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Customer data remains one of the most valuable resources a company can have. By better understanding current and prospective customers, a company can provide more personalized attention and better strategize marketing. Recording, aggregating and managing all this data, however, is a hefty task. That’s why companies so often turn to integrated customer relationship management (CRM) systems to centralize other systems, databases and information streams.
What Is CRM Integration?
To best understand CRM integration, let’s first take a step back and examine how businesses utilize CRM systems.
CRM Software Explained
Customer relationship management as a practice combines strategies and technologies to best manage interactions with customers. It relies on collecting and analyzing data from points of contact with customers throughout the “customer life cycle.” This cycle can include everything from initial contact with prospects and leads to post-sale interactions and subscriber or client retention efforts.
CRM software, in turn, is a centralized platform designed to consolidate a variety of customer-related information into a single database or set of databases for faster, more streamlined access and analysis. Through this compilation and storage of information like customer bio details, account information, sales data, company records and more, customers can be more readily managed. Some CRM systems are single-purchase software products installed on a company server, which give the business full control over the program and the data. Other systems function as software as a service (SaaS) platforms that a business can subscribe to and access from anywhere. Open source solutions exist as well.
CRM systems allow customer data to be collected, stored and organized automatically. Automation not only streamlines the customer experience but also improves that of the business by reducing workload. This also helps facilitate adaptability to or connectivity with other distinct systems within the business, which is perhaps the biggest advantage of CRM systems. Do your customers provide an email upon purchase via one program, but another program manages email marketing? CRM software can bridge this gap.
How CRM Integration Works
A CRM system reaches its full potential when it’s connected with other applications and software. “CRM integration” is the act of connecting a CRM system with other systems, and simply means that a business’s customer data can be seamlessly integrated with third-party systems. These third-party systems might be unrelated to the CRM system, but the data they generate or use can make CRM work better, and vice versa.
Integration will look quite different for different types of businesses. For some, it’s as simple as linking a CRM system with a few functions of a company website, which can be done via integrations already built into CRM software. However, more complex businesses will need to integrate a CRM platform with a variety of other systems, including ones that are equally or more complex, such as an ERP (enterprise resource planning) system.
Most CRM system integrations require connecting through APIs (application programming interfaces). A tool called “integration platform as a service” (iPaaS) that facilitates information sharing between third-party systems has become common for performing CRM integrations.
CRM Integration Examples
While CRM integration can extend into a broad variety of business functions, here are some especially common examples of CRM integration.
Integrating CRM With E-Commerce
Perhaps no area of business stands to benefit more from a CRM system and its proper integration than the world of sales. CRM systems are an important tool here as they record and track data on current clients and leads across many channels.
To get the most out of this function, the CRM system must be integrated with whatever e-commerce platform is being used to manage sales operations (i.e. customer browsing, ordering, payment collection). Examples include BigCommerce, Shopify, WooCommerce and Square, to name a few. Doing so will allow contacts, products and orders to be automatically synced within one system.
Integrating CRM With Marketing
Before sales are made, many businesses hope to have acquired a wealth of information about potential customers—the goal being to have a “360-degree” view of a customer profile. As such, many businesses rely on marketing automation systems such as Salesforce Marketing Cloud, Adobe Experience Cloud, HubSpot and others to integrate customer data from the most common marketing channels.
To view a potential customer through all possible channels and most effectively market to them, CRM system integration is crucial. In the case of marketing, CRM integration can connect relevant data with all other customer information generated throughout the customer life cycle and help funnel the lead toward the appropriate marketing channel in order to close a sale.
Integrating CRM With Customer Service
When customers contact businesses for information or assistance, tickets or cases are generated and must be tracked and organized. Up-to-date information on warranties, repairs/maintenance and returns must also be managed and cross-referenced. A range of software can be used to address these aspects of customer service (like IT service management software and field service software), but integration with CRM software or services is necessary in order to connect this information to other related areas.
CRM integration can simply merge this customer service data with larger databases of customer data, and it can also link customer service operations directly with other channels. For example, do on-site repair techs have access to information about customers’ calls to support staff? Without an information-sharing solution, how will marketing or customer service departments know when to follow up with a customer if a repair tech notes anticipated maintenance?
Benefits of CRM Integration
At its best, CRM integration within a business works much like the expediter in a restaurant kitchen, linking the customer-facing side of operations to the “back of house” where services are generated. In both cases, a streamlined and predictable flow of information between these different elements is what keeps the whole picture running smoothly and, ultimately, customers happy. Here are a few major benefits gained from using CRM integration to this end.
Better Communication and Customer Care
The quality of customers’ experience when doing business with you is every bit as important as the quality of the products or services rendered. This is particularly true in fields of business where similar products and services are offered by many competitors. In order to keep customers satisfied and stay ahead of their competition, businesses can’t afford to drop the ball on any necessary communication, and must make timely, accurate and personalized contact when reaching out.
The access to information, capacity for automation and potential to supplement employee awareness that CRM integration allows have become invaluable to the customer-facing elements of many businesses. CRM can help provide the best shot at driving sales growth through attracting and retaining customers with the appropriate communication.
Opportunities for Automation
Any platform supporting the automation of communication and record-keeping tasks stands to help a business conserve resources as these are two areas that will otherwise eat up a tremendous amount of employee time. For example, a well-integrated CRM system can connect incoming information about customer support needs to a system that automates the appropriate communication to the customer and to relevant parties within the business. This saves time and money because there’s no need to hire an employee to direct the workflow nor to manually keep records of it all once it’s completed.
Improved Organization and Efficiency
As important to internal efficiency as automation is, the consolidation of information into one system allows for increased productivity. Tasks such as monitoring and analyzing customer data can be done more easily and at greater scale when employees don’t have to log in to and toggle back and forth between multiple systems, and when desired information can be retrieved and manipulated instantly. Centralized access to organized data not only eases an employee’s workload; it also promotes transparency and clear communication within the business.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why not just use custom code instead of APIs or iPaaS?
Developers can write code to connect two different systems and force them to communicate, and can probably do so without too much trouble. While not uncommon, this strategy can quickly get messy, as companies may use hundreds of different applications and the connections can break with updates from any of those software. That’s why integrated CRM systems are recommended, especially for businesses that frequently change or update their products or services and may not have software developers on staff.
Do CRM systems integrate with social media?
Telephone, email and website channels have comprised the bulk of customer-business communication in recent decades, but social media is increasingly driving interaction and even direct sales. As such, CRM integration with social media is becoming an increasingly important aspect of managing customer relations. There are many applications for social media management and automation that integrate quite well with CRM systems.
What does CRM integration mean for customers?
Customers will likely benefit from improved timeliness of communications from a business when CRM integration is properly utilized, but the biggest difference they will notice is a business’s increased capacity for personalization. CRM systems allow a business to make more of its communication customized toward the individual customer—and for that customization to be more accurate—because of how effective they are at analyzing consumer patterns with so much customer data from so many different sources.