Hurray! You have a CRM! Now what?
How can you integrate this customer relationship management tool with the other tools your business is already using to connect with customers, fulfill orders, collect payment, develop new products and keep everything running smoothly?
There are many challenges here, not the least of which is rolling out the CRM to the sales team. But let’s assume you’ve done that and your sales team is now asking questions like:
Why can’t I see my customer’s invoice history in the CRM? This would be useful when I add a new Opportunity.
Why can’t I see the orders updated more than once per month in the CRM? I go to client meetings more than once per month.
Can I report on the number of elapsed days from Opportunity Close Date to Order Ship date? I’m connecting with a Product Manager and need to show her why we should increase production and drive down customer wait time.
Why can’t I share my CRM password with the intern so he can run my reports?
Your job as the integration manager is to understand how to get your CRM to talk to your existing systems so your sales team can make the most your organization’s latest piece of technology. Every integration situation is different, but here are some common obstacles you may face with CRM integrations, and steps you can take towards solving them.
Single Process Focus
Each of your software applications are likely focused on a single business process. You have an ERP system to track orders and product inventory. You have a billing system to invoice. You have a CRM system to track leads, opportunities, and open accounts. What you may lack is a single integrated source of truth through all of these systems for one customer. When you analyze these systems from the outside in (your customers’ point of view), instead of inside out (your internal departments), you gain an entirely new perspective on the information that could (or should) flow between them.
By taking the data from siloed systems that are focused on a single activity and painting it onto a larger canvas, you can better understand your customers and how sales staff need to leverage their information in order to drive new business.
Cross-System Data Mapping
When is a Date not a Date? When you say Opportunity Close Date, do you mean Expected Close Date or Actual Close Date? Do we need to track both and report on the difference? When a new opportunity suddenly splits into two, one for each half of the year, and the annual forecast changes, what is the impact?
There is nuance here that cannot be ignored. Oversimplifying how you track your data can lead to blindly taking on greater risk than your organization can bear. While solid reasoning may justify tracking data differently across systems, it complicates cross-system data mapping, and should be avoided if possible.
An expert can assist you with this mapping, taking time to vet the data map with subject matter experts. Getting the data mapping right from the start will build confidence in the team members using your CRM and will drive user adoption.
Risk increases with the replication of data across multiple systems. For example, to prepare a complete potential revenue picture, you might push Order and Invoice data into the CRM to view alongside Opportunity data. This means Order and Invoice data are available in both the CRM and the ERP systems. When systems become out of sync, it becomes unclear which one is the “source of truth” and which should be used to update the others.
Clear documentation can allow staff to provide clarity and manage data interruptions. Documentation that illustrates the flow of data, along with frequency of updates, and any data manipulation (e.g. calculations) will reduce risk. These documents can be references when doing an ad-hoc data update, as well as regularly scheduled automated data refresh activity or troubleshooting.
A thorough testing process will further reduce risk around data cleanliness. A test plan written in advance, with business input, will also ensure that data mapping is accurate, updates are timely, and the net result provides useful insights for your sales team.
Security risk becomes a larger concern as you expand the number of applications in a corporate ecosystem. As for protecting sensitive information in your CRM, all the basics apply to the CRM as to any other corporate software: use strong password requirements, set parameters for staff to update their passwords periodically, and instruct team members to keep their passwords private. Your data is only as safe as the practices your team members follow.
Limited Integration Access Methods
Single-process systems (e.g. ERP, invoicing) may provide limited integration methods. Many clients are working with legacy systems that were state-of-the-art ten years ago, when a manual process was automated. But now those systems are feeling the limitations of their age.
Nearly any database can be queried and the results exported in a CSV file. The CSV file can be dropped off and processed by your CRM, but this process is limited by FTP servers, cron scheduling, and 1990’s technology.
But can the source systems accept and respond to an API request? Modern transactional systems are increasingly providing real-time and near-real-time access to data via APIs, so end users can access the latest and greatest information just in time for the next customer meeting.
Consider updating systems or adding a middle layer to leverage newer connectivity methods. Modern data exchange protocols allow you to refresh data in the CRM on a timely basis — whether that be hourly, nightly, monthly, etc. Providing the right data to the right team member can mean retaining current customers and winning new ones through efficiency.
Wiring your CRM into the complex web of applications used to run your business on a daily business may seem like a daunting task. While you should approach it with the gravity it deserves, you can also keep the long-term goal clear in the front of your mind: a seamless, holistic picture of every customer easily accessible in your CRM, with fresh (and safe!) data clearly arranged to tell a story.