Do I need a separate CRM to my Email Marketing Platform? A Beginners Guide

In my experience as a Digital Marketing consultant, I have often been asked this question. Unfortunately, there is not a simple answer as it will depend on the individual business or organisation as to which system will work best for their situation. Let’s take a deeper dive into modern CRM’s and compare them with the features that can be found in dedicated email marketing platforms so that you, the business owner, can decide what is the best solution for your business. 

What is a CRM?

A CRM is an acronym that stands for Customer Relationship Manager. In short, it is a way to organise and categorise your customers, potential customers and contacts. Most CRM’s also incorporate a system of relationship and task tracking so that tasks can be assigned to individual contacts and an alarm or reminder system is included in the platform to remind the user when it is appropriate to make contact next.

What can CRM’s do?

A good CRM will have premade templates that you can apply to contacts that mimic effective sales processes. This makes it easy to get started and saves time. However, to get the most out of a CRM you will need to customise the CRM platform. An essential feature of a CRM is flexible templates, enabling businesses owners and sales staff to set up systems and customer journey templates unique to their business and customers. 

CRM’s can provide a level of automation. They can be set to send templated emails, timed emails, messages and phone call alerts. CRM automations tend to function best when there is an active individual allocated to contacts to mediate and respond to any automated message.

What sort of businesses use CRM’s?

CRM’s tend to be used by businesses that have a more traditional sales model. Businesses that utilise a phone or face-to-face sales model that is supported by emails or messaging tend to lean towards a CRM for email marketing, especially to more engaged or repeat customers. For those businesses who have an ongoing customer lifecycle, for example, a wholesaler who supplies cleaning products to businesses, then CRM’s are especially important and need to be linked with ordering software for maximum effectiveness.

What is an email marketing platform?

An email marketing platform is a system that sends emails, either one-off or through automations, to contacts that are listed in an inbuilt database. Some email marketing platforms can also send text/SMS messages.

What are the key features of an email marketing platform?

Email marketing platforms will have the capacity to store your list of contacts, differentiate these contacts based on tags or categories, send one-off emails (and/or messages) and send automated emails or a series of emails. These would be the minimum features you would be looking for. You can also expect to see an email marketing platform provide list management features, removuing unsubscribes, bounces and similar non deliverable email contacts. 

A good email marketing system will have flexibility around contact tagging and segmentation so that you can customise this to suit your business. It will also have the ability to create custom automated email sequences, ideally with some inbuilt templates to assist you in getting started with email automations.

What sort of businesses use Email Marketing Platforms?

Email marketing platforms can be used in any business. Some businesses will use an email marketing platform for 99% of their client or customer communications, good examples of this would be e-commerce, retail or online training businesses. These businesses would not need a CRM to manage their customers.

Other businesses will use an email marketing platform for various parts of their customer journey such as pre-sale and post-sale, with the intensive customer nurturing phase being done manually. An example of a business that may favour this approach would be a consultant or service-based business. These businesses would benefit from using both a CRM and an email marketing platform. 

Can I use both a CRM and an Email Marketing Platform?

As mentioned above, the answer here is of course! This is said with a proviso that you are clear with both yourself and your team as to what system sends what emails and when they are sent. The last thing that you want to do is bombard a client with too many emails as they are being sent from multiple systems that are not connected. The inevitable consequence of this is that you lose the customer due to over-communication. 

CRM’s and Email Marketing platforms both have an important place in the web of customer and client communication. It is important to work out what your ideal customer journey looks like and how best to use technology to maximise the number of people who complete that customer journey.  Often less is more in digital marketing and customer communications and having too many systems on the go at once can be overwhelming for small businesses. Whether you choose to use an email marketing platform in isolation or to pair it with a CRM, the critical thing to grow your business is to communicate effectively with your customers. When choosing a platform or system, make sure it can work with your business to help you achieve this.