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What is the Difference Between Marketing Automation and CRM?

Jul 05, 2022

If there’s something we can all agree on, it is that technology moves fast. Every other day we learn about a new product or service that we’ve never seen before. 

Inevitably, it’s normal to get lost in the whirlwind of new concepts and possibilities. And before we know it, we’re nodding along to words we don’t fully understand. Yikes.

This is what many people experience when trying to grasp two key concepts of today’s business world: CRM and marketing automation.

If this is you, don’t worry - we’ve all been there at one point or another.

However - and given the rising popularity of these technologies - we believe that a detailed account of the differences between marketing automation and CRM will be useful to clear the air.

We’ll dedicate this post to explaining CRMs and marketing automation, the relationship between them, and how you can leverage both to your advantage.

Before we move on to actionable tips and benefits, let’s start with definitions and examples.

What is a CRM? Definition and examples

CRM is an acronym for “customer relationship management”. 

In most cases, the term refers to “CRM software”, which is a system used to collect, organize and analyze lead and customer data (such as contact information, lead source, purchase records, and so on). 

CRM software is usually cloud-based, although there are some hosted alternatives as well.


Source: HubSpot

Examples of CRM software are Salesforce, HubSpot, Pipedrive, Zoho, Freshsales, and Salesmate. These are the most popular platforms, but there are dozens - if not hundreds - of CRMs you can choose from.

In addition, the term CRM can be used to talk about methods, strategies, services, and products employed to acquire, nurture and retain customers. 

However, the most common intended meaning for “CRM” relates to the type of software platforms we described above.

What is marketing automation? Definition and examples

Marketing automation is a broad term that refers to technologies, products, and services to fully or partially manage marketing processes, tasks, and campaigns without the need of human intervention. 

In other words, marketing automation is an approach to marketing that depends on technology to reduce or replace the human element in marketing activities and processes.

Let’s take an ordinary marketing activity as an example: Posting to social media. 

In its simplest manual form, posting to social media requires you to create content, select a platform, pick a time, and hit the “post” button. 

On the other hand, you can use a marketing automation platform (such as Make) to automate most of the process. 

Instead of manually posting content over and over, you could just focus on adding content to a spreadsheet and rely on Make to automatically post your content to multiple social media channels.


Bear in mind that this is just a tiny example of a marketing process that can be automated with a marketing automation platform. 

The number of marketing processes you can automate is in the hundreds, and so is the number of tools that offer marketing automation features. 

What is the difference between a CRM and marketing automation?

The difference between these two concepts is straightforward: Marketing automation is an approach to marketing activities, while CRMs are software products to manage customer data. 

On the other hand, it’s important to know that most CRM platforms feature marketing automation capabilities. 

While different, there is a close relationship between CRMs and marketing automation. Let’s take a brief look at some examples.

CRM marketing automation examples

Now that we covered definitions and differences, it’s time to focus on the relationship between CRMs and marketing automation.

As we mentioned earlier, some CRMs offer marketing automation capabilities that allow users to automate related tasks and processes.

On top of this, users can automate CRM processes with tools like Make, which leverage application programming interfaces (APIs) to do so. 

But let’s not divert from the relationship between CRMs and marketing automation and illustrate it with an example: Lead generation.

Marketing teams are usually in charge of generating leads for their sales counterparts by means of landing pages and paid campaigns in social media (among other strategies).

In turn, potential customers share their contact information, which must be gathered and sent to the sales team’s CRM system. 

The sales team will then use that information to get in touch with the leads and try to close deals.

However, the process of manually gathering and adding contact data into a CRM is time and resource-intensive, and here’s where marketing automation comes in.

So, let’s imagine that you launched a Facebook Lead Ads campaign to generate leads. Your offering is attractive, hundreds of people click on your ad and submit their contact data. 

By automating the process of gathering and adding the data to the CRM, you’ll be saving valuable time and resources, and also allow the sales team to act faster, increasing the chances of converting leads into users.

And yes, this process can also be automated with Make, as shown below:


Which type of CRM is used for marketing automation?

The majority of CRMs these days can be used in your marketing automation efforts. 

The rule of thumb to identify whether a CRM will support automation is whether it features an API or not.

If it does, you’ll be able to implement a marketing automation approach to improve the processes that involve the CRM.

How to implement marketing automation in your CRM?

There are two methods to implement marketing automation in your CRM: natively or using a third-party platform.

Since most CRMs feature APIs, you can code through the API to automate tasks in your CRM. In addition, some CRMs feature native no-code modules or add-ons for marketing automation.

The second option is to use a third-party platform like Make. Doing so is less technically challenging, and it’ll also allow you to keep the same standard for your marketing automation approach (that is, not limited by what the CRM does or does not offer). 

What is the best way to implement marketing automation in your CRM? 

The best way is the one that suits your needs, technical capabilities, and resources. 

For instance, if you’re a HubSpot user and only wish to automatically send a welcome email to new customers, you may as well rely on the native solution that the product offers. 

On the other hand, if you plan to automate all kinds of processes without putting a burden on your IT department, a no-code third-party platform will likely be the best option.

Now that you know the difference between marketing automation and CRM, you can create a free Make account and start experimenting with both. More effective marketing outcomes await!


Martin Etchegaray

Content Manager and Senior Editor at Make. I enjoy writing and reading about history, science, and tech.

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