Making CRM Integration Work:
Key Insights for Data Management and Custom Integration
How much do you know about the actual practices of making CRM Integration work? I’ve contributed to more projects than I can remember over a thirty-year Marketing career. In this article, I’ll share some key insights for Data Management and Custom Integration into CRM.
There are many brands, technologies and tools available in the Customer Relationship Management and Data Management space today. So many, that naming them is counter-productive. It’s more important to distill the essence. Let’s get the right sequence of actions, first. Then focus on executing each one as best we can.
Business objectives provide the context
To start, identify the specific business needs and goals that your custom CRM integration aims to address. To do this, you’ll need to refer to two internal documents.
Management should provide a copy of the Long-Term Business Strategy, which provides the background Big Picture. It summarizes the current status of the Business, its direction, and major milestones expected along the way. For example, it outlines whether the market is developing or mature. It also addresses whether it is growing, static, consolidating, or shrinking. Additionally, it considers what technology developments are likely and what forces will have an impact on demand or supply. Extract the factors from this document that provide insight into the context you’re operating in.
The second internal document you need is the Go-to-Market Strategy for the Category or Product, typically prepared by the Business Development or Product Management team. This document tells you about the Product’s position along the Adoption Curve and suggests the appropriate communication style (innovator, early adopter, early or late majority). Determine whether the Marketing emphasis should be on promoting existing products or introducing new ones, as well as whether it focuses on targeting new or existing market segments. Examine the total product revenue targets and understand how they break down between acquiring new customers and generating repeat business. Finally, consider the quantities of contracts required to achieve the revenue target. Decide whether you aim for a high volume of low-value contracts or a small volume of high-value contracts.
The Buyers Journey is a data collection Process
Understanding the business context gives you a solid foundation for achieving your end goal: to ensure that your data management and CRM systems are aligned. Each of the factors described above can – and will – influence the design of the Buyers Journey. Close collaboration between Marketing and Sales will be needed to identify the Touchpoints that are essential to that Journey.
Each Touchpoint represents an opportunity to exchange information. As a vendor of products or services, you provide the Prospect with information about the product (features, functions, benefits, etc.), about your company (credibility, reputation, etc.) and so on. At the same time, you need to design and structure each Touchpoint so that you can gather information about the prospect organisation and the people involved in the planned purchase.
When designing those Touchpoints, it’s helpful to group the data into two categories: explicit and implicit data. Explicit data is provided directly by the Contact themselves, by entering information into a form field. This begins with things like Data Privacy Permission. It continues with personal information like Firstname, Lastname, before moving on to business address details. Implicit data is the behavioural or circumstantial data a Marketer can collect based on the context of the interaction. If the form language on a Product Webpage is English, then the profile can – on clicking SUBMIT – be enriched with hidden data. For example: Language = EN and Purchase Interest = Product Name.
Define the Data Mapping and Integration Plan
To inform and support the effectiveness and efficiency of the marketing and sales processes, you need to structure and organize all that data. So the next step is to define a clear data mapping and integration plan. Since the Buyers Journey is implemented across a combination of owned, earned and paid media, the Touchpoints collect data that resides in multiple sources and formats.
Begin with a Data Overview that addresses not only the existing systems, but also the systems that are likely to be introduced in the future, to support the Long-Term Business Strategy. The Data Overview should be as comprehensive as possible, listing all the Touchpoints, the underlying systems, the data type (explicit or implicit), the field names, their format and also the values (if pre-defined).
Data Quality by Design
The next step is to identify which data to synchronize between the systems and building the collection and routing processes. In the Data Quality by Design approach, we define the formats and values of data fields according to the data definition used in the downstream data system, and if necessary, make changes or adaptations. Ultimately, this means aligning the data with the ERP system rather than the CRM system.
The business justification for this approach is captured in the old slogan “the Sale isn’t made until it’s Paid”. After a Sale is recorded in a CRM, the data flows to the ERP systems which handle the contract, the invoicing, then delivery and shipment, and finally the flow of money from Customer to Vendor. A CRM that doesn’t integrate easily with the corporate ERP system will incur high maintenance costs and have a short life expectancy.
By designing the data collection process effectively, we can improve data accuracy and completeness while minimizing the need for data cleaning. We can also reduce data transformation to easily-maintained transformation tables or eliminate it altogether. This, in turn, facilitates more frequent data update cycles. In short, it makes sense to align data collection within all Touchpoints to the data definitions of the ERP system.
The most effective work sequence for achieving Data Quality by Design is “Simplify, Standardize, Automate.” Simplify involves reducing the number of data collection Use Cases in the Touchpoints to a minimum, avoiding unnecessary complexity. Standardize entails implementing the Use Cases consistently across the various media, platforms, and systems along the Buyers Journey. When we get the Simplify and Standardize steps right, automating the dataflow between systems becomes much simpler.
Tools and Technologies that Make CRM Integration Work
There are lots of them: APIs, middleware, et al . Check out the Data section of the “MarTech Map” at https://chiefmartec.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/martech-map-may-2022.jpg. To evaluate and select the ones that are appropriate for your custom integration, you’ll need time and effort. Tools and technologies must support the requirements of both your data and your CRM system. Key selection criteria to ensure successful integration will include flexibility, scalability, and security. Technical expertise will be needed here, so get the IT colleagues onboard early on.
When testing your custom integration, a controlled environment is undoubtedly the safest. Sample data sets are most effective if they are based on extracts or sub-sets of real data, rather than fictional use cases. By conducting data validation and error handling tests thoroughly, you can ensure that the integration transmits high-quality data, accurately and consistently.
Putting Systems into Play
Ensuring that your data management and CRM systems are well-documented takes time and energy, but the effort is always worth it. You should document data relationships between tables and systems using Database Schema diagrams. Additionally, remember to document custom integration processes. Flowchart diagrams with swimlanes can be used to easily understand the roles of various teams or systems in the Use Cases and how they are implemented.
Maintenance of documentation should be rigorous. It can be frustrating to lose unnecessary time due to changes made by staff who have since left the organization. The documentation should also be readily available. With the availability of shared servers and cloud services, there is no excuse for poor Version Control of Documentation in the 2020s. Give team members access to the relevant information and troubleshoot any issues as needed.
Since the purpose of collecting and integrating data into CRM is to support Business Workflows, it makes sense to complement the design and implementation with staff training. Integrated data is crucial for each of the Use Cases in the Buyers Journey. These may include Contact acquisition, nurturing and qualification; Lead generation and qualification; Opportunity management, handover to Sales, and value assessment. Short and concise modules presented in a self-service format are the most effective way to train staff. Educate your team members on how to use and leverage the integrated data in their workflows. Similarly, gathering their feedback enables you to provide ongoing User support and ensure they can maximize the value of the integration.
Continuous improvement makes CRM Integration work better
Nothing remains the same for long. The business environment undergoes changes, technology and products adapt to evolving requirements, and CRM workflows must be updated to keep up. As a result, it is necessary to periodically monitor any custom integration to identify issues or data discrepancies. Use the resulting list of adjustments to ensure that the integration continues to meet your business needs.
Continuously reviewing and evaluating the impact of your custom integration on your business processes allows you to make improvements as necessary. This ensures that the integration consistently delivers the expected ROI and adds value to your organization in the long term.
For successful CRM integration, it is crucial to transfer accurate and complete data from Touchpoints along the Buyers Journey to CRM. This can be a game-changer for businesses. However, it requires careful planning, execution, and maintenance. By following the key insights outlined in this article for designing data collection, data management, and CRM integration, businesses can ensure the effectiveness of their custom integration. This will provide accurate and reliable data that supports their business workflows. The continuous improvement process also helps businesses adapt to changing environments and evolving requirements, keeping the CRM integration relevant and valuable over time. Ultimately, a well-executed custom integration empowers businesses to achieve their objectives, optimize operations, and deliver enhanced customer experiences.