Pulling data into a CRM, or pushing data out into external systems can be more time-consuming and complex than anticipated. There always needs to be a strong commercial reason to go down this road. "More visibility" isn't usually a strong enough driver on its own. Data needs to be used for a commercially beneficial reason to justify the investment. Common integration use cases include:
Leveraging customer data to serve insights and alerts to account managers. For example, pulling sales data from an ERP system to identify a customer's decrease in spend or uncover a cross-sell or upsell opportunity
Pushing CRM customer data into an external project management system
Having "Won" sales opportunities in the CRM automatically create sales orders an ERP system
Bringing customer usage data from an external system into their own customer portal within the CRM (for example, Utilities or IT services)
Bringing external business data into the CRM so it can be leveraged for business intelligence
Connecting to business-critical applications for a 360 view of the customer. For example, email, phone systems and customer survey tools
There are three broad types of integrations:
Application Programming Interface (API)
APIs open up parts of a system to be accessed by other API-enabled systems.
Many systems have APIs
Not all APIs are created equal and some may not give you the functionality you need to achieve the commercial outcome you’re seeking
Many developers have experience working with APIs
API connections can break when one system updates or changes. This can lead to unexpected additional expenses to “get the systems talking” again
Scheduled batch upload
An external system creates a CSV file on a schedule and places it in a location with File Transfer Protocol (FTP) access. This is then "picked up," formatted and imported into your CRM, leveraging a tool such as Skyvia.
The CRM development work is minimal
Your internal IT team or system integration provider will need to get the existing system producing CSV files on a schedule
Using a data loading tool is scalable - connections aren't likely to break
The integration isn’t real time. Data is typically updated overnight
Middleware sits between your CRM and other business systems, syncing and formatting data in real time. Middleware examples include Jitterbit and Mulesoft
Middleware is real time and robust - connections are stable
Middleware can be an expensive investment, both in terms of ongoing software licenses and development.
Many CRMs have an Apps Marketplace, for example the Salesforce AppExchange, which have pre-built connectors between popular software platforms and the CRM.
They’re either free, or relatively inexpensive
They often require software license edition upgrades to unlock the API feature
Connectors are fast to install and configure
They “work how they work” and may not have all the functionality you need
In summary, integrations can be incredibly powerful, however if you're using anything other than an pre-built connector, you need to be confident the business case stacks up and make your peace with the associated investment.
It's easy for a CRM to become an expensive cloud-rolodex. CRM systems only deliver on their transformational potential when everyone from CEO to the sales floor are actually using the system in the right way. Below are the keys to getting everyone on the CRM bus from the outset:
You need a document signed. Maybe it's a contract. A disclosure statement. It could be anything. You attach it to an email and send it to your client. Your client prints it out and completes it. They sign it, scan it, attach it to an email and send it back. You print it and give it to your admin team. They double enter the data back into your system and file it. What a horrendous waste of time.