing cycle. The outbound team is also responsible for reaching out to continue the care for existing customers. This increases customer loyalty and in the end, increases revenue via repeat business.

For most teams, marketing isn’t responsible for qualifying leads, or even participating in the sales cycle. As a result, their metrics are not revenue the same way that sales are. The KPI’s that marketing is most focused on is how many respondents, their quality and the total value of the pipeline

What is Marketing Automation?

Marketing Automation is as simplified as an Omnichannel and serves as a low-cost tool for effective communication with leads and prospects. The basics are email campaigns and website tracking, which include templates for email and campaign designer to allow for the user to develop a customer journey. With this, prospects can follow to qualify leads from the awareness phase to being entirely sales qualified and ready to purchase. Each part is mapped out with content and specific calls to action based on each piece of the customer journey.

Today, most marketing automation solutions are known as Omnichannel, meaning they are capable of handling both the email and website side, but also the social aspect and offline. By leveraging social media with email campaigns, the marketing becomes full circle, giving teams the ability to follow along with their customers across multiple platforms. This higher level of insights gives you a more holistic view of the marketing reactions and interactions along the customer journey. The most difficult challenge is the linking of the email addresses in your system and the social media accounts associated with those people.

The best marketing automation systems on the market today, are masquerading as content management systems since they manage content assets through the lifecycle of the customer journey. Typically, these are stored on the company’s website. Your marketing automation tool needs to be able to access them, but also to rapidly create landing pages, downloads, and webinar registrations as well. As we all know, A/B testing is a must in today’s marketing tool bag. Your marketing automation system needs the ability to do workflow management, provide various data that helps structure and guide the refinement of campaign sequences, and web pages to provide optimal results.

CRM and Automating Your Sales Force.

Now that didn’t sound much like a CRM system, did it? However, if the core of marketing automation is focused on the campaign side with emails and lead tracking, then is the core of CRM is sales force automation? Yes, both systems work with leads, opportunities, contacts, and accounts but their contexts are vastly different. On the marketing automation side, the focus is entirely on leads and getting them moved from lead to SQL opportunities. On the flip side, sales see leads as a stage in the pipeline and one that is only temporary. Your successful salespeople will be moving them forward to the opportunity phase.

CRM Systems Focus on

  • Early Sales Cycle Management (call scheduling, and demo planning)
  • Lead Qualification
  • Quote Generation and E-Contracting, as well as Proposals
  • Order Status and Confirmation with Fulfillment Management
  • Pipeline Management and Forecasting
  • Renewals, and Repeat ordering
  • Account Management

CRM systems, such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 may extend into areas beyond this. As a result, it allows a single pane of glass view on the customer, such as customer service, integration with finance, the ERP system, e-commerce, and project and field service. In this regard, there are few overlapping features between CRM and Marketing Automation.

With this in mind, we understand that the marketing automation tool will have or should have at the very least a direct integration with the CRM platform. That integration should be focused on injecting the leads that are beyond the IQL phase, (Information Qualified Leads) and into the MQL phase (Marketing Qualified Leads). Typically, we find that this is less than 10% of the leads stored in the marketing automation tool. This allows those who do not meet the minimum requirements for the sales team to be hidden from them until they are at that stage.

So here lies the question; Do I need a CRM, a marketing automation tool or both?


Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Customer Engagement (CRM) has a direct integration and out of the box functionality with Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Marketing. This is all under the umbrella of the Dynamics 365 for Business Applications Suite. Dynamics 365 for Marketing has been constructed from their partnership with Marketo, Adobe, and Click Dimensions. This allows for sentiment monitoring, customer journey management, customer segmentation, email campaigns, advertising, LinkedIn integration, and more.

Smaller companies are currently doing a minimal scope of marketing automation. Most rely on mail merges, simple email campaigns via MailChimp, or Constant Contact, and are done via spreadsheets and manually. However, most have a CRM platform already in place.

In larger companies, this is much more chaotic because they had kept the fragmentation from when they were smaller and never simplified or condensed their systems. One technology company that we worked with had 93 different marketing tools and about nine different CRM platforms. In ONE company! Don’t get trapped in the mindset that CRM or a Marketing Automation tool is going to take you to the Fortune 500, especially those companies that have grown due to the acquisition. For you, the key success will come from integrating your CRM and marketing automation databases. You must remember that there are no amount of “best in class” point solutions that will outweigh a fully integrated platform, especially if your data is an uncoordinated disaster.

So, to answer the question and to be truly successful, you need to have both a marketing automation tool and CRM platform. However, beyond that you need a fully integrated system that will keep the data in the right place and give you that holistic picture of your leads from origination to closure. In the long term, the cost of the integration of two “best in class” systems is more trouble and cost than it’s worth. Simplify your marketing and sales by implementing a fully integrated CRM and Marketing automation tool such as Microsoft Dynamics 365.

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