Should your business be expanding, it’s highly likely that you’ve considered some form of automation. Indeed, large client lists and vast email campaigns can only be managed manually for so long. It’s only natural, then, that you’d need some automation on any given process along your sales funnel that’s not creative content creation; lead nurturing, email automation, interaction tracking, you name it. In this regard, the booming business software market, fortunately, offers many options. Among them, the two most notable ones are Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software and automation platforms. Those two, however, despite some feature overlaps, are neither identical nor competing assets. Instead, CRM and automation platforms go hand in hand – and in this article, we’ll explore why that is.
What is CRM?
First and foremost, let us briefly define the two. In doing so, we’ll explore where their features overlap and where they can find grounds for synergy.
By itself, “CRM” refers to the sum of practices a business engages in to cultivate and maintain customer relationships. CRM software, then, is software that seeks to facilitate such practices, by typically offering such core features as:
- A consolidated customer database. This database serves to keep track of interaction records, assign lead status tags, and more.
- Lead management and customer segmentation tools. Such tools make use of the CRM’s database, facilitating easier lead nurturing.
- Automation tools. Such tools will typically focus on workflow automation but may include marketing automation tools as well.
However, it is noteworthy that we say “typically” because CRM features do indeed vary from one solution to the next. Thus, it’s highly advisable that you do your research before choosing a CRM solution.
Then, core features aside, CRM solutions see further classifications depending on their focus. The 3 primary subtypes of CRM, then, are the following:
- Operational. This type primarily focuses on service, sales, and marketing automation. Understandably, this focus overlap is arguably the best example of how CRM and automation platforms go hand in hand.
- Analytical. This type focuses on analytics, as the name implies. Its typical features will include deeper customer segmentation, profitability analysis tools, sales forecasts through predictive modelling, and more.
- Collaborative. Finally, this type focuses on internal collaboration and communication channel management. Thus, it focuses on channel consolidation, document management, and similar features.
Finally, CRM solutions may see different classifications depending on their industry focus. That is, you may find “relocation CRM”, “restaurant CRM”, and so forth. These solutions won’t, in most cases, differ drastically from their non-industry-specific counterparts. Still, they will seek to better cater to specific industries’ needs, through their design, feature selection, or other factors.
What are automation platforms?
Now we may examine automation platforms, so as to begin establishing why CRM and automation platforms go hand in hand.
“Automation platforms” will typically refer to marketing automation platforms specifically. That’s not fully accurate, however, as WalkMe provides a more specific definition, citing its Complete Glossary of Digital Adoption:
“[Automation platforms are t]echnology and software tools that use algorithms to complete business functions without manual human work”. They then define their function as “automat[ing] a slew of corporate processes, including […] repetitive tasks and administrative functions, content management, data analysis, and software training”.
Now, as regards marketing automation specifically, Neil Patel provides another specific definition:
“Marketing automation is the act of using software and technology to create and implement applications to automate repetitive tasks, such as (yes) email marketing, ad campaigns, tracking, and much more”.
It follows, then, that marketing automation platforms are software solutions that specifically facilitate these practices. So, to distinguish the two, automation platforms offer to automate an array of business processes. Marketing automation platforms, effectively being a subset of them, specifically automate marketing-related processes.
Finally, as with CRM solutions, automation platforms’ exact features may vary considerably. Thus, it’s also highly advisable that you thoroughly examine your potential candidates.
Why CRM and automation platforms go hand in hand
Having examined the two, then, we may now begin to explore where they overlap and synergise. As we do, we’ll be using the general automation platform definition above. This will both help highlight more intricate areas of potential synergy, as well as cover marketing automation platforms by default.
#1 Pinpointing your target audience
First and foremost, any marketing effort requires that you deeply know who you’re addressing. Customer insights are fundamental to personalising emails, prioritising outreach, informing your content creation strategies, and so much more.
In this regard, CRM can act as the proverbial fuel for marketing automation platforms to thrive. Specifically, CRM solutions of all types offer some lead management tools, with Analytical CRM excelling at this function. Thus, CRM can provide such insights as:
- Demographics data
- Average lifetime value (ALV)
- Lead status
In turn, marketing automation platforms can use such data for optimal results. Such data can inform keyword research for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), your Pay Per Click (PPC) campaigns’ copy, and more.
#2 Informing email campaigns
A very fitting example of the above lies in email marketing specifically. As a very lucrative form of outbound marketing, email marketing offers a great example of how CRM and automation platforms go hand in hand.
Initially, with the above data in hand, you may personalise such aspects of outgoing emails as:
- Copy and design, subject lines, etc
- Outreach and follow-up timing
- Product recommendations, up-selling and cross-selling initiatives
Then, you may also have your marketing automation platform use your CRM’s past interaction records. Through them, you may identify behavioural patterns, from search to purchase history, to further refine your campaigns. Conversely, you may rely on your Operational CRM’s email automation features instead, and use your automation platform for specific relevant features, such as time management assets.
#3 Streamlining your workflow
Finally, having touched on time management, it is crucial to remember that automation platforms handle more tasks than marketing alone. Consider such examples of business processes as:
- Project data entry
- Employee analytics and reporting
- Social media management
These processes take up considerable time and can needlessly strain one’s workflow. Since they don’t require creative human oversight, however, they lend themselves perfectly to automation.
In this sense of workflow decongestion, then, CRM solutions will also provide such features, albeit not universally so. To align such features with the above examples, consider automatic data entry, automated reporting, and social media channel consolidation, respectively. In doing so, in tandem with third-party integration options, the two can synergise effectively toward a streamlined workflow.
In closing, it should now be clear how CRM and automation platforms go hand in hand. The synergy goes beyond a simple feature overlap and extends to a symbiotic relationship where one can fuel the other. Operational CRM may take up part of your marketing automation; Analytical CRM can fuel your marketing automation platform; Collaborative CRM can synergise with general automation platforms to decongest your workflow. While these are only rudimentary examples, they should hopefully help inform your choices as regards both software types.
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