Email Marketing CRM vs. CRM vs. ESP: Choose the Best Option!

email marketing CRM cover image with two male arms and hands in a handshake

An email marketing CRM is a software or service that combines the functionalities of a CRM with those of an email marketing platform.

If you’re currently considering one, you might be wondering: is it the best choice for your business? Does combining a CRM and an email marketing automation platform mean you have to compromise? Will it be really costly? Will you need all those additional features?

Relax! At the end of this piece, you will leave doubt-free about every aspect of email marketing CRMs!

What is a CRM?

A Customer Relationship Management system, or CRM, is a software product that helps businesses manage their relationships with current and potential customers. The primary goals of a CRM are to streamline processes, track interactions, and increase customer satisfaction to achieve better profitability.

CRMs can consolidate customer data from various channels like email, phone, and social media. This compiled data enables businesses to have comprehensive insights into both leads and existing customers. Thanks to CRMs, companies can understand their customers better and make data-driven decisions.

Some CRMs also help automate business processes in:

  • Sales: Manage sales pipelines, forecast sales, and track deal progress.
  • Marketing: Create and track marketing campaigns, segment lists, and analyze campaign effectiveness.
  • Customer service: Log customer queries/complaints, assign support tickets, and track resolutions.
  • Analytics and reporting: Get insights into customer behavior, sales performance, and marketing ROI through dashboards and reports.

Email Marketing CRM Explained

So now you know what a CRM does, but what is an email marketing CRM? Technical terms and jargon can get confusing when shopping for SaaS tools, so we’ll explain the difference here.

First, we will explain what an email marketing platform is.

Also known as an email service provider (ESP), it is a software tool that helps email marketers manage and automate their email marketing campaigns. It offers a suite of features designed to streamline the process of creating, sending, and tracking emails.

Not all CRMs support email marketing automation, and email marketing platforms typically don’t feature many CRM capabilities. You can manage contacts, assign tags, and create segments on an ESP, but CRMs come with features that make customer management much simpler.

But what if you could combine the two? Turns out that was a great idea; that’s how email marketing CRMs were born.

An email marketing CRM is simply a platform, software, or service that combines the functionalities of a CRM with the abilities of email marketing automation and brings it under one roof.

While a traditional CRM focuses on managing customer relationships, an email marketing CRM additionally takes on email campaign management, too. In short, if you can manage your contact database efficiently AND send email campaigns via a platform, you’re using an email marketing CRM.

But you don’t need a platform that can do it all. Today, technology allows different CRMs and email service providers (ESPs) to integrate and work together. So if you already have a CRM, there are ways you can sync it with a powerful email marketing platform and run email campaigns. We’ll cover this in detail further below.

Let’s first discuss the advantages of a CRM with email functionalities. 

Benefits of an Email Marketing CRM

Combining the functionalities of a CRM with an email automation platform has great synergy, as it helps with:

AdvantageHow it benefits you
Subscriber managementYou get robust tools to manage and segment your email subscriber lists.
Email campaign managementBesides email interaction data, it uses data like social media or website history to move customers through sales funnels.
Analytics You get more detailed analytics on various email metrics.
Integration and multi-channel campaignsEmail marketing CRMs offer integration with marketing tools such as your website, e-commerce platforms, and social media.
Email personalizationThe additional data in CRMs helps craft more personalized emails.
Email Marketing CRM: Advantages

Curious how to go about picking the right email marketing CRM for yourself? Check out our step-by-step guide in the next section.

How to Choose the Right Email Marketing CRM 

Choosing the right email CRM system for your business is a critical decision that can significantly impact your operations, customer relationships, and overall success. 

This 12-step guide can help you choose the right CRM for your business:

  1. Start by clearly defining your business objectives and the specific problems you want the tool to solve.
  2. Determine how much you are willing to invest in it. Consider both upfront costs (such as setup fees and licensing fees) and ongoing costs (such as subscription fees, maintenance, and support).
  3. Discuss factors such as user interface, ease of use, mobile accessibility, and integration with existing tools and systems with your team.
  4. Make a list of features and functionalities that are essential for your business. 
  5. Start your research to identify vendors and solutions that meet your requirements. Look at vendor reputation, customer reviews, industry expertise, scalability, security, and customer support.
  6. Request demos and free trials of the CRM solutions on your shortlist. 
  7. Choose an email marketing CRM that offers customization options to tailor the system to your specific business processes.
  8. Assess the CRM’s integration capabilities with other tools and systems that your business uses, such as e-commerce platforms or accounting software.
  9. Verify if the CRM complies with data security regulations and industry standards.
  10. Research the deliverability rates of its email marketing services. This is critical!
  11. Reach out to other businesses in your industry or network that use the CRM solutions you are considering and read as many reviews as you can.
  12. Time to lock it down! Negotiate pricing and terms with the vendor before finalizing your purchase.

By following these steps, you can find the best email marketing CRM to help grow your business.

Top 5 Email Marketing CRMs in the Market

If you’re shopping for email marketing software with a built-in CRM system, these 5 email marketing CRMs are among the best in the market.

Email marketing CRMWho is it for?Summary of features
SalesforceLarge businessesHighly customizable and scalable; vast array of features to support complex sales processes.
HubSpotSmall/medium-sized businessesFree plan available, simple UI, integrates seamlessly with other HubSpot products.
Zoho CRMBusinesses of all sizesAffordable, robust feature set including marketing automation and built-in AI capabilities.
PipedriveSmall and medium-sized businessesSimple and intuitive interface with a visual sales pipeline, good for deal-centric sales teams.
Freshworks CRMSmall and medium-sized businessesSimple UI with built-in tools like email, phone, and chat; strong lead scoring and pipeline management.
Email marketing CRMs: 5 Options

We look at the strengths and weaknesses of these platforms in the next section.

Popular Email Marketing CRMs: Pros vs Cons

You would need to closely examine the features of each of these platforms to see which one suits you best, but here are quick overviews for each.

Salesforce: Enterprise-Grade CRM with Advanced AI Features

Salesforce CRM - UI
Salesforce CRM: User Interface

Pros: Salesforce is a powerful CRM solution when combined with Salesforce Marketing Cloud. The platform offers advanced features for segmentation, automation, and analytics. They’re also betting big on AI.

Cons: Marketing Cloud is a separate product and comes with additional costs. Salesforce can also be intimidating for beginners. The CRM itself doesn’t have built-in email marketing tools.

HubSpot CRM: Free CRM Tool, but Scaling is Expensive

HubSpot CRM - UI
HubSpot CRM: User Interface

Pros: You get a free plan with basic email marketing features. You also have a user-friendly UI, and HubSpot makes a range of tools for the automation of business processes, which you can explore.

Cons: You get limited features on the free plan. Unlocking advanced functionalities requires paid subscriptions to Marketing Hub.

Zoho CRM: Popular CRM with Basic Email Marketing Capabilities

Zoho CRM - UI
Zoho CRM: User Interface

Pros: Zoho is an affordable option with built-in email marketing features. You get an email campaign builder, a template library, automation, and basic analytics.

Cons: The email marketing features are fairly basic and can’t quite match dedicated email marketing platforms.

Pipedrive: An Email Marketing CRM with a Focus on Sales

Pipedrive CRM - UI
Pipedrive CRM: User Interface

Pros: This email marketing CRM has a simple and visual interface. It’s good for basic email marketing needs like sending one-off emails or email sequences. It integrates well with many third-party marketing tools.

Cons: The built-in email marketing functionalities are limited. If you’re looking to execute complex marketing campaigns, this may not be the best choice for you.

Freshworks: CRM With Basic Email Campaign Creation and Tracking

Freshworks CRM UI
Freshworks CRM: User Interface

Pros: Freshworks integrates with popular email providers like Gmail and Outlook, and offers basic email marketing features (campaigns and automation).

Cons: Email marketing functionalities are limited, as it’s more of a budget-friendly option.

All these platforms have different pricing plans, so ensure you do your research before deciding which one works for you. But before you lock things down, ensure you read this next section.

CRM and ESPs: What’s the Difference?

Right now, you might be wondering — do you really need the features of an email marketing CRM? Or will it be an overkill compared to an ESP?

Time to study the upsides and downsides of choosing an email marketing CRM over an ESP.

Email Marketing CRMs Have These Perks over ESPs

Opting for an email marketing CRM has these benefits: 

  1. CRM systems maintain detailed customer profiles, including information such as purchase history, interactions across multiple channels (website visits, phone calls, social media), and more. Comparatively, ESPs only store email addresses.
  2. A CRM system records the entire history of a customer. This enables you to understand the complete customer journey and tailor interactions accordingly. Combined with email capabilities, you can execute better email campaigns.
  3. You can use the additional customer data in your CRM to execute complex nurture campaigns. Additional CRM data can also help you use email personalization more effectively.
  4. CRM systems often include task/activity management features. These let you schedule follow-up emails, set reminders, and track interactions with individual contacts.
  5. You can run more targeted email campaigns on a CRM with email functionalities as they often feature robust segmentation capabilities. This means you can organize customers based on criteria such as demographics, engagement, behavior, or purchase history.
  6. An email CRM can provide advanced reporting and analytics features that allow you to track key performance metrics for email campaigns. 

But email marketing CRMs aren’t without limitations. Let’s see how they miss the mark.

Disadvantages of Using an Email Marketing CRM Over an ESP

While an email marketing CRM does certain things well, it’s not necessary if you’re looking to run email campaigns efficiently and achieve the best email marketing performance.

Here are 7 ways email marketing CRMs can’t keep up with dedicated email platforms:

  1. CRMs are designed primarily to manage customer data, sales pipelines, and customer interactions. They generally lack the advanced email marketing tools and capabilities of dedicated ESPs.
  2. ESPs are built to handle large-scale email campaigns and have robust infrastructure to send millions of emails simultaneously. In comparison, CRMs often have lower email limits.
  3. ESPs are more committed to infrastructure, authentication protocols, and relationships with mailbox providers to ensure high email deliverability rates. Email CRMs may not have the same level of expertise or optimization.
  4. Pricing is commonly a deal breaker. CRMs are typically more expensive, given their broader range of functionalities. If your primary need is email marketing, paying for a full CRM might spike your email marketing costs.
  5. CRMs can be more complex and may require more time and effort to set up specifically for email marketing. Their primary focus is not on sending emails but on managing customer relationships.
  6. ESPs specialize in email marketing. This means you get access to a wide range of email design tools, templates, and email personalization options. You can create more visually appealing and highly targeted email campaigns, compared to email marketing CRMs.
  7. Email platforms are often designed to easily integrate with a wide array of marketing tools. CRMs may have fewer integrations specifically for email marketing needs.

Choosing between a CRM and an ESP ultimately depends on what your business needs most.

Email Marketing CRM vs ESP: Key Features

Let’s highlight the differences between Email Marketing CRM and ESPs:

FeaturesEmail Marketing CRMESP
Advanced email marketing tools⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Sales pipeline
Email deliverability⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Customer data management
Email volume⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Learning curve⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Specialized email marketing tools⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Email Marketing CRM vs ESP: Features Compared

If email marketing is your main goal — then choosing a dedicated ESP is the better option.

Alternatives to Email Marketing CRMs

Before you pull the trigger and invest in a CRM with email automation features, we’ve listed alternative ideas you should consider.

If you are researching these tools, you probably fall into one of the 4 categories below.

1. You Don’t Currently Use a CRM System or Any ESP

In this scenario, an ESP may be sufficient for your needs, as we stated above. But if you want a CRM, one option would be to opt for an email marketing CRM. The second option would be to find a CRM you like and integrate it with an ESP of your choice. Ensure the two integrate well before you put your money down.

2. You’re Using a CRM but Aren’t Using an Email Platform

If this is you, simply find an awesome ESP and figure out if it syncs with your current CRM. This is fairly common practice, so talk to the ESP’s sales team and your CRM’s customer care reps.

3. You’re Using an Email Platform but Are Looking for an Email Marketing CRM

If you’re happy with your ESP, you don’t have to switch to an email marketing CRM. You can find basic CRMs that are budget-friendly and offer the features you want. Ensure the CRM works seamlessly with your email platform before you sign up.

4. You’re Using Both an ESP and a CRM but Want to Have Both Under One Roof

If you already use a CRM and an ESP, we recommend you integrate them. But if you find that too challenging, then you can opt for an email marketing CRM. But note that migrating could be a challenge, and there is a learning curve involved here.

Regardless of the category you’re in, this is a great time to consider Campaign Refinery as your weapon of choice.

Integrate Campaign Refinery with Your Favorite CRM for Best Results

At Campaign Refinery, we fully understand how much marketers love their CRMs. This is why we support integration with thousands of popular marketing tools, many of which are CRMs, via Zapier. 

We’re also growing our list of native integrations at a fast pace. This means you can find a CRM you love, and figure out how to link it with Campaign Refinery so you can enjoy the perks of working with us.

And what might those perks be?

  • The best deliverability rates in the industry. That’s right — send emails from our platform and see your inbox placement rates skyrocket.
  • Concerned about engagement? Try our Gamification feature. We’ve seen email campaigns achieve  76.37% open rates and 72.76% click rates.
  • We don’t charge you for the size of your contacts list, like the majority of ESPs. Pay for what you use.
  • If you’re all about ethical and professional email services, you’ll love working with Campaign Refinery. We have a vetting process that filters spammers and stops them from signing up. Plus we continually monitor traffic for spammy behavior. You’re among elite company!
  • With API access, you can send emails directly from your CRM. Our tech support is ever present to help you configure it all!

By choosing Campaign Refinery, you choose superior email performance. Apply to be a customer today!

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