If you’re yet to start automating your emails and creating workflows, you may be a little confused as to whether you need a platform that’s more marketing—or sales-oriented. After all, it can seem like there’s a significant overlap in functionality between sales and marketing automation software.

They both track inbox behaviors like opens and clicks. They both trigger actions based on events like time lapsing, or non-responses. They both claim to increase sales and revenue.

So you just need one, right? They can each do the job of the other, right?


In this article, we’ll explore the differences between marketing and sales automation platforms, and when you should use each one.

Want to see how clean data can 6x the results of your automation? Request your free data check today.

Different platforms for different goals

In broad terms, marketing is one-to-many communication. Delivering messages designed to nurture prospects into leads i.e. guide potential customers down the funnel from interest to desire.

Sales is a one-to-one relationship. The careful, personal process of closing a sale by guiding a lead from desire to action.

Each requires different email automation workflows, and the different platforms are designed to cater to these. Marketing automation is typically handled by dedicated suites like HubSpot, or by integrating specialist tools like MailChimp and Google Analytics. Sales automation is usually performed using a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system like Salesforce.

Image showing marketing vs. sales

Sales automation vs marketing automation for outbound emails

The line between the two is further blurred as marketing has become more personalized. Think about how social media marketing often turns from mass broadcasting to one-on-one conversations—handled by the marketing department. And how personalized even automated email marketing campaigns have become.

However, in our context—outbound email automation software—there are very real differences in functionality between the two types of platforms.

Data collection

Broadly, marketing automation platforms collect data on aggregate. 100 people clicked this link vs 300 people clicking that link. 25% of 18-24 year-olds open emails in the afternoon. That sort of thing.

CRM platforms tend to be more granular. Roger Smith opened the email at 16:24 and waited four days to reply. Having received a phone call, he then took one day to purchase the product.

This level of granularity can tempt marketers into adopting CRM systems for automation. However, CRMs usually don’t integrate as well with website behavior (if at all). And there’s a hidden, but important technical distinction.


Marketing automation usually relies on the platform’s email server. Your newsletter will come from MailChimp’s server rather than your company’s. Internet Service Providers (ISP) recognize MailChimp’s IP address and know that it’s used for mass mailouts, which can lead to a high proportion of emails getting flagged for spam.

CRMs, on the other hand, use your company’s email server. This can significantly increase inbox penetration as your messages are far less likely to be flagged as spam or promotional. When the average email open rate is 22.02%, that can be tempting.

However, if you keep it up, you run the risk of getting your company’s server blacklisted. This means that even personal messages could get blocked.

Event types

Marketing automation is designed to be ‘lights out’ – set it and forget it, operating without much human intervention. You set rules like ‘if a customer abandons their shopping cart, send them a reminder two days later’ or ‘send email X to female customers under 30 and email Y to males over 50’ and leave it at that.

Sales automation is designed to make salespeople’s lives easier, more efficient. For example, if a lead hasn’t replied in three days, they could get a reminder to email them again or call them. If they’ve tried three times and there’s no response, the system could automatically remove them from the list – performing essential email list cleaning in the process.

Sales automation is a way of improving sales efficiency and ensuring departmental consistency.

In truth, #marketing and sales automation platforms are complementary systems—bound together by #cleandata. It’s the trinity of #emailautomation. Find out when to use which in this blog post.

Click to Tweet

When to use marketing automation

Following from the above, marketing automation is great for low-touch, mass mailouts. Your monthly newsletter, your segmented product promotions, your automated ecommerce nudges. It will help you to streamline tasks and save time for your marketing team.

It’s also tremendously useful for customer retention. Once someone has bought something, your newsletters or gentle segmented up-sell emails can be a low-key reminder you exist, guiding them back into the sales funnel again when they’re ready.

Integrating an automated solution into your marketing processes can be useful for assisting not only with segmentation, but lead generation and early business development. Lead scoring—which assigns a value to leads based on the number of touchpoints they’ve had and the value of those interactions—can be set up to ensure prospective customers are engaged at the correct time.

All of this information can be fed to the sales team automatically, along with any hot inbound marketing leads generated, ensuring the appropriate follow-up takes place at the most impactful time.

When to use sales automation

Sales automation, on the other hand, is to be used when a prospective customer looks like they’re ready to buy, but might need a nudge or two to help them along the sales cycle.

This is where integrating your CRM and marketing automation platforms really shines. Pre-defined behaviors—such as downloading a gated whitepaper—can pass the contact onto the CRM, alerting your sales team of a new lead, telling them exactly what they’re interested in and why they seem like a potential sale.

This can help to speed up the sales process and ensure no potential customers are accidentally lost in the system, as your sales reps will be prompted when to run certain sales activities by automated reminders set up within the CRM.

In general, sales automation is more commonly used for B2B email marketing than B2C. 

Getting the data right

Of course, all this automation depends on clean data. The fact that marketing automation runs by itself makes it high risk by nature. ‘Hi [name]’—usually the result of improper data nomenclature—or promotions for women’s boots when they were browsing for men’s briefcases do more harm than good.

Similarly, salespeople calling to follow up on a whitepaper they never downloaded, or worse, different salespeople calling one after the other unaware their colleague had already phoned—thanks to a duplicate entry—can quickly turn a warm lead cold.

Get it right, and the rewards are substantial. Personalized subject lines result in 26% higher open rates. Segmented campaigns increased revenue by up to 760%.

If you’re starting your email automation program with an existing data set, it’s essential to go through the appropriate data cleaning steps first.

Clean your email list with this 15-point email hygiene checklist


Superficially, there may be overlapping functionality between marketing and sales automation platforms. However, there are important differences that impact how they are used. One cannot substitute for the other.

That said, ‘marketing automation vs sales automation’ is a false dichotomy. The two are complementary systems. Marketing platforms nurture the leads for sales to run with. Once the deal is done, the customer returns to marketing for retention.

In short:

  • Marketing automation is for one-to-many, more top of the funnel (TOFU) communication, designed to nurture leads.

  • Sales automation is for one-to-one, bottom of the funnel (BOFU) contact, ultimately with a view to closing deals.

  • Ideally, marketing and sales automation should be integrated to guide the customer consistently through the sales funnel.

  • Missing or erroneous data can harm the efforts of both, but can be particularly damaging when passed between the two—effective email list management is crucial for automation success.

The last point is crucial. The better your data, the more you can personalize your marketing messaging. The more unified your data, the better equipped your sales people will be when they make contact.

As such, data cleaning tools like tye are a third, essential complement to your sales and marketing automation platforms—the final piece in the trinity of email automation.

Want to see how clean data can 6x the results of your automation? Request your free data check today.

Markus Beck

Markus Beck - March 30, 2021

CEO with a passion for data relationships. Markus is half Finnish, half Austrian & fully committed to helping businesses keep bad data from ruining great relationships. Process Engineer by training, with digital marketing & project management skills from previous jobs.