Marketing wears many hats. One of them is working the frontline and facing people who have never had anything to do with a particular business or brand.
A marketing department has the important task of supplying the sales department with leads and like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, marketing is sometimes required to generate prospects and customers from unexpected places.
But when is a lead ready to be turned over to sales?
In ecommerce, it might be when somebody simply lands on a page after clicking an ad or a search result, or after someone answers a CTA, or when a visitor browses some products or abandons a cart at checkout.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Leads pumped into the sales funnel too quickly might not be ready or qualified, thus wasting a lot of time for the sales team, while turning over leads too late runs the risk of incurring higher drop-out rates.
Today’s digital economy is thankfully more sophisticated than old-school tactics of playing ‘pipeline hot potato’ with potential future customers. Thanks to CRM software, marketing and sales work together much more smoothly to attract visitors, nurture leads and close deals.
The kernel of CRM systems may have been with sales, but its overflowing utility has popped well into project management and marketing and customer service teams. This is not your typical expansionary business practice. CRM is built around the principle that inter-departmental overlap is a good thing.
But each department—sales, marketing, and customer service—still has its own specific tasks, and marketing’s unique “frontline” challenges may be ones to which other departments are least capable of lending a hand.
Luckily, there’s marketing-driven customer relationship management.
What is marketing CRM?
Any good customer relationship management platform is built on the principle of better business through overlapping communication and centralization of tasks and data. In that spirit, a marketing CRM helps out by merging marketing functions with data from sales and other parts of your business. It’s all about having all the information and tools you need to run marketing campaigns more effectively, obtain more leads, and close more deals.
This kind of CRM gives marketing teams the potential to individualize marketing, achieving the kind of ‘small-town familiarity’ with customers that will keep them coming back. Marketing efforts become more effective, with less work.
Generally, marketing solutions come in the form of SaaS cloud-based apps, although on-premise solutions are also available. That means you can access your information on multiple devices with just a quick log-in or a quick browser extension download. Mobile apps come with the vast majority of marketing CRMs, letting you do your work in the field too.
This type of CRM solution provides an array of marketing tools like marketing campaign management and marketing automation across channels, statistics on opened/unopened mail status and click-through rate, and A/B testing to find the best strategy for your landing pages.
Essential features & benefits of marketing CRM
Landing pages are arrival touchpoints after clicking an ad or a search result. They’re often different from homepages, as landing pages are more specifically related to what was searched for, or what ad attracted that click.
It might change based on the temporal or geographical coordinates. For example, if you own an online clothing store for women, your landing page may show swimwear to American customers in July and to Australian customers in January.
Marketing CRM tools help build and design landing pages using no-brainer visual editors and customizable templates. Otherwise, back-end coding and front-end design can be slow and costly when one needs to constantly whip up new pages on the fly.
Ads and SEO
Often, Marketing CRM also includes templates to create ads, mostly on social network sites like Facebook and Instagram where they’re non-obtrusively inserted into people’s timelines. Because no one likes pop-up ads, not even the person who created them.
Marketing CRM sometimes features spontaneous SEO suggestions when composing texts, which is required for ads and landing pages which need to include hot SEO language to come up on top for related searches.
For example, maybe you’re writing a page to promote your line of plastic handbags. While you write “plastic,” your marketing CRM might suggest the word “PVC,” which was based on algorithmically-accrued data from recent online fashion trends.
Segmenting and emails
People who land on a page, or even fill out a form, may not be strong enough leads to be passed down to sales just yet. However, light leads still need to be nurtured.
Marketing CRM segments these leads into different categories, for example: based on how much time they spent on the site, what links they clicked, or how much personal info they shared on a form.
Based on segments, CRM helps marketers prepare different campaigns so their brand stays “top-of-mind” until the lead is ready to become active. This usually takes the form of email reminders.
Like with pages and ads, composing and designing email campaigns is quick and easy with marketing CRM. “Drip” features allow a scheduled series of emails to arrive incrementally over a certain time period. Single blast emails are useful for announcing big news like new products or promotions.
Just as people behave differently on a landing page, so too will they react differently to marketing emails. Marketing CRM tracks this behavior by noting opened mail and counting click-throughs, which in turn creates an even more detailed picture of each lead.
Regular testing of the efficacy of landing pages and emails is a sharp tool in the marketing CRM kit. Features like A/B testing reveal what gets higher engagement, and this data is regularly fed back into the planning and composing of the next round of marketing content.
Marketing craves data. All that testing and tracking means there’s gushing wells of the stuff, which makes for invaluable analytics reports.
Workflows and automation
Finally, there are automated workflows. These are tasks which are triggered by events that marketing CRM lets you set up.
Say, you create a trigger when someone has visited your site without answering the CTA. A pre-composed email gets auto-sent to the visitor as a reminder, maybe even offering an added incentive, to come back. Or if someone drops out near the end of a purchase, a sad picture of their abandoned item can instantly pop up in a live chat, or appear in their inbox.
9 best marketing CRM softwares
Marketing CRM with real-time business metrics designed to turn leads into sales. Act! integrates sales activities and marketing efforts to deliver the right leads to the right sales agent and tracks important KPIs across all business processes. Offers email marketing and a range of high-production-value email templates.
Integrates with Outlook, Slack, QuickBooks Online and a range of other business apps.
Customer service response times can be pretty slow, and you may be waiting a lot during phone calls. The quality of technical support you will receive also varies quite a bit from agent to agent.
- Starter plan is $25 per user/per month, billed annually.
- Professional plan is $50 per user/per month, billed annually.
- Premier plan is $90 per user/per month, billed annually.
- Ultimate plan is $200 per user/per month, billed annually.
A 14-day free trial is available for all plans.
Intercom is a messaging platform for all things customer: generating leads, tracking customer interactions, customer engagement, and customer support. Their focus is on account-based marketing for all stages of the sales funnel, including customer onboarding, activation, and trial conversions.
The platform allows you to identify when target accounts appear on your website and lead them to your sales team right away. Track key performance metrics to get your messaging right and see the median time it takes to close deals.
Intercom integrates with Pipedrive, Salesforce, and many more CRMs and digital tools to make the most of your customer data and further integrate marketing activities with the sales process.
There’s in-app reporting, but you can’t export reports. Customer support is knowledgable, but response and resolution can take awhile.
- Essential plan starts at $87 per month (includes 2 users, additional seats are $19 per user/per month), billed monthly.
- Pro plan starts at $153 per month (includes 2 users, additional seats are $39 per user/per month), billed monthly
- Premium plan is priced in consultation with Intercom.
A 14-day free trial is available for all plans. Early-stage startups can apply to receive all Intercom products for only $49 per month. Essential and Pro plans incur additional costs for adding more than 200 ‘active people’ (i.e. leads and customers who have received, sent a message, or logged into your product in the last 90 days).
HubSpot was at the ground floor of the inbound marketing movement (it’s also a free CRM)—that is, attracting people to your brand with great content, rather than pushing products onto people to get their cash. Their inbound marketing software is well-developed, encompassing landing pages, email, social media, analytics, marketing automation, lead management, and more.
Marketing via blogs is also a big thing with HubSpot, as it’s one of the main forms of original content that brings in leads. The vendor offers helpful tools for publishing conversion-optimized and search-optimized content with a consistent style.
Like many other marketing CRM options, HubSpot has codeless page and email builders with A/B testing modules and spontaneous SEO suggestions. You can get the basic platform absolutely free, or pay for up to four times as many features.
HubSpot does not offer very many customization options. Its focus on marketing automation and contact records might be limiting if you’re seeking deeper relationship-based marketing.
- HubSpot CRM is free, and the number of users is unlimited.
- Marketing Hub add-on package is $50 per user/per month, billed monthly.
- HubSpot CMS starts at $300 per month, billed monthly.
- All-inclusive Starter Growth Suite starts at $113 per user/per month, billed monthly.
Zendesk acquired the technical marketing tool Outbound.io in 2017, which is when it rebranded as Zendesk Connect. Zendesk Connect slots into the broader Zendesk product universe, which is geared firmly towards building relationships and customer satisfaction.
Zendesk Connect offers targeted marketing with personalized notifications, based on tracking of user preferences and behavior over time. Segment customers, trigger campaigns in-app and boost engagement and activation of your product/service add-ons.
Zendesk grew its brand with excellent customer support, not marketing. This is apparent in the way Zendesk Connect has been retooled from its marketing-centric Outbound.io origins towards scaling and designing customer engagement (and support). In other words, if you’re trying to do serious traditional marketing campaigns, you may find it limited.
- 2,000 monthly messaged users is $153 per company/per month, billed annually.
- 50,000 monthly messaged users is $918 per company/per month, billed annually.
- 500,000 monthly messaged users is $3,094 per company/per month, billed annually.
Pricing is on a sliding scale according to a number of monthly messaged users.
Creatio (formerly BPM’Online Marketing)
Like other software reviewed here, Creatio does more than marketing, yet its central mission is still to acquire, prepare and qualify leads in the marketing stage of the customer experience before passing them to sales.
Creatio helps plan and execute marketing campaigns with a simple visual designer tool. On top of these campaigns, you can set up triggers for contacts who take a certain action, like answering a CTA. There’s also real-time monitoring and analyzing the efficacy of each campaign.
Similarly to the marketing campaigns, their email marketing benefits from a built-in visual WYSIWYG (that’s “what you see is what you get”) bulk mail creator, which also comes loaded with ready-to-use templates. Creatio also offers A/B split testing and click-stat tools for gauging the most successful emails, and all that data feeds into their larger analytics.
UI is somewhat cluttered and could use a facelift. Customization of the platform can be very time-consuming, and there is a moderate learning curve. The pricing structure definitely favors enterprise-level clients.
- Pricing is on a sliding scale according to the number of users and the number of active contacts. The cheapest annual subscription costs $2,822 per user/per year (limited to 10,000 active contacts).
Keap (previously Infusionsoft)
Keap offers a full-fledged CRM with email marketing, marketing automation, small business digital marketing, contact management, and sales pipeline. It’s targeted mainly at small businesses, self-employed professionals, and e-commerce operations.
This CRM offers a marketing campaign builder that lets you build trigger-based email sequences and makes it easy to build a leads database and aggregate contact info from other CRMs, business cards, spreadsheets, and custom forms on your website.
Keap comes with a lot of features, many of which you may not end up using, and there is a limited number of integrations. Relatively high price-point (and big price jump between Grow and Pro plans) may make it unaffordable for some small organizations.
- Grow plan is $49 per user/per month, billed monthly.
- Pro plan is $149 per user/per month, billed monthly.
- Infusionsoft plan is $199 per user/per month, billed monthly.
A free trial is available for the Grow and Pro plans.
Complete CRM solution with sales force automation and marketing tools. Build and access customer conversation histories for the right communication at the right time, use lead form integration to turn website visitors into contacts with names/email and other contact info, and segment leads and customers in sophisticated ways (including industry, lifetime value, and location).
You can also automate email lead nurturing to reduce time spent organizing emailing lists and sending follow-ups. The platform integrates with Mailchimp for better email drip campaigns, and sales automation and engagement platform, Reply for capturing more leads.
Importing data can produce duplicate leads, so data can become messy if you don’t spot duplicates right away. Integrations are limited in number, and automation features are not super advanced.
- Starter plan is $19 per user/per month billed annually, and $22 per user/per month billed monthly.
- Pro plan is $35 per user/per month billed annually, and $39 per user/per month billed monthly.
A 14-day free trial (with full, Pro-level features) is available.
Insightly is a full-fledged marketing and sales CRM with G Suite and Microsoft Office 365 integration. Total contact management streamlines engagement with your customer base and allows both sales people and marketing team members to gain full visibility on leads, customers, and suppliers.
Insightly features Business Intelligence (BI) powered by Microsoft Power BI, which aggregates historical and real-time data and transforms them into observable metrics you can gain insights from. The platform builds BI into its dashboards in a highly visual, easy-to-digest way.
Two-way sync for Google Calendar can be glitchy, with events not displaying properly for other team members. Custom fields for contacts are limited to 25. The CRM’s UI does the job, but it looks a few years behind, which might be a problem for getting your whole team interested in using it.
- Plus is $29 per user/per month, billed annually.
- Professional is $49 per user/per month, billed annually.
- Enterprise is $99 per user/per month, billed annually.
A 14-day free trial is available for the Plus and Professional plans.
As the name suggests, Drip eCRM focuses on two things. First, they specialize in drip marketing, where potential leads get steady reminders about a brand through a scheduled succession of emails. Second, their services are geared towards ecommerce.
Another selling point is that they are highly affordable, and therefore primed to help small and independent businesses. Their automated email modules are deliverable as either drip campaigns or as broadcasts, which are big blast emails to a whole mailing list or segment. Drip also has a dedicated Facebook ad builder.
Drip eCRM might be a bit pricey for small businesses. Also, customer support is sometimes not super responsive.
A free 14-day trial is available, with all features included.
6 third-party automation apps to integrate with your CRMs
Marketing automation, like all automation in CRM land, is meant to free up time and energy.
While many marketing CRMs have plenty of automated features, one can always look for a CRM that integrates with 3rd-party automation apps. Integrating your CRM of choice with marketing automation tools can help build and automate the delivery of emails, texts, and social media ad campaigns.
All-in-one marketing platform well-known for its ability to run effective email marketing campaigns. Collect and organize data, turn audience data and insights into individually targeted messages, and build and optimize campaigns for multiple channels.
Mailchimp offers a stack of automation features, sending emails based on triggers like ‘new sign-ups,’ to wishing a contact a ‘happy birthday,’ to thanking them for making a purchase or reminding them if they abandoned their cart.
Many CRM vendors offer a Mailchimp email integration, allowing you to expand its uses with features from other platforms. Mailchimp itself also now offers CRM features.
A number of users feel Mailchimp should bump up the number of contacts, email sends, and seats allowed at each price tier, as the current model can be a bit restrictive. Different iterations of a file are layered in Content Manager, and you can’t delete specific versions you don’t want anymore.
- Free Starter plan, limited to one user, for small businesses starting out.
- Essentials plan for up to 3 users is $9.99 a month, billed monthly.
- Standard plan for up to 5 users is $14.99 a month, billed monthly.
- Premium plan for unlimited users starts at $299 a month, billed monthly.
Pay As You Go flexible plan available for seasonal senders. If you have over 200,000 contacts, you can reach out to Mailchimp for a custom solution.
Autopilot, a visual-heavy everything-marketing automator that has expansive features like email A/B testing, SMS marketing and ad retargeting for both Facebook and Google.
The company believes effective marketing automation is all about getting to know your customers and making every journey remarkable. Autopilot helps with this process by making the act of mapping out the customer journey “as easy as drawing on a whiteboard.” Its user-friendly interface includes drag-and-drop functionality plus end-to-marketing automation features, campaign management, and ROI reporting.
Autopilot integrates with Salesforce, Pipedrive, HubSpot and countless other useful digital tools like Mailchimp, Gmail, Intercom, and Stripe.
The platform is definitely not super cheap at any pricing tier, which will automatically block many smaller organizations from using it. Integrations are limited, which limits what you can do with data sync.
- Silver plan is $49 per email address/per month billed monthly, $44.10 per month billed monthly with an annual commitment, and $39.20 per month billed annually.
- Gold plan is $149 per email address/per month billed monthly, $134.10 per month billed monthly with an annual commitment, and $119.20 per month billed annually.
- Platinum plan is $224.10 per email address/per month billed monthly with an annual commitment, and $199.20 per month billed annually.
30-day free trial available with ‘full-access’, i.e. Platinum plan features. No credit card required.
Robust tool for understanding web traffic and increasing activations and conversions, with marketing automation included. Offers an intuitive dashboard that allows you to segment and build relationships with specific types of customers for more success.
There’s also automatic time zone detection and user categorization, behavior-based triggers. This is part of a broader focus on identifying visitors in-depth; GoSquared also tracks every page view, and every event to give you a full picture of your site’s performance.
In this way, the platform focuses on the real people behind the page views. Through seeing and connecting with users, you can offer better, more personalized marketing.
The vendor’s pricing structure is somewhat convoluted, and the pricing, in general, is not cheap. The analytics dashboard is more cluttered than it perhaps needs to be.
- Analytics plan for unlimited users is free for 1,000 page views and starts at $29 per month, billed annually for 10,000 page views (sliding scale pricing).
- Suite plan (for general business growth) for unlimited users starts at $79 per month, billed annually.
- Live Chat plan for generating leads/engaging customers is free for 100 profiles (contacts and customers) and starts at $29 per month for 1000 profiles, billed annually.
- Enterprise plan is priced in consultation with vendor.
A 14-day free trial is available for the Suite plan.
Now operating under the Adobe umbrella, the marketing-engagement platform Marketo can now count on their parent’s Experience Cloud’s analytics to further boost its usefulness.
For Marketo, automation begins with lead generation. This includes SEO tools to drive more leads to your site, targeted ads for Google, Facebook and LinkedIn, and the ability to create personalized content based on customer demographics, or for wherever they are in the sales pipeline.
Once leads have been converted into customers, Marketo uses AI to identify which customers are ready to further engage with your brand, thereby increasing cross-selling and up-selling opportunities, plus forging stronger customer ties. Marketo also helps measure the success of marketing campaigns with a tracking module, which ties ROI to campaigns, and allows for quick changes to be implemented based on successes and shortcomings.
Marketo also has apps designed to work specifically in tandem with most popular CRM platforms, like Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics, and even their most ‘basic’ pricing plan includes CRM integration.
Marketo is somewhat expensive, with a very basic email builder. Drag and drop interface is dated and clunky when compared to a lot of contemporary software.
- Spark plan for one organization is $895 per month, billed annually
- Standard plan for one organization is $1,795 per month, billed annually.
- Select plan for one organization is $3,195 per month, billed annually.
Emails are a powerful tool for marketers, but too many can be annoying and ultimately counterproductive. ActiveCampaign’s main email marketing strategy is to focus on sending fewer emails, but ones which are more highly targeted. This avoids annoying the recipients, as well as frees up time for marketers.
While ActiveCampaign does do broadcast “blast” emails, their strength comes from their tools for ‘triggered’ emails, which are sent after a customer action; ‘targeted’ emails, which are sent to specific contact segments; as well as email autoresponders, funnels, and email scheduling. Other marketing features include site tracking, which offers valuable insight into what elements of your site your visitors are engaging with or ignoring.
ActiveCampaign also offers a CRM, which skews mainly towards sales automation (it should be noted the ‘lite’ pricing plan doesn’t include the CRM).
The email editor doesn’t have an Undo button, which definitely seems like an oversight. the UI is definitely a bit dated.
- Lite plan for up to 3 users is $9 per month billed annually, or $15 per month billed monthly.
- Plus plan for up to 25 users is $49 per month billed annually, or $70 per month billed monthly.
- Professional plan for up to 50 users is $129 per month billed annually, or $159 per month billed manually.
- Enterprise plan for unlimited users is $229 per month billed annually, or $279 per month billed monthly.
Customer.io handles all-around messaging automation for marketing: emails, SMS and push notifications. You can segment a contact list based on things like personal attributes (such as age), or events (actions users have taken on your site) so that each segment can receive bespoke notifications.
There are transactional emails to guide customers out the end of the pipeline with automated reminders to send payments and receipts. The platform also includes email A/B testing and drip emailing, while the various success rates of these campaigns are laid out in Customer.io’s conversion tracking and performance reports.
Customer.io integrates with Salesforce for CRM, Zapier, IFTTT, and many more.
Initial setup and a slight learning curve means the implementation of this tool could take some time and may well require help from a developer. Additionally, building automations is a bit complicated.
- Basic plan has a base price of $150 per month, billed monthly.
- Premium plan with customer success manager and deliverability control (plus all basic features) has a base price of $995 per month, billed monthly (there’s a 10% discount if you elect to be billed annually).
The base prices for both plans include up to 12,000 profiles (uniquely identified users interacting with your account). If you go over, you will incur extra charges. You are billed monthly according to the maximum number of profiles associated with your account.
Getting started with Marketing CRM
The best CRM software for marketing will be the one that squares best with your business needs.
Here’s some universal advice for SMBs looking for a marketing CRM—before you settle on a vendor, consider these three factors: pricing (in particular price jumps between different plans as you scale up), ease of use (a bigger learning curve will translate to more time/money spent on training instead of marketing), and what integrations it has (i.e. if it works with tools you already use).