To integrate, or not to integrate

09 July, 2017 | Salesforce

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.

Plus

Minus

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.

Plus

Minus

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

Middleware sits between your CRM and other business systems, syncing and formatting data in real time. Middleware examples include Jitterbit and Mulesoft

Plus

Minus

Middleware is real time and robust - connections are stable  

Middleware can be an expensive investment, both in terms of ongoing software licenses and development.

 

Pre-built Application

Many CRMs have an Apps Marketplace, for example the Salesforce AppExchange, which have pre-built connectors between popular software platforms and the CRM.

Plus

Minus

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.

 

Continue to the next post in this series: How to navigate a CRM evaluation