I spoke at a breakfast roundtable in late June -- hosted by Silverpop partner AcquireB2B -- that was presented for senior marketing and sales executives from B2B companies throughout the Boston/128 area. Those in the room were not early adopters of marketing automation technology, but they were all savvy leaders that realize their demand generation environment is changing and that their approaches must subsequently evolve.
These executives struck me as 'down-to-basics' types of business people. Their questions were very frank and straightforward. They wanted to be able to break everything into simple concepts and to relate the impact to their businesses. I should not have been surprised to get the simple request: "Can you explain the difference between CRM and marketing automation?"
Sure. Good question.
As I started to dig into the details with them, answering their questions, it became clear that there was significant interest in this issue. These sales and marketing executives needed the scoop. They wanted me to give the quick, high-level strategic case on one hand, and then they also wanted the down-and-dirty tactical details on the other hand.
It reminded me that it's important to periodically revisit this topic -- to make sure the distinctions are clear and to help educate the next generation of marketing automation adopters.
CRM and marketing automation have purposes and capabilities that are related and complementary but very different, and these differences are salient to what we're trying to accomplish with B2B demand generation. Several CRM vendors in recent years have suggested that their platforms are capable of a range of marketing automation functions, yet this is a gross overstatement of these capabilities. Similarly, I'd be wary of the perspective of adopting marketing automation for B2B demand generation purposes without syncing it to a CRM platform.
The two are integral. You need both, but you need to understand what each one does for you, and what it doesn't do.
So here's a look at CRM versus marketing automation -- focusing first at a strategic level and then digging into core features and capabilities.
A First Look
A surface-level comparison of the two platforms highlights some likenesses and differences; yet it does not necessarily clarify each platform's goals. For example:
- From an overall business perspective, CRM is more focused on aggregating knowledge about existing customer accounts and managing new-customer pipelines; whereas, marketing automation is more focused on orchestrating one-to-one communication with early-stage prospects and on scoring/routing new prospects to mange subsequent marketing and sales actions.
- From the perspective of sales/marketing roles, CRM is focused more on new sales, account management and service, and it is the system your sales team is most likely to spend their time in; meanwhile, marketing automation is focused almost exclusively on the marketing team and on the front end of demand generation.
- From a technical perspective, CRM is more of a database, but it does enable some minor execution of communication activities and certainly has basic rules processing to automate account management functions; meanwhile, marketing automation is much more of an execution platform -- with robust rules processing and enterprise-grade email/digital-communication sending capabilities -- yet it also does help store and track critical marketing data, particularly prospects' organic Web behaviors, as well as actions with content offers and downloads in response to nurturing emails.
Analyst and consultant David Raab, who also is author of the Raab Guide to Demand Generation Systems, has put together a conceptual chart that helps to rationalize the 'big picture' role of CRM versus marketing automation. (See graphic below; used with permission.) I like this graphic, although I believe B2B marketing automation can play a larger role in holistic demand generation -- i.e., a role that goes beyond initial customer acquisition and extends into nurturing throughout the entire customer lifecycle, so I think this is a limitation of Raab's model. But to be fair to