What comes first? The CRM or the Marketing Automation?

What comes first? The CRM or the Marketing Automation?

Having experience with over 275 MA systems, 200+ of which have a CRM involvement, I hear this question a lot – often in the situation when an organisation KNOWS they need Marketing Automation – but they either are thinking of re-building their CRM first, or they have a messy CRM they’re a little ashamed of.

Later on I shall re-phrase the question itself – but let me take you on a bit of a journey in this article.

Why the question?

Whilst I understand why this question is asked – I do cringe somewhat each time I hear it. And whilst I am keen not to frivolize – it’s a little like the chicken and the egg.   It’s unanswerable – because although CRM and MA are indeed intrinsically linked, they play vastly different ROLES – so to ask “which should come first” is very, well – chick and egg like.CRM and MA are two very different systems – they are going to be entwined in the future, but these are very different systems with very different features and benefits.

And although they may share the same data in the future – when you get it right – in my experience, nothing cleanses CRM data faster than a good Marketing Automation engine. And nothing fixes bent and broken sales processes better than MA.

Let’s look at the definition of the two different systems, then look at their role, where they start and the other stop.

Our experience: With over 19 years of experience of building SFDC, Dynamics, NetSuite and other CRMs, and 9 years experience with marketing automation systems such as Marketo – RMS has developed a 4-minute guide – which includes 4x simple steps to help you during the systems consideration stage. So if you’re wrestling with questions about systems choice or implementation or change management planning, do get in touch.  The first of the four steps [Define] is covered in some depth below – but the other three will need deeper explanation than just a blog post.  The four steps are: Define || Plan || Build || Review.


Whilst MA and CRM certainly overlap — both systems handle Leads, Accounts, Contacts and Opportunities, the features are so very different. And indeed even the people using them are very different.  Marketing people use MA, Sales people use CRM.  MA is responsible for ‘shoveling in the goodness’ into the CRM system for the Sales people to consume.

Marketing focuses on getting the right message out to the right prospects at the right time. Leads who respond with the right level of interest are handed off to sales for qualification, and people who don’t are kept in the Marketing process for cultivation. Marketing also cultivates loyalty of existing customers. Marketing folks don’t man the phones, they don’t manually qualify the leads and they don’t actively participate in the sales process with a client – and consequently, they aren’t measured on revenue the way the sales team is: their metrics are focused on the number and quality of respondents, including the total value of the pipeline.

Attributes of a good Marketing Automation tool

Marketing automation is all about low-cost, effective digital communication with prospects, which means email, social media [organic and paid], SMS & mobile marketing, direct mail, telemarketing and other channels to market – in support of more traditional marketing disciplines such as events, advertising, newsletters, ABM, PR and other above and below the line marketing activities a business undertakes to gain mindshare.

MA’s main function is to facilitate a prospect’s journey from awareness through interest to desire and finally to [sales] action – something that is pre-mapped by the marketing team with content and calls to action tuned for each branch in the customer’s journey. The effective marketing automation system is also a content management system in disguise, so it must explicitly manage its content assets through the lifecycle. And as those assets are typically stored in a multitude of places – such as on pages on the company’s website or blog, the marketing automation system needs to be able to rapidly generate attractive registration and download pages. And since prospects’ behaviour can’t be predicted in advance, an excellent marketing automation systems need to have workflow management features such as “A/B multi-variant testing” that provides data to guide the refinement of content and campaign actions.

That doesn’t sound much like a CRM system, does it?

If the core of marketing automation is email blasting, the foundation of CRM is sales force automation (SFA).

CRM and sales force automation

While both systems operate on leads, contacts and companies, CRM works in a very different context. The SFA user sees leads as important only in the short term, as the successful sales rep will be working on deals (Opportunities) and talking with Contacts (leads that have been fully qualified and promoted/converted).

CRM systems support the following sales processes: Lead qualification, early sales cycle management (including demos and call scheduling), Forecasting and pipeline management, Quote generation and order configuration, Order confirmation and fulfillment, Contract establishment and negotiation and termination, Ongoing account management, Renewals and repeat orders, communication co-ordination.

Of course, CRM systems such as Salesforce.com may extend into the arenas of ecommerce, customer service, call centres, finance and other areas of the customer relationship or indeed vertical industries. But there is very little overlap between CRM and marketing automation features.

CRM and MA are different beasts

Beyond these technical differences is the user: it is rare for sales team members to even have login privileges to the marketing automation system. It is also rare for the marketing team to be real users of the CRM system, and they almost never enter data there.

Whilst the output of the marketing automation system should be an input to the CRM system, there is rarely a 1:1 relationship between customer & prospect data held in the two systems. Even the leads that have not survived qualification or have simply lost interest should be hidden from the sales team – they’re just clutter and an unpleasant reminder about someone who wasted their time.

And yet, they’re better together.

The situation at many organisations considering CRM and MA can be chaotic. I know of one technology company that had 84 different marketing systems along with dozens of CRM instances. So the idea that CRM is going to take over the territory of marketing automation is a reach – particularly for those companies that are growing at pace or want to move fast. For them, the key success factor is integration and database synchronisation among their CRM and MA systems – and that’s what RMS can do for you.

If you co-ordinate systems, get a common terminology and a SLA between teams, then consider putting CRM and MA in at the same time.  To delay one thing of goodness because another needs fixing is just plain bad management, and if you push MA out because CRM isnt fixed, then you’re missing the opportunity to get an edge on your competitor.

Bottom line:

Don’t delay putting in MA because you’re putting CRM in first. At very least, do both at the same time. Your customers, employees and shareholders will thank you for it.

The final word.

It was the egg. 

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