Using a CRM with Marketing Automation: Pick-&-Mix or All-in-One?

Nov 5, 2020

To start this article off, here’s the obligatory big, impactful number:

According to the folks at Salesforce, marketing sees a 25% ROI increase when adopting a CRM with marketing automation.

As I’m sure you’re aware by now, there are literally thousands of choices out there. So how do you know which one to go for? First, before exploring CRM options, ask yourself some basic questions:

  • What problems do I need to solve?
  • What software or services does it need to play nice with?
  • How much can I spend?

Once you know that, you can start exploring the different solutions out there.

If you’re looking to use a CRM with marketing automation you’ve got two options:

  1. All-in-one: that is, drop a chunk of change a single platform that handles everything.
  2. Pick-and-mix: connect several specialized tools and connect them yourself. And also potentially drop a chunk of change. 

Why would you want to use marketing automation with your CRM?

Before we take a look at those options though, let’s understand why you might want to even bother with marketing automation for your CRM, other than that potential uptick in marketing ROI.

(I get it though, a lot of people reading this are probably already sold on the idea of a CRM with marketing automation, or are at least trying to learn some. So, if you’re in that group, here’s some arguments you can use to help get your stakeholders on board.)

  1. Understand marketing’s revenue contribution, by allowing to link action with outcome.
  2. Close deals faster by scoring and filtering leads based on engagement and interest.
  3. Prioritize your resources by tracking and engaging those leads most likely to buy.

Pitch-friendly arguments aside, here’s my personal take on the matter. 

I’m a freelancer/consultant-person. A one-man band, if you will. Before that, I was doing marketing in-house, often in a department-of-one. I use CRM with marketing automation out of sheer necessity: I cannot afford to not have these two functions exist together. And I know you’re likely the same, or perhaps haven’t realized it just yet.

But enough of me. Let’s figure out what CRM and marketing automation platforms might be the best fit for your business.

CRM and Marketing Automation: The Pick-and-Mix Method

There are, quite literally, thousands of different CRMs out there, let alone combinations of tools to sync marketing and sales data. So, this list is by no means exhaustive. Instead, I’m going to take a look at some of the approaches I’ve had hands on experience with.

There’s something for every pricepoint on this list. For sake of clarity, each solution is listed with price 💰 and functionality ✔️ scores on a 5-point scale. So, let’s jump in!

1. HubSpot CRM + Outfunnel + Mailchimp 

Price: 💰💰💰
Features: ✔️✔️✔️
Super-simple cost calculation (3 users): $175.99/month

HubSpot’s Sales Hub is a great CRM, but gets really expensive as soon as you want to add in even basic marketing automation functions. Combine HubSpot’s sales CRM with Outfunnel and Mailchimp, and you get access to all the marketing automation you need and some super-handy marketing email capability to boot.

With HubSpot being one of the most popular CRMs out there, it makes sense to have it right at the top of this list. One of the reasons it’s so popular is it’s arguably the most feature-rich, intuitive free CRM software out there.

But free doesn’t always mean free, as I’ll explain soon.

HubSpot actually appears twice here, once as a pick-and-mix option, and again as a standalone solution. That’s because HubSpot is in fact many different products, all living under one umbrella.

So, here we’re looking at just Sales Hub, and more specifically, HubSpot’s sales CRM with the Starter pricing plan. 

Even at this price point, it’s pretty well specced. You’ve got your deal pipeline, some simple automations, and quotes. Some nice reporting functionality comes in handy too, plus live chat really sweetens the deal.

It lacks pretty much any marketing-related functionality though. HubSpot does offer automation through their Marketing Hub product, but the price point may be eye-watering for some (more on that later).

That’s where Outfunnel and Mailchimp steps in. In a short, bulleted form, these are the workflows that are in your arsenal with a HubSpot + Outfunnel + Mailchimp pick-and-mix setup:

  • Add new HubSpot CRM contacts to Mailchimp automatically.
  • Send automated campaigns to HubSpot CRM lists with Mailchimp (or Outfunnel’s email tool).
  • Record email sends, opens, clicks and more in the contact’s profile in HubSpot CRM.
  • Track web visits of your contacts with Outfunnel’s web tracking.
  • See engagement-based lead scores in HubSpot CRM.

By connecting Outfunnel to HubSpot you get your first layer of marketing automation, and then you can add to that further by connecting Mailchimp via Outfunnel.

Now, you’ve got your sales CRM talking to your marketing automation platforms, which are syncing email engagement and website visitor data to contacts in HubSpot.

Outfunnel also combines the engagement data to generate lead scores, which it then syncs back to HubSpot.

So, now you’ve got a system that’s automatically prioritizing your leads for you. Then, you have Outfunnel automatically add leads to specific lists in Mailchimp, so they’re now added to a relevant newsletter audience, based on industry, for example.

And finally, you can also let Outfunnel handle the drip email process, sending conversational, personalized message sequences depending on where leads appear in your HubSpot sales pipeline.

hubspot crm integration Outfunnel

And all of that happens automagically, at a fraction of the cost of HubSpot’s own solution.

Read more about the HubSpot + Outfunnel + Mailchimp solution.

2. Pipedrive + Outfunnel

Price: 💰💰
Features: ✔️✔️
Super-simple cost calculation (3 users): $139/month

A powerful, elegant combination of tools that gives you the key information you need to understand revenue driving action, without the need for multiple, complex platforms. For most small-medium scale businesses, this is what you need for sales and marketing harmony.

If you’re looking for a deceptively simple CRM and marketing automation pairing, look no further than Pipedrive (as your sales CRM) and Outfunnel for marketing automation.

pipedrive outfunnel

I say “deceptively” because at this price point, the Pipedrive Outfunnel combo is way more powerful than it has any right to be.

When it comes to Pipedrive CRM and email marketing software, Outfunnel is more than capable of handling email duties. In fact, I would go so far as to say in many cases, you don’t even need a standalone email marketing platform, like Mailchimp.

You see, one of the things Mailchimp has over Outfunnel (in terms of email) is it’s fancy email builder. But, the reality is, for B2B sales these kinds of design-heavy emails often don’t correlate with better sales performance. (If you didn’t know this already, it’s high time you sign up for this free B2B email marketing crash course. Thank me later.)

Ecommerce, sure. Show off your products, make them look nice.

But B2B sales often benefits from a more conversational tone and style. So why fork out extra for a tool that might detract from that?

And marketing automation isn’t just about email.

While Pipedrive offers some neato marketing features, like their LeadBooster lead gen toolset, it’s lacking in a few areas. To really understand what marketing activity is driving results, you need to see what content is driving conversions, for example. Pipedrive on its own can’t do this.

With Outfunnel, though, you can link content to conversions, assign automated lead scores based on marketing activity, and everything else you need to power an automated revenue marketing powerhouse.

pipedrive lead scoring

Read the reviews for this setup on Pipedrive’s app marketplace.

3. Airtable + Zapier + Mailerlite

Price: 💰
Features: ✔️
Super-simple cost calculation (3 users): $75.99/month

Looking for a CRM solution but don’t fully understand what you want it to do just yet? Pair Airtable with Zapier and Mailerlite and build your own CRM with basic marketing automation functionality for less than 100 bucks a month.

This is an article about marketing automation for CRMs.

But this pick-and-mix solution doesn’t include a CRM. At least, not specifically. You see, Airtable is, in some ways, a relic from a bygone era. I like to think of it as something like a cloud-based FileMaker Pro, or something similar.

Airtable sales CRM

Build your own CRM with a basic, Kanban pipeline and some simple automation inside Airtable

Basically, it’s a database platform and, fundamentally, that’s all a CRM is. The neat thing about Airtable is its flexibility. You can use it to create task boards, calendars, and of course, CRM. This means you can build something to suit your specific use case, whatever that may be and, to get you started quickly they have a wide selection of templates.

Airtable itself can handle a lot of internal automations, like updating or adding records when certain conditions are met.

Automating tasks in Airtable

Automating tasks in Airtable using triggers and actions

While Airtable itself can handle emailing, it’s not ideal as it lacks any real tracking functionality. You can’t monitor deliverability and open rates, for instance.

For this, you can let Mailerlite handle the email marketing, and then join the dots with Zapier.

There already Zaps to handle things like:

  • Adding subscribers to Mailerlite when a new Airtable record is created, so you can automatically sync your sales CRM in Airtable with your email.
  • Syncing campaign activity, so you and your salespeople can get access to email marketing data in Airtable, without having to switch platforms.

While this approach certainly isn’t the most feature rich and, if you’re looking for true revenue marketing solutions, you’ll be left wanting it’s very cost-effective to get started and the flexible nature of Airtable means you can explore different approaches.

CRM and Marketing Automation: The All-in-One Approach

1. Salesforce

Price: 💰💰💰💰💰
Features: ✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️

If you need a platform that does everything, a pressing need for advanced reporting, and very deep pockets, Salesforce is worth a look. It’s probably overkill for many small businesses, but there’s no denying its power.

Without a doubt, Salesforce is the biggest name in the CRM business and has been for a while. After a string of acquisitions Salesforce has consolidated its position to become an absolute leviathan. But that approach, of bolting on new bits here and there, has led to a product that, while very feature-rich, is also a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster.

When it comes to business intelligence and development, you can do pretty much anything inside the Salesforce ecosystem: marketing, ecommerce, analytics, automation, enablement(?).

There are a few areas where Salesforce really excels: features, reporting, onboarding, and integrations.

Salesforce pipeline management

Salesforce’s pipeline management is class-leading.

Some would even argue that Salesforce is too reporting-centric, but it’s certainly become more intuitive for salespeople over the years.

Then there’s the integrations. Not only does Salesforce lead the pack when it comes to pre-built 3rd party integrations (Salesforce claims there are 5000+ solutions on their appexchange marketplace and, to be honest, I have no reason to doubt them), you can build your own integrations, through MuleSoft Anypoint – essentially a management-tool for custom, API integrations.

Salesforce Mulesoft Anypoint

Salesforce’s Mulesoft Anypoint lets you build and deploy your own integrations.

To get you really “in” to the platform, Salesforce have put a lot of effort into customer onboarding and education. For example, Trailhead, their education and certification program. There’s also the Salesforce “Jump-Start” implementation program, for a cool $5,000.

For the longest time, Salesforce has really been geared towards big business and enterprise-level customers, and that’s always been born out in one, key area:

Pricing.

Pardot Marketing Cloud, Salesforce’s “high-end” marketing product starts at $1250 USD a month. For up to 10,000 contacts. If you pay annually.

That’s an up front cost of $15,000 USD. For just this the marketing cloud product.

Salesforce pricing

Salesforce Pardot Marketing Cloud: Pricing and feature comparison. Source: salesforce.com

So, in real terms, if you want to have enough salesforce to cover yourself and say, two other users, and you want to be able to handle very basic sales and marketing automation, you’re looking at an annual cost of $16,000.

That’s $1,500 for the sales tools and $15,000 for the marketing automation. And at this price level, you start digging through the features and you’ll quickly find that some pretty key stuff, like automated lead scoring requires you to jump to the next pricing level, taking you to a total cost of $17,700 per year.

So, while Salesforce’s all.encompassing approach to CRM and marketing automation has created a thriving business for them, for you it comes at the cost of some usability and $$$’s.

2. HubSpot

Price: 💰💰💰💰
Features: ✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️

These days it’s pretty hard to split Salesforce and HubSpot. Functionality and features are pretty much on par with one another, but as with Salesforce, if you want to use HubSpot’s own marketing automation options, be prepared to pay the price (you can, of course, choose a third-party HubSpot marketing automation solution instead).

HubSpot often gets looked at as the default sales CRM solution for many small-medium sized businesses. And, to be honest, that’s understandable.

The free version of Sales Hub – HubSpot’s sales CRM – is, pretty much, everything you need to get started.

You get nice Kanban-style pipeline management, some basic business intelligence features, email tracking and notifications (this is actually pretty neat and you don’t need to use HubSpot CRM to take advantage of it), meeting scheduling, and lots more.

It’s a very well featured sales CRM. And an embarrassingly well featured free sales CRM.

HubSpot CRM and marketing pricing

But, you’re here to look beyond just the sales CRM functionality. Lots of sales features doth not a revenue marketing-friendly platform make, after all.

Before we dive into what HubSpot’s marketing automation looks like, let’s talk for a moment about what they offer in terms of marketing features in general.

The word I’d use to describe the features is “robust”. You’ve got everything from marketing forms, to ad management, to messenger integration, a fully-fledged CMS for your website and blog, and everything in between.

As I said, robust.

HubSpot’s marketing automation is, as to be expected, very well specced. You can build automated marketing workflows to handle tasks like rotating leads from marketing to sales, and make sure the right internal and external messages get sent out. You can also add delays and some conditional logic as well.

HubSpot marketing automation

Something that I’ve found particularly useful is the visual workflow builder. It’s a really elegant way of creating workflows. When I’m brainstorming any process like this, I typically start it on paper, on a whiteboard or in something like Whimsical (highly recommend this, by the way). 

All visual approaches. So, being able to transpose that visual thought process into a similarly visual end product is really nice.

HubSpot’s marketing automation comes at a pretty significant cost, though. It’s not available on the free or starter tier. So, the professional tier is where you’ll be looking for HubSpot marketing automation.

And how much is the professional tier?

It starts at $890 a month. And that’s just for the marketing hub. HubSpot does offer some bundling of solutions at a reduced price, which is nice of them. So, for the Professional Growth Suite (which gets you Sales Hub Pro, Marketing Hub Pro and some other useful goodies) you’ll be handing over a cool $1343 per month.

Wrapping it all up

For many, the big ticket prices of the all-in-one solutions are perfectly reasonable. The benefit of having everything under one roof outweighs the dollar cost that comes with it.

But really, for a lot of us, the primary need is having all of the data in one place, rather than necessarily the features we use to aggregate that data.

Both HubSpot and Salesforce often run their own comparisons by looking at how much it’ll likely cost for teams of 50+. 

So, personally, I’d follow their lead on that. If your sales and marketing team is less than that, chances are you likely aren’t going to have enough hands (not to mention time) to really make use of all the extra features.

You’re going to risk spending money on technology that just kind of sits there. 

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