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The Difference Between CRM and ESP (And Which One You Absolutely Need)

By The Leadpages Team  |  Published Nov 14, 2014  |  Updated Jun 05, 2024
Leadpages Team
By The Leadpages Team
The Difference Between CRM and ESP

Marketing has so many acronyms. Honestly, look at all these: CPC, WOM, SEO, LTV:CAC, KPI, PTICS-VCIL… Don’t worry. I made that last one up. At least I hope I did. But today, we’re going to focus on two acronyms that leave a lot of first-time marketers scratching their heads: ESP and CRM.

One of these acronyms is absolutely essential when you use LeadPages™. The other is nice but, as you’ll find out later, most likely won’t be for you (starting off, at least). Let’s get to the bottom of these two marketing mysteries, shall we?

ESP and CRM: The Basics

Let’s get the formal introductions out of the way. ESP stands for Email Service Provider, a digital service that helps businesses create, send, and manage email campaigns to contacts you have collected via lead generation, enabling effective communication with your audience through tools for bulk messaging, segmentation, automation, and analytics.

CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management, a digital service that focuses on cultivating and maintaining the customers you have. It refers to systems and strategies that companies use to manage and analyze customer interactions and data throughout the customer lifecycle, with the goal of improving customer service relationships, assisting in customer retention, and driving sales growth.

CRMs and ESPs work together to create in-depth profiles on the customers you communicate with.


While both ESPs and CRMs are vital tools for modern businesses, their roles are distinct yet complementary. An ESP, or Email Service Provider, specializes in sending out crafted email campaigns to your collected contacts, helping you manage and optimize your email marketing efforts.

On the other hand, a CRM, or Customer Relationship Management system, focuses on nurturing and maintaining relationships with your customers by managing all interactions and data throughout the customer lifecycle. Together, CRMs and ESPs create comprehensive customer profiles, enabling more personalized and effective communication.

However, if you’re reading this and you’re just starting your online marketing journey, you’ll most likely only need to find an ESP. Let’s talk about finding that perfect ESP for you.

Email Marketing Case Study Alert:

Don't miss our Case Study on Shelby Devore, who successfully launched her business using an ESP for email marketing.

The Role of an ESP

Using an ESP in your marketing efforts is completely and 100% non-negotiable. If you want to collect leads and contact your customers, you need to have an ESP. Gone are the days of using Outlook, Gmail and other email services to send CC and BCC-laden emails to your contact list.

Now, these services crack down and go so far as to block your message from ever sending. Enter dedicated ESPs. These companies that provide email as a primary service will help you communicate effectively with your customers. Here are the big things you can expect to get when you use an ESP:

  • Bulk Communication - You can send one message to hundreds of thousands of people! An ESP lets you send the same message to as many people as you want.
  • Creating Lists - You can segment your contacts into individual lists. It might not seem like a lot, but being able to send different messaging to customers vs non-customers (or whatever you segment your list out to) makes a huge impact.
  • Automatic Messaging - You can set up “events” within your marketing funnel, with pre-created messages being sent automatically whenever a contact hits one of your events. Or, you can create many emails in advance and schedule them to be sent out at various dates throughout the year.
  • Servers Dedicated to Emailing - The servers ESPs use are solely meant for sending emails. That means faster, more efficient messaging for you.

Benefits of an ESP

Beyond the fundamental features, using an ESP provides significant advantages such as increased deliverability rates, better email design options, and detailed analytics to track your campaign performance. With robust automation capabilities, ESPs streamline your marketing efforts, ensuring consistent communication with your audience and freeing up time for other crucial tasks.

These are invaluable benefits for a marketer, and you absolutely need to have an ESP for these reasons. Did I mention that already? Great. So let’s talk about picking out the right ESP.

Picking an ESP

There are a whoooooole lot of ESPs out there, but only a few really do the job 100% right. Finding those ESPs can be tough. Luckily, you’ve got Chris Davis on your side. Chris is our Head of Marketing Automation. He’s the architect of the entire LeadPages™ email marketing funnel/system and one of the few people who has achieved certification from Infusionsoft -- a company that offers both ESP and CRM services within their software. According to him, outside of price considerations and features (specific to your budget and needs), here are three insider criteria that the pros judge ESPs on:

  • Website Design - “You can tell a lot about the product you’ll get by the way the ESP’s site is designed. If their site is a bit bland or their functionality is confusing, chances are the product they sell is bland and confusing. Go with what looks and feels good.”
  • Years in Business -“Longevity makes a difference. There’s a reason the giants are where they are today, and that’s because they’ve been around long enough to perfect things. Look for companies that have 8+ years of experience under their belt.”
  • Don’t Judge by Deliverability Rate - “EVERY SINGLE ESP will say they have a 99.7% deliverability rate. However, that doesn’t guarantee your deliverability rate. That number is based off what their server can do. So if you write a bad subject line that gets flagged as spam and doesn’t get delivered, that doesn’t go against their deliverability rate. So, when you see this number, just disregard it (unless it’s really low).”

These are good rule-of-thumb insights to follow when selecting an ESP. There are many to choose from, but we consistently see these three ESPs used by marketers new to online lead generation:



AWeber is the workhorse of internet marketing. They’re consistent, reliable, established and have everything you could possibly need when you’re starting out. Many affiliate and online marketers consider AWeber to be the industry standard. With AWeber, you can have multiple lists AND have automation between these lists.

That means contacts will be placed in lists depending on where they are in your marketing funnel. Those who sign up and aren’t customers can be placed in one list, while long-time customers can automatically be placed in a completely different list.

Additionally, you don’t have to worry about compatibility issues with AWeber and other products because they have strong integrations with almost every marketing company on the internet. They're a rock-solid ESP, and you'd do well by using their services.



GetResponse is similar to AWeber but offers more automation options. Particularly, they allow you to implement action-based autoresponders. Here’s what that means: you can have automated events for multiple lists, and each event triggers an automated response.

With this feature, you don’t have to constantly check to see where a contact is and send out individual emails. Everything is automated to keep your marketing machine running smoothly.

One other feature unique to GetResponse is segmentation across lists. Essentially, you can take contacts from different lists and message them based on a shared commonality. Most other ESPs only let you do that within individual lists instead of across all lists. This is big if you want to message on the fly, which makes GetResponse such an appealing choice.



Bar-none, MailChimp has the easiest learning curve for an ESP.

Their system is extremely simple to use, and the way you can track progress is fantastic. Of all the ESPs, they have the strongest integration with other products. Their analytics are robust and easy to interpret, and their drag and drop editor makes creating emails ridiculously easy.

Plus, they might be the best newsletter creator/distribution program on the market. While MailChimp may not offer some of the automation tools AWeber and GetResponse have, their fantastic interface and intuitive tools make them an attractive solution if you value ease-of-use.

For Established Companies

Now, if you’re a profitable business with about 3-5 years under your belt, you could start to take a look at ESPs like Infusionsoft and HubSpot.

Both these ESPs offer so many different tools and an advanced level of marketing automation that most other ESPs can’t match.

They are extremely useful, but the level of expertise needed (and amount of money required) to use both make these an option if you meet the requirements above.

Once you’ve picked out an ESP, you’ll need to create a list in that program to store the emails you collect from your lead generation efforts. Speaking of generating leads…

Using an ESP With LeadPages™

Integrating your ESP with LeadPages™ is easy and can take less than five minutes to do. First, go into your account and click on the “My Account” button.

My Account

From the drop-down, select “Integrations.”


Once you’ve done this, you’ll see a list of the ESP integrations we support. Simply click on the ESP you’re using:


Then input the API key you received from the ESP.

API Code

And that’s it! You’re set up with LeadPages™.

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When visitors opt-in on your landing page, the email addresses will automatically be sent to the list you created in your ESP. From there, you can start to use your ESP to the fullest by messaging contacts with your marketing communications. Those are the basics of selecting an ESP and integrating it with LeadPages™. Before we go, let’s talk briefly about the role of a CRM and how it works with your ESP.

The Role of a CRM

Something you need to know upfront: unless you're a large-scale business with a massive contact list, you probably do not need a CRM. As Chris Davis puts it, the main question to ask yourself is this:

“Do you have a manual sales process?”

Manual sales process, in this instance, means speaking to someone in order for a sale to happen. If you make sales by talking to someone on the phone or in person exclusively, then you should look into getting a CRM. Typically, professional service providers need this system: professions like insurance salesmen, agencies, brokers, realtors, dentists, fitness trainers, etc. A CRM is important to these professions because this system specializes in maintaining relationships through extensive notes and customer monitoring. A CRM has three main functions:

  • Maintain Database - A CRM is unrivaled in its ability to sort contacts and make information readily accessible.
  • Score Leads - A CRM can tell you if a prospect is hot or cold, and can tell you exactly where they are in your marketing funnel. With this information, you can offer more tailored messaging to any one person depending on their status in the CRM.
  • Keep Records - Knowing your audience is a big part of marketing. With a CRM, you can leave individual notes on a person-by-person basis. Is someone a product evangelist? Make a note so you remember to kick some freebies their way. Is someone a notorious ruckus-starter? Leave a note so you can preemptively cut out any trouble.

Your CRM can do all this because it merges with your ESP. It takes the contacts from your ESP list, segments them out based on their engagement (opening emails, using the product, etc) and gives you suggestions on how to message your contacts. The two work symbiotically, which gives you a whole other level of marketing power. If you fit the criteria of needing a CRM, check out Salesforce, PipeDrive or SugarCRM. These are all great CRMs that include top-notch features.

Was This Article Helpful?

Let us know in the comments below if this article helped you out. Additionally, if you have any questions about ESPs or CRMs, we'll be happy to answer them.

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Leadpages Team
By The Leadpages Team
The Difference Between CRM and ESP
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