CRM and Marketing Automation Make Up a Killer—and Necessary—Combination

Milk and cookies. Lennon and McCartney. Jordan and Pippen. The greatest duos always consist of a yin and a yang—two different but complementary halves that together represent a unifying whole.

And so it is with marketing automation and CRM, two technologies that came of age at different times and were targeted to different constituencies (CRM for sales, and marketing automation for, well, marketing), but which together form a dynamic duo.

While CRM systems and marketing automation each offer important capabilities, integrating the two technologies gives B2B companies a powerful end-to-end marketing engine covering all aspects of the customer journey. More and more organizations are adopting this approach and enjoying dramatic impact on business results.

Among midsize companies (defined as fewer than 250 employees and up to $100 million revenue) surveyed by Beagle Research in 2013, 56 percent were using marketing automation in conjunction with CRM. The number is likely higher today. And among organizations that use both marketing automation and CRM as part of an integrated technology stack, 77 percent met or beat their revenue goals, according to a 2016 survey by Act-On and Ascend2.

Introduced in the 1990s, CRM technology was a game changer, consolidating a wealth of customer information from different channels—email, phone calls, the company website, and, later, social media—into a single database. This made it easier and more efficient for businesses to track and analyze interactions with customers to improve relationships and drive sales growth.

As the ’90s came to an end, Salesforce introduced a software-as-a-service model, opening the door for small to midsize businesses to adopt CRM. Initially ignored by larger companies, Salesforce grew to rival established vendors like Siebel Systems and saw wide adoption.

CRM was once considered the be-all, end-all of managing customer relationships. But CRM alone is a woefully incomplete solution for today’s needs, as both the nature of the B2B buyer and the buying process have changed drastically.

Most B2B buyers have moved online to explore products, research companies and their competitors, and read peer reviews. And the average B2B decision-making group now includes 5.4 buyers, according to research by CEB, including executives, line-of-business managers, technical leaders, procurement team members, and other stakeholders.

The bottom line is that prospects now spend most of their journey in the care of the marketing team, usually well before sales is even aware of them.

For all their many strengths, CRM systems don’t provide the end-to-end visibility and control that have become essential for acting on customer data and their electronic “body language” (email clicks, website visits, content downloads, and so on) in an automated and intelligent way, across the entire customer life cycle.

When integrated with the sales and service infrastructure, marketing automation software not only can ingest customer data at all stages but can allow businesses to manage and trigger at-the-right-time communications based on life cycle stage or customer behavior.

This is where marketing automation has become so valuable—enabling brands to build and nurture relationships at every stage of the customer journey rather than simply acting as a static database and automating sales processes. By integrating marketing automation and CRM, companies can better align their sales and marketing functions and address both one-to-one and one-to-many customer relationships in a holistic way.

Examples of what an integrated marketing automation–CRM stack allows marketing to do include tracking data digital footprints such as website visits in real time to anticipate buyer behaviors; automating outreach and prescribing whom to engage with, when, and with what personalized content; scoring leads based on specific activities, profiles, and special events; and automatically managing, recycling and reassigning sales leads based on specific behaviors, resulting in less waste of valuable leads.

And on the sales side, unifying these technologies enables reps to be an equal partner in defining lead qualification and lead-handoff timing; understand, prioritize, and interact with only the hot prospects; have the intelligence about a prospect’s interests and activities that supports informed conversations targeted to demonstrated wants and needs; and collaborate on the amount, type, and timing of content to prospects, resulting in a higher confidence level in leads.

Though marketing automation has largely upstaged CRM in recent years, integrating the two technologies gives businesses a powerful platform for tackling modern marketing challenges. It’s the enterprise version of “two heads are better than one,” and that’s a very good thing.

Linda West is a senior director at Act-On Software, a marketing automation provider.

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