How Marketing Automation and CRM Systems Play Together

We’re working right now on two projects that include both a marketing automation component and CRM system integration.  During the planning phases of both projects client stakeholders struggled to understand the distinction between marketing automation and CRM; particularly where data lives. 

It’s an understandable point of confusion.  Both systems are used to standardize and automate customer interaction, and to record those activities, along with an associated ‘customer value’ metric.  For every commonality between the two systems there are several distinctions of difference.  Let’s start to break down the differences below.  We’ll start with intended use, or what each system was built to do.

Intended Use

Any organization that’s investigating or working on a marketing automation implementation is likely sophisticated enough that they’re already using a CRM system in support of their sales process.  A common misconception is that it’s best practice to inject all marketing automation data into the CRM.  After all, that’s the system that the sales team is using. 

CRM systems are primarily designed to track leads, accounts, contact, opportunities & person-to-person activities.  CRM systems aren’t equipped to manage the handle the notion of an anonymous visitor or the dozens to hundreds of micro-activities that a marketing automation system tracks.  Consider a typical early stage customer journey…

An anonymous web visitor finds your site after a keyword search or referral.  They browse a few products, watch a product video and sign-up for your newsletter before leaving.  They’ve progressed down the customer journey and have likely earned some persona profile associations based on their activity.  But, we still don’t know who they are, and can’t effectively assign a sales rep to them.  Now, let’s say the visitor comes back and requests a product demo.  Which systems are doing what?  

Marketing Automation

  • Tracking web activity, assigning appropriate scoring
  • Personalizing content
  • Testing content
  • Sending campaign and on-event emails
  • Sending  lead info to CRM


  • Recording a new sales ‘lead’ from the demo request form
  • Assigning demo task to sales rep
  • Recording all future person-to-person activities
  • Recording sales funnel progress, from lead to close


Marketing automation systems and CRM systems typically take a slightly different view of the customer.  See below.

The top third of the graphic below illustrates a fairly typical customer life-cycle stage (customer view).  The chevrons house each customer stage, as they advance from an unaware potential customer to a lifetime customer who actively advocates for the brand.  This view is customer-centric and marketing automation systems tend to employ a customer life-cycle view.  The bottom third illustrates a fairly typical sales funnel.  This is sales rep focused, with a perspective of what the rep needs to do next to close a deal.  There’s a discussion on whether this is the optimal perspective for a sales rep to have, but that’s for another post.  Most CRM systems employ a sales pipeline centric view of customer activity.  

So, the two systems are working towards a common goal, but with different sets of lenses.  Without a well-articulated customer-centric strategy it’s possible for the two systems to behave differently enough that we lose optimization opportunities and actually introduce friction into the customer experience.

Some newer small business services like HubSpot and InfusionSoft merge the marketing automation and CRM functionality within a single system view.  For the enterprise though, you’ll likely be looking at integration of multiple systems - Web Content Management (WCM), Marketing Automation & CRM.  If you connect the customer into the product/service delivery aspect of your business (best practice) you may also be integrating customer portal, help desk tools, live chat, etc. into your customer facing website.  The illustration below depicts a fairly typical customer experience, segmented into 4 common swim lanes.  

Considerations For Sitecore Customers

Sitecore customers have the opportunity to enjoy a unique view of the customer via Sitecore 8’s Experience Database (xDB) and Experience Profile (xFile).  This NoSQL based database enables a single view of your customer’s online and offline activity.  The xDB natively tracks all online activity that runs through Sitecore.  Through configuration, you can also inject external data points from 3rd party systems like CRM, POS, help desk systems.  As Sitecore 8 upgrades become more common place, expect discussion on the extension of the xFile to increase.  As customers start to understand what’s possible with the xDB and xFile view we’ll start to see a tighter integration with all systems that touch the customer.