The Importance of CRM Integration in Marketing Automation

by Mike MacFarlane

Senior Marketing Consultant,
Couch & Associates

Marketing automation platforms are fantastic for helping you automate marketing processes and centralize marketing collateral (i.e. emails, landing pages and hosted content). But if you want to take your marketing automation experience to the next level, you must integrate your marketing platform with your customer relationship management (CRM) system. 

Tight integration with your CRM system will allow you to transfer lead information seamlessly between marketing and sales, ensuring you present the right messages at the right time. Better alignment between marketing and sales will improve the effectiveness of campaigns, and provide a stronger return on your software – and marketing – investments.

So here we explain the benefits of integrating marketing automation software with CRM software. We’ll begin with an introductory look at what integration means, briefly discuss the technology behind it, then review six key integration functions. We conclude with ten questions buyers should ask each marketing automation vendor on their shortlist.

The Basics

Integration between your marketing automation system and CRM system should be bi-directional. In other words, your CRM system should talk to your marketing automation platform and your marketing automation platform should talk to your CRM system. For example, if you have your website’s “Contact Us” form integrated into your marketing automation platform, the data submitted via that form submission should be replicated in your CRM system.

On the flip side, if your organization is making regular updates to their customer and prospect records within the CRM system, that data should sync back to your marketing automation platform. This ensures there is consistency in the data between the two systems. For example, let’s say a sales rep is speaking with a prospect. The prospect’s title is entered as Marketing Coordinator in the CRM system, but the rep learns it is actually Director of Marketing. You will want the ability to update the record to reflect the proper title, then have that information synced back with your marketing automation platform. This is important when it comes to database segmentation, lead nurturing and lead scoring.

How does this work? It begins with a process of mapping fields from your CRM system into your marketing automation system. Some marketing automation vendors offer automated mapping with major CRM systems (e.g. Others will manually map CRM data into the marketing automation system. After the initial mapping, data added or changed in one system will automatically update in the other. This bi-directional synchronization can occur in real-time, though large systems may update at intervals up to 15 minutes. Synchronization frequency can also be controlled by the user.

The Technology

The majority of CRM and marketing automation systems provide integration and external access to their databases using an Application Programming Interface (API). An API will allow an external system to access and make use of the services of the connected system. For example, it can allow a marketing automation system to access a specific lead’s data from the CRM system and add it to a campaign. 

Utilizing an API will provide a much more stable experience from an integration standpoint, as well as provide access in areas where one data table has a relationship with another (i.e. contacts linked to accounts/companies). Other methods of integration consist of batch or automated file imports via either a static URL or FTP where the file referenced is updated on a regular basis. These methods are best suited for the initial upload of data, rather than the ongoing synchronization of detailed data.

Taking Your Integration To The Next Level

If you are looking to take your marketing and sales efforts to the next level, you will want  to consider advanced integration activities. Here is a list of six advanced functions you can perform by integrating your CRM and marketing automation systems.

Activity AlertsThe marketing automation system will send an alert to sales reps when a lead performs a certain behavior, such as visiting a web page.
Assign Leads to Sales RepsUsers can create rules in the marketing automation system that will assign and transfer a new lead to a sales rep based on certain criteria.
Campaign IntegrationCampaigns from the marketing automation system will synchronize with the CRM system so that you can tie revenue back to campaigns to measure ROI.
Campaign TriggersCampaigns can be triggered based on certain lead behaviors or changes in the CRM system. Lack of contact, for example, could trigger a campaign.
Send Leads Based on Campaign RuleThe marketing automation system will send a lead to sales reps through the CRM system after a lead completes an activity in a campaign flow.
Send Leads Based on ScoreThe marketing automation system can send a lead to sales reps through the CRM system when the lead reaches a specific lead score.

Final Thoughts

In the 4+ years that I have been in the marketing automation space, I have seen many different types of CRM integration. While every company is different in regards to how they integrate their marketing automation platform and CRM system, they all have one thing in common – they want access to any piece of data that is going to help them communicate and sell better.

10 questions you should ask when evaluating a marketing automation platform:

  1. Do you offer pre-built connectors to the [insert your CRM system] CRM system?
  2. Can you quickly reference new fields within your marketing automation platform and add them to your integration?
  3. How frequently does your system synchronize with the CRM system?
  4. Can your system send leads to the CRM system based on a lead score?
  5. Can it send leads based on buyer behavior or a campaign outcome?
  6. Can the system assign leads to sales reps based on score, campaigns, etc.?
  7. Can the system synchronize campaigns with the CRM system?
  8. Are you able to import flat files into your marketing automation database?
  9. Can a sales rep remove a lead from a campaign from within the CRM system?
  10. Can you pass implicit or behavioral activity information to your CRM?


Great article! Marketing Automation was meant to be tightly integrated with CRM because that’s where all the data and the good stuff is found on any contact in the system.

The problem with having CRM disconnected from your Marketing Automation system is they aren’t in synchronization at all times. This can cause campaigns to be sent inappropriately and generally, chaos. One way to address this is to have another system maintain bi-directional sync and to keep them monitored in the event of any data loss.

Alternatively, I am in favor of having the CRM and Marketing Automation engine fit closely (or as close as one can get) to remove any chances of problems later and to keep the data as accurate and timely as possible. When this happens, the sky is the limit with how flawless a marketing campaign can operate.

CRM integration is definitely key to the success of marketing automation. Great piece and I loved how you broke out the features and why they matter.

–Joseph Manna
Community Manager, Infusionsoft

Comment by Joseph Manna, Infusionsoft

Hi Mike,

A very well written piece, which clearly sets out the agenda for buyers of marketing automation solutions which integrate with the different CRM platforms.

Like Joseph mentioned CRM and marketing automation engine should fit as closely as possible as this ensures a 360 degree view of all marketing and sales programs executed by a company.
Marketing Automation solutions are focussed more on measuring the online marketing activities of a company, while a CRM platform mostly reflect the offline activities of a company and its sales professionals.

The combination of both ensures that you have a foolproof program giving you all insight required into your online and offline prospects.

Having said that, this works best if the systems are completely in sync and allow the syncing up of both these datas derived and updated independently on any given day.

- Merlin Francis
Director of Communications

Comment by Merlin Francis


Brilliant article on an rather obscure but vital topic. people talk about both topic separately but they don’t seem to be able to see as far as integrating them.

I would add a few words on the human aspect of using them. Many companies pay salespeople straight commissions, so many salespeople, quite rightfully, don’t enter client data into the company’s system, because when they leave they want to take their clients with them, and don’t want to argue with their managers about it.

And that’s fair because they are on straight commission, and the company doesn’t invest a penny in acquiring that client. So the salesperson basically “owns” the client.

CRM and other automation tools are for better collaboration. And collaboration requires that there is a financially beneficial reason to collaborate.

The commission structure destroys collaboration and forces each salesperson to push his own personal agenda: Maximise commission even at the expense of the company’s long-term success.

To enjoy the full benefits of technology, the users should be compensated in such a way that promotes collaboration.

I encourage my clients to abolish individual compensation and use team compensation. In my experience, although only 14 years, a client acquisition team of five people, working as a real team, can far outperform 20 individual salespeople.

Sadly most companies are obsessed with individual compensation, so there is no vested interest in using collaboration tools.

The Good news is that the technology is available, so now “only” people’s mentality has to change to replace internal competition with collaboration.

And one day that may come too.

Tom ‘Bald Dog’ Varjan

Comment by Tom 'Bald Dog' Varjan


Thanks for the post, I found it both insightful and informative in terms of the core functionality required for an effective CRM integration as well as some of the more advanced features that can help align sales and marketing teams more effectively.

As a marketer who uses a MA system and CRM integration on a daily basis, I definitely agree with the points you’ve made as well as the “questions to ask” when evaluating a system. I find that often when people think about implementing a MA system with a CRM integration they don’t go about it with their company’s overall online goals in mind and then end up getting more or less than they actually need in terms of functionality. Having questions like these prepared before doing research can help organizations get exactly what they need the first time around.

I recently wrote a post similar to this one on our blog (after being pointed to this post) which discusses the “real-life benefits” of CRM integration for sales and marketing teams, based on my experience with the functionality mentioned above.

If you have a moment I’d appreciate if you could check it out at the link above and let me know your opinion!

Once again, great post!

Amberlie Denny
Marqui Solutions Inc.

Comment by Amberlie Denny

Excellent Article. I have bookmarked and retweeted @treehousei .
It is tough to add anything because this is so comprehensive.
One small piece of advice I would add, it to make sure the CRM Integration allows for a complete contact history to be available for the sales person to utilize. It is one thing to get a lead from the marketing automation system into my CRM lead queue. It is a whole different experience to have all the emails that lead has received and opened, see any campaigns of which s/he has been a part, view all the documents a lead has downloaded and/or see any web pages that a contact has viewed prior to my making a call on them.

Comment by Erich Flynn


Very comprehensive article on how marketing automation systems should integrate with CRM systems. One thing I would add is to verify that you marketing automation/CRM integration allows sales rep to recycle leads or put back lead in nurturing tracks from the CRM. This allows lead that were judged “ready” or “hot” based on scoring to be passed back to marketing once sales has judged it is not ready yet.

It is one thing to send data to the CRM but you need to get sales feedback/interaction on the leads to make sure you have the whole loop covered.

Alexandre Sagala

Comment by Alexandre Sagala

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