A common question I hear from marketers is “I already have a CRM system (e.g. salesforce.com, Microsoft Dynamics CRM), so why do I need marketing automation”?

On the face of it, this is not a surprising question. Many CRM systems have a module for marketing. Salesforce recently rebranded their social marketing application as the Marketing Cloud, and their website says you can use their solutions to “optimize campaigns from lead to close, on every channel”. Similarly, Microsoft Dynamics CRM’s website claims “familiar and intelligent marketing capabilities” that help you “market more effectively, improve productivity, and gain actionable insight into your marketing efforts”.

Given this positioning, it’s no wonder that marketers often think they may not need anything else to run their modern marketing departments.


If you dig into the design and capabilities, you’ll find that while CRM systems provide indispensable value to any kind of sales organization, the reality is that they fall short for most marketing departments. CRM systems are designed and optimized for a very different purpose, which is what creates the whitespace for marketing automation vendors (like Marketo).

Here’s a very high-level summary of how the two systems differ from a strategic and architectural standpoint.

CRM Marketing Automation
Business Goal Track opportunities and pipeline, manage contact and account information Develop customer relationships, automate marketing programs, measure marketing ROI
Departmental Focus Primarily sales and sales management, some marketing Primarily marketing and marketing management, some sales
Communication Style Individual communications (sales rep to buyer) Communications to groups and segments (may be personalized and triggered 1:1)
Architecture Database-oriented, transactional queries Workflow-oriented, highly detailed behavioral data, analytical queries
Pricing Number of user seats Number of contacts


Now, let’s take a comprehensive look into the specific capabilities of a marketing automation system compared to CRM alone.

Common features of a CRM system

Thanks to Jep Castelein and his LeadSloth blog for helping with this list. (Note: Although he was an independent consultant when he wrote that post, Jep is now the Director of Expert Services at Marketo.)

CRM Marketing Automation
Account Management Yes Read-only
Opportunity Management Yes Read-only
Sales Forecasting Yes No
Sales Process / Methodology Yes No
Call Logging Yes Read-only
Quotes Yes No
Contracts Yes No
Document Library Yes Sometimes
Channel Management Yes Sometimes
Case Management Yes No
Analytics and Dashboards Yes Yes
Collaboration Yes Sometimes

Now, let’s compare that to the common features of marketing automation systems.

Features of marketing automation systems

My hope is that this mega-list will provide clarity into exactly what you get when you buy marketing automation, as well as some insight into how capabilities vary across systems.

A note on how to read these tables:

  • Common = Most solutions have this capability.
  • Variance = Most solutions have some form of this capability, but the scope and depth of the feature varies greatly across vendors, so check to make sure your vendor has what you need.
  • Sometimes= Only some solutions have this capability.
  • Custom = The solution can at least partly support this capability with custom work.
  • No = Solutions in this category do not have this capability.

I’ll also point out that I work for (and am the co-founder of) a marketing automation vendor (Marketo), so I am sure that despite my efforts to remain neutral, there are sure to be some biases in this list. Use this information accordingly.

Email and Online Marketing

Email marketing is often the most important online marketing channel. Most CRM systems provide basic functionality, but most marketers will quickly realize they need more. Marketing automation systems can usually replace an email service provider (ESP), though the depth of email functionality does vary across vendors. However, as we’ll see below, marketing automation is also much more powerful than just email.

CRM Marketing Automation
Batch Email MarketingEmail marketing is the ability to create WYSIWYG emails and newsletters with easy to use design tools; send emails to groups of customers and prospects; and track and report on deliveries, opens, and clicks so you get a complete view of email performance. Sometimes (volume limits) Common
Email Deliverability and Reputation ManagementSimply sending email cannot impact revenue if the emails do not make it to the recipients’ inboxes. Since marketing automation typically replaces a stand-alone email service provider (ESP), your vendor should provide functionality and services to ensure inbox delivery. This can include opt-in management, bounce handling, unsubscribe processing, and suppression lists, as well as higher-end services such as dedicated IP addresses and capabilities like email preview, spam checking, link validation, and delivery monitoring. No Variance
Triggered Email (Real-Time)Triggered email is the ability to listen for specific customer behaviors and events and respond with an appropriate real-time email. For example, when a prospect clicks on a specific link, a sales rep logs a call, or a lead score goes above a certain threshold, you can automatically send the right message at the right time. Personalized, 1:1 emails based on real-time behavioral data can increase open rates by 50% and conversion rates by 350% (Jupiter Research). Custom Variance
Landing PagesThe landing page is an essential part of many marketing campaigns. By directing clicks to a landing page customized for a specific email rather than a generic home page, marketers can significantly improve their conversion rates. That’s why many marketing automation systems include the ability to build WYSIWYG pages with a graphical interface, without help from IT of the Web department. Custom Common
FormsRegistration forms can be placed on landing pages, microsites, and the corporate website. When a prospect or customer fills out the form, the activity is captured and the lead is added to the database (if it is new). Some systems have “progressive profiling”, which are smart forms that recognize known visitors and ask different questions to build out the profile over time. Also, some systems allow for “social sign-on”, letting users register on landing pages using their social network credentials. Sometimes Common
TestingAn effective split-testing strategy lets you learn what works, maximize response rates, and can raise your conversions by 48% or more (MarketingSherpa). You can test emails (subject lines, copy, graphics, calls to action, frequency, timing, etc.) as well as landing pages, forms, and so on. No Sometimes
Dynamic ContentCustomize emails and landing pages for specific segments. Text, images, and calls to action can be customized based on criteria, including location, industry, job title, and much more. For example, current active opportunities can receive different messages from early-stage prospects. No Sometimes
Mobile OptimizedAs mobile devices become increasingly popular in business, the marketing system can support mobile-optimized emails and landing pages. Sometimes Variance
Sales EmailsThis is the ability to personalize “from addresses” and signatures on behalf of individual sales reps, so that automated emails appear to come from the specific sales owner. Sometimes Sometimes

Lead Management

The bread and butter of marketing automation, most vendors provide at least some level of lead management functionality – while CRM systems typically do not and/or require significant customization.

CRM Marketing Automation
Marketing Lead DatabaseA marketing lead database is the system of record for your most important marketing asset: your leads and contacts. A marketing lead database goes beyond the data in your CRM system to include a rich view of all marketing interactions between each prospect and your company, including website visits, email clicks, scoring changes, data updates/history, and so on. N/A Common
SegmentationThe ability to precisely micro-segment your database and target the exact right list of leads and contacts is essential to the success of all marketing activities. These filters should include a combination of demographic and firmographic attributes (title, company size, location) as well as behavioral filters and CRM information. Sample lists can include high-score leads in a particular region who visited your website in the last seven days; or contacts in active opportunities who registered for an upcoming webinar; or prospects who received an email offer and did not click through but visited your website anyways. Variance (generally very limited) Variance
Multi-touch Campaigns / Lead NurturingThis is the ability to automate “drip marketing” campaigns that send relevant messages over time, based on prospect behaviors and pre-defined campaign steps. This can include automated email marketing flows, but can also include other channels as well. Often, this capability is used to run lead nurturing workflows designed to maintain and deepen relationships with prospects over time.For more information, see Marketo’s Definitive Guide to Lead Nurturing. No Common
Online Behavior TrackingThis is the ability to track which emails a prospect opens and clicks, what webpages they visit, what keywords they use, even what they say on social networks – all with the goal of understanding who they are, what they are interested in, and where they are in the buying process with your company. No Common
Lead Scoring and GradingWith lead scoring, you automatically qualify leads based on demographics and BANT criteria as well as specific prospect behaviors, including recency and frequency. By tracking each of these factors and assigning appropriate weights to each, you get a comprehensive view of prospect interest and engagement. More advanced capabilities include reducing scores based on inactivity and supporting multiple scoring models that separate demographic fit from behavioral interest, as well as scores for different products, divisions, etc.For more information, see Marketo’s Definitive Guide to Lead Scoring. Custom Variance
Data Quality and AppendDo you have dirty data full of duplicates and missing records? CRM data is often very dirty, which isn’t a problem for salespeople working with one record at a time, but making it hard to use for marketing. Data quality is an essential underpinning to any successful marketing program, consisting of deduplication, cleansing, and appending. Deduplication is the process of recognizing leads and contacts you already have in your database to prevent duplicates before they come in and merging any duplicates that do exist. Cleansing is the process of standardizing data, such as titles and company names, and removing bad data such as contacts that are no longer with the company. Appending means filling in missing or incomplete data, such as adding additional contacts to an account or filling in missing fields such as phone number or industry. No (except Data.com) Variance
Automated Sales Alerts and TasksThis is the ability to create tasks automatically and provide real-time sales alerts over email, RSS or mobile device. It can be important to ensure Sales receives and acts on lead information in a timely fashion. Custom Common
CRM Integration (Data Sync)Marketing automation systems have varying levels of integration to CRM systems. Some systems require manual mapping of fields; others do it automatically and maintain the connection over time. Some sync information in near real-time; others less frequently. Some systems provide access primarily to lead and contact information; others give access to opportunity and custom objects as well. This is a particularly complex area with high variance among solutions, so it’s worth taking the time to understand your needs and your vendor’s capabilities. N/A Variance
Lead Lifecycle WorkflowsThis takes marketing automation beyond email and web marketing, extending the workflow engine to integrate with the CRM system to create complete lead management workflows. It includes automated data field updates (e.g. update lead status based on changes to the lead score); automated list management; and lead routing / territory assignment rules. It also lets you ensure Sales follow-up by creating tasks directly in the CRM system, reassigning leads if they don’t follow-up, and converting hot leads to opportunities. And it supports lead recycling processes, where sales leads are passed back to marketing for further nurturing. Custom Variance
Sales IntelligenceProviding sales with easy access to the key interesting moments and prospect behaviors, so they can focus on the hottest leads and opportunities and know what the prospect wants to talk about. Some solutions provide drill-in capability to the sales rep can see which emails are being opened and clicked, which web pages the prospect has visited, and how the lead score has changed over time. Custom Variance
Sales CampaignsSome solutions allow Marketing to create campaigns that Sales can add prospects into and allow Sales to run targeted campaigns of their own. Custom Sometimes
Revenue Cycle ModelingThis is the ability to define the stages for how leads flow through the revenue cycle, automate the rules for how leads move from stage to stage, and to provide an easy to understand framework for the sales and marketing process. It provides the foundation for establishing clear rules governing how leads transition from one stage to the next and assigning Service Level Agreements for lead response and disposition. No Sometimes

A note about “custom” capabilities: It’s true that many CRM systems can be customized to handle things like automated campaign flows and deduplication. But it’s hard. Mac McIntosh writes that “When it comes to Marketing Automation capabilities, using CRM is like building a car from a kit. All the parts are there, but you need the time and skill to put it all together. Using Marketing Automation is like buying the car you want or need, with all the features you want already installed and some gas in the tank, ready to drive. In either case, you still need to know how to drive and where you want to go.”

Marketing Programs / Lead Generation

CRM systems provide very basic campaign and program tracking. Surprisingly, many marketing automation systems do not provide deep functionality in this area either.

CRM Marketing Automation
Program ManagementManage marketing campaigns and programs across multiple channels, including online ads, video campaigns, mobile, virtual events, and social media. Create and optimize program assets such as landing pages, emails, campaigns, and lists. Track program objectives, results, and costs to assess the program ROI. Variance Common
Event Marketing including WebinarsFrom attracting attendees to registration administration to post-event follow up, the event management lifecycle can be laborious. Event marketing capabilities streamline the entire event process, including personalized invitations, registration, reminders, and post-event follow-up. They can also provide analytics, so you know how many people have registered, how many attended, and so-on. For online events, some marketing automation systems integrate with tools like Cisco WebEx®, Adobe Connect, Citrix GoToWebinar, ON24, and Readytalk to streamline the process further. Limited Variance
CloneEach marketing programs contains multiple emails, landing pages, campaigns, and lists – while at the same time, many programs are similar in structure. The ability to clone an existing program can save significant time and resources, especially if the system makes it easy to edit all the program parameters in one place and automatically update all the underlying assets (e.g. emails). No Sometimes
Program Import / ExportSome systems provide access to a shared library of pre-built verified programs and the ability to exchange marketing programs with other users. This means you can take advantage of their best practices to jump-start your implementation and see results faster and with less. No Sometimes

Social Marketing

Marketing automation vendors have been adding social functionality for the last few years, but each vendor offers a different set of functionality – take the time to understand what your vendor provides. Typically, CRM vendors do not provide social functionality, though salesforce.com has made a big push in this area with the Marketing Cloud. Note: For much more on all aspects of social marketing, see the Definitive Guide to Social Marketing.

CRM Marketing Automation
Social Listening and TrackingMonitor what leads and contacts say on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, blogs, and online communities, and use those social insights to segment prospects, trigger campaigns, change lead scores, and so on. No (except Salesforce Marketing Cloud) Sometimes
Social Sharing and CampaignsAdd intelligent share buttons to your campaigns and content so your audience can amplify your message to drive broader reach – and then track who is sharing your content and driving conversions so you know who is socially influential. Most tools let you customize the default share message and image for each share; some tools provide event-triggered capabilities to prompt the share at the right time. No (except Salesforce Marketing Cloud) Sometimes
Social CampaignsSchedule automated posts to one or more social accounts; use or integrate with URL shortening services; and measure likes, comments, replies, retweets, etc. No (except Salesforce Marketing Cloud) Sometimes
Social ProfilesIncorporate social profile data to enhance segmentation and scoring, including name, location, and description – as well as a history of social sharing activity. No (except Salesforce Marketing Cloud) Sometimes
Social Engagement and PromotionSocial applications such as polls, sweepstakes, and referral programs can enhance audience engagement and encourage people to amplify your message. Some tools let you easily create and include social content like this on your website, landing pages, Facebook pages, and emails, and use it to tap into the social networks of your customers and prospects. No (except Salesforce Marketing Cloud) Sometimes
Social AnalyticsBy adding tracking to the social sharing and applications, you can get insight into who shares your content, your social conversion rates, how much “social lift” you are getting from your campaigns, and the impact of social on your bottom line. No (except Salesforce Marketing Cloud) Sometimes


Reporting and analytics are where the art of marketing meets the science of marketing. It gives you the ability to prove the impact of your marketing efforts. All CRM systems and marketing automation vendors provide some level of marketing measurement and analytics, but the depth of functionality – especially in terms of measuring impact on revenue and ROI – varies greatly, from extremely basic to extremely deep.

CRM Marketing Automation
Web AnalyticsThis capability lets you know why prospects visit your site, which pages they visit, and how often they come back. It uses anonymous company lookup to tell you who visits your site even if they are not in your database (anonymous), and can send a daily alert to sales reps so they know which companies are interested. And when a prospect does register, you have the complete history of their prior web activity as part of their record and lead score as well. No Common
SEO / Keyword AnalyticsMonitor and track how you rank for relevant keywords on major search engines and compare your overall performance to competitors. No Sometimes
Basic ReportingThis is ability to access pre-built and custom reports and dashboards to measure leads by source/campaign/month, email performance, landing page performance, web activity, and so on. Systems vary on the depth of these reports, such as the ability to use custom metrics and queries. Some systems let you create report subscriptions that can automatically send updates to your team and executives. Variance Common
Multi-Touch Revenue AttributionCustomers do not purchase your product because of just one campaign; marketing usually impacts an opportunity multiple times across multiple people. Multi-touch attribution is the ability to allocate credit (pipeline, revenue) among all the marketing activities that have successfully touched an opportunity as it moves through the pipeline. Some systems also provide a visual way to see all the marketing programs and touches that influenced the leads associated with a particular opportunity as it moves through the funnel. No Sometimes
Program ROI AnalyticsThis is the ability to measure and compare revenue performance by channel or program along metrics like revenue, pipeline, investment, ROI, prospects generated, etc. The result is that you can see which marketing investments are generating the greatest return and get visibility into how marketing budget should be allocated going forward. Variance Variance
Revenue Cycle MetricsAnalysis of how leads flow through each stage of the revenue process, from anonymous to customer and beyond, so marketing and sales can adjust business processes to increase pipeline and revenue. Key performance metrics for each stage can include balance, flow, conversion rate and velocity. No Sometimes

Resource Management

Some marketing automation systems include functionality for marketing resource management, helping to coordinate internal processes to increase marketing efficiency.

CRM Marketing Automation
This can cover all aspects of managing marketing investments, including assigning top-down budgets to various groups and divisions, planning marketing spending across programs, tracking open-to-spend, ensuring budget compliance, coordinating workflows and permissions, and reconciling plans with actual invoices.
No Sometimes
Maintaining a marketing calendar across multiple groups can be tedious, as is communicating the calendar and activities to interested groups, such as sales. This functionality is about managing the calendar for the entire marketing department, from promotions to content to PR and so on.
No Sometimes


Larger enterprises and more complex organizations may have needs for additional infrastructure capabilities such as security and integration.

CRM Marketing Automation
User Roles and PermissionsAssign permissions that align with specific pieces of functionality or tasks. Example user roles include a role that gives the ability to create but not approve landing pages or emails, and a role that can create but not activate a campaign. Common Variance
Secure Partitions / WorkspacesThis is the ability to give users access to only specified lead partitions and assets (e.g. campaigns, landing pages, emails, reports). This let you create different organizational views that align with how your organization is structured, so different groups can use the system without risk of interfering with each other – while still supporting sharing as appropriate across functions and the demand center. Sometimes Sometimes
SandboxA sandbox is a testing environment that isolates untested changes and outright experimentation from the production environment. This lets the enterprise test out changes to the production system with less risk. Sometimes Sometimes
API / IntegrationsAn application programming interface (API) is a specification that tells other systems how to call into the marketing automation platform to get data or perform an action. Other integrations allow the marketing automation system to trigger actions in other systems. In both cases, it allows the platform to interoperate with the other systems in the enterprise. Sometimes Sometimes
EcosystemAn ecosystem is a complementary set of solutions that amplify the power of the underlying platform. A strong ecosystem can help ensure that your needs will continue to be met even as you require additional capabilities. Common Sometimes


In the end, marketing automation systems focus on the needs of the marketing department in a way that CRM simply cannot, while CRM provides a must-have solution to the sales department (as well as many others). Most importantly, given the advanced integration capabilities of today’s platforms, the two categories of technology are designed to work together in a way that was never possible before. Both systems are necessary, and it’s necessary to understand what each one does for you – and what it doesn’t.