Marketing Automation and CRM

By DB Hurley · PUBLISHED July 27, 2015 · UPDATED March 13, 2020

If you’re in the marketing sector you’re probably very familiar with the term and concept of marketing automation. You may have even looked at various solutions you could use to try and get started with marketing automation. But many have probably never heard of marketing automation and that’s certainly okay. The best way to think about marketing automation is by starting with something you may be more familiar with; in this case Customer Relationship Management, or CRM software. Most are familiar with the idea of a CRM and managing customers and clients in some CRM system. Of course the most commonly mentioned name in this space is SalesForce but there are others as well which provide similar features. Marketing automation can be thought of like a bridge between your leads and your customers.

Marketing automation saves lives

If you’re using a CRM then you’re well on your way to doing something incredible with marketing automation. You can read a quick tutorial on the topic of marketing automation here where we dive into more details and specifics but for now let’s look at how you can take your customer relations management knowledge and apply marketing automation to your setup to improve your life. Yes, it will improve your life.

Starting with the familiar CRM

For many, the CRM is a catch-all used to collect data and information about all types of individuals. You may have brand-new leads that have filled out a form on your website, existing contacts from an address book you’ve imported at some point in the past, maybe you’ve entered every business card you’ve ever received into your CRM, or finally you add all existing customers to your system. All of these are fairly common ways that businesses use a CRM. But there’s a problem here. When your sales team (or you) go into your CRM to find new business or stay in touch with existing customers…well it’s a mess. Everything is mixed in, and even if you’re one of the studious that create proper lists you’re still left with doing an enormous amount of work. You create your emails and you send them to your lead lists. You enter updated information when you learn something new about your leads or customers, and you spend hours upon hours trying to figure out which of your leads are the ones you need to contact that are actually interested in purchasing something.

All of these task have one very important thing in common; they all take time, lots and lots of time. And for most of us time is the one thing we simply don’t have enough of. This is where the true power of marketing automation comes in. Marketing automation is a process where you can save time by handling a number of repetitive tasks and actions automatically based on lead actions and scheduled events.

A key thing to keep in mind when performing marketing automation is the simple truth that automated marketing can still be personal. Simply because you’re scheduling points of contact (emails, social media messages etc…) does not mean you are no longer making a personal contact. Read more on personalization in marketing automation here.

So how does marketing automation work with a CRM?

Marketing automation starts by tracking every lead, or visitor, to your website, or other online locations (in fact, you can even use marketing automation for in-store tracking but that’s a different post). This tracking happens similar to Google Analytics tracking just the basic information on each lead, what pages they visit and how long they stay for. Easy enough to understand. Marketing automation is the bridge you use to carry your potential leads safely to your CRM. Refining, setting speeds, organizing traffic, until finally each lead has been nurtured along the bridge safely into your CRM and ready to be your customer.

Landing Pages

Next, your marketing automation software should let you create beautiful landing pages where you can collect more information from your leads. Read here for more information about key things to consider when creating a landing page. These landing pages should live on your own domain and in your own website as this keeps the user flow consistent, bring a sense of familiarity and comfort that they have not been sent off to some third-party location. These landing pages typically contain a call-to-action, for example a form you want the visitor to fill out in order to download a specific PDF, or maybe an infographic or slideshow. This is a key piece of the puzzle. You have to provide value to your leads. They are giving up personal information (be that an email address or social media handle), and you must give them something of value in return.

Build Profiles

Once you have collected their information your marketing automation system will compile a comprehensive lead profile on each visitor. This is where things get exciting. Your lead profiles let you quickly see social media messages your visitor has posted, their public profiles, their history of interactions with your site and tons of other useful information.

Drip Marketing Campaign

These known leads can now be added to specific drip marketing campaigns. We won’t go into the details of drip marketing here but you can read this article to learn more about implementing and creating drip marketing campaigns and workflows. Through these campaigns you will send relevant information to your leads and based on their responses take different actions as a result. But of course you don’t have to do this manually for each lead. Your marketing automation has these paths, decisions, and actions all defined ready to be executed either as a result of the lead’s actions or alternatively on a scheduled timeframe you specify (e.g. send this email 3 days after a successful form submission).

Are you starting to see what’s happening? Marketing automation allows you to lead nurture your potential leads along the sales cycle without your direct involvement and time. Not only are you nurturing leads but you are generating new leads. And as these leads complete various actions (either through a campaign you’ve defined or simply through your website) you have the opportunity to assign points or a weight to each thing. Your leads are now being weighted for you based on the criteria you define.

Convert Leads to Sales

The last step in this marketing automation workflow is to convert these leads to customers. As they have accrued points and built their profiles you can define triggers that will fire at various stages. Ultimately this is where your CRM will come back into the picture. When a lead reaches a specific level that you have determined to be your qualified lead level you can have your marketing automation system automatically send this lead into your CRM. And now you see something brilliant. Your CRM has now turned into a hub full of high-quality, ready to contact leads. You know they’re qualified because they have been nurtured along the sales cycle automatically through your marketing automation.

Of course, you can also use marketing automation to stay in touch with existing customers. Keep your products and services in their minds and their inboxes using drip campaigns targeted specifically at those leads who are now existing customers.

Marketing automation can save hundreds of hours for both your sales and your marketing teams. Lead management, lead nurturing, lead generation and customer management has never been easier. You’ll find you have more time to do the things you love and the quality of your personal contacts with leads will improve drastically. Don’t waste your time contacting every unqualified visitor to your website, use marketing automation to save time and improve your business.

Returning to the CRM

Your CRM will still play an important role in your organization, but it will now play the correct role. Don’t use it as a random catch-all for every lead and every cold call. Manage leads in marketing automation, create landing pages to collect more information, use drip marketing to nurture them and give them valuable information, and then, when they are qualified, send them to your CRM. Marketing automation and CRM work hand in hand. Use them both and use them well.


Rob Gurley

Your "marketing automation saves lives" header got me thinking - it's definitely true that marketing automation (when used correctly) optimizes marketing departments, but I think some of the reluctance in large organizations to go towards marketing automation is a desire to AVOID the type of accountability and closed-loop reporting that M.A. entails. For example, if you're working in a marketing department that never used marketing automation, introducing the software platform and the business processes implies a change to the status quo - and there is fear that you'll end up being fired / losing marketing budget as the role of marketing changes along with the new system. I just wrote an article where I found that the average company w/ a marketing automation platform actually INCREASES overall marketing spend because of higher content volume and better ROI reporting - so I think this fear is a bit overblown. Marketing automation helps companies identify areas where they aren't spending their marketing budgets efficiently, and they can reallocate those resources elsewhere.
DB Hurley

Great point Rob! I think you're absolutely right. The fear of lost budgets and more accountability (or fear of the unknown) can be a crippling one and certainly something that restricts forward progress. I'm glad to hear your research has proven otherwise. We're publishing a few more pieces this week on the same topic regarding "fear of the unknown" and the "scariness" of marketing automation. Hope you enjoy them as well when they're released!
Lance Smith

"Marketing automation allows you to lead nurture your potential leads along the sales cycle without your direct involvement and time". - dbhurley. What you've written is increasingly 'not so' in the real world. Why? What you've not mentioned is prospects and leads are usually in multiple sales funnels, not just yours...and they're being nurtured via multiple systems (again, not just yours) - all equally doing a fine job. What do you do when your competitors are nurturing your prospect and lead just as you are? You get directly involved and consume your time. If you doubt that look at the explosive growth of the CRM and how people are abandoning salesforce and running to why? The calling feature. The ability to make phone calls from your CRM is the #1 in-demand feature in a CRM. People want to get directly involved with their time....even at the middle of their sales funnel.
DB Hurley

Thanks for the feedback Lance, I agree that multiple sales funnels are a reality. In fact, as long as there have been marketers there has been competition for sales and for the attention of the prospect; long before marketing automation ever came to be. There are many things I cannot speak to definitively and I am sure there are many trends which demonstrate the increasing importance of a personal and direct involvement. There is one thing often missed though in this line of thinking. Just because you automate your lead nurturing does not mean you cannot still be personal. Marketing automation, when done right, means you are uniquely tailoring your marketing campaigns, your lead nurturing, and the entire experience to the specific needs of each prospect. You must be personalized if you want to succeed; but this does not mean you have to pick up the phone for each prospect immediately. Of course I would never deny there are times when this is important and very useful. Cases like you have mentioned attest to that. I'm glad for your comment because it reminds me; I keep planning to publish more on the topic of personas which I believe helps to address this situation in more detail. I hope this will be a useful resource as well.
Martin Wyler

Hi there I am looking for some who can setup a sophisticated marketing automatisation campaign for me in several languages.