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 CRM Integration.
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
Identifying the specific business needs and goals that your custom CRM integration aims to address is a good place to start. For this, you’ll need to reach for two internal documents.
Management should provide a copy of the Long-Term Business Strategy, to provide the background Big Picture. It will summarise the current status of the Business, its’ direction and major milestones expected along the way. For example: whether the market is developing or mature. Whether it is growing, static, consolidating or shrinking. What technology developments are likely? What forces will have an impact on demand or supply? You’ll need to extract the factors that tell you about the context you’re operating in.
The second internal document you need is the Go-to-Market Strategy for the Category or Product. It’s typically written by the Business Development or Product Management team. This will tell you where the Product is along the Adoption Curve and what sort of communication style is appropriate (innovater, early adopter, early or late majority). Does the Marketing emphasis need to be on promoting existing products versus introducing new ones? Does it focus on targeting new or existing market segments? Now look at the total product revenue targets. How do the targets break down by acquisition of new customers versus repeat business? Lastly, look at the quantities of contracts needed to make the revenue target. Do you want 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 for an exchange of 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: Language = EN and Purchase Interest = Product Name.
Define the Data Mapping and Integration Plan
And all that data needs to be structured and organised to inform and support the effectiveness and efficiency of the marketing and sales processes. So the next step is to define a clear data mapping and integration plan. Because the Buyers Journey is implemented across a combination of owned, earned and paid media, the data collected via Touchpoints 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 must be synchronised between the systems and to build the collection and routing processes. In the Data Quality by Design approach, the formats and values of data fields are defined – and where necessary, changed or adapted – according to the data definition used in the downstream data system. Ultimately, this means the ERP system, rather than the CRM system.
The business justification for this approach is 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 be expensive for IT to maintain and has a short life expectancy.
Design the data collection right and data accuracy and completeness will be improved. Data cleaning will also be minimised. Data transformation can be reduced to easily-maintained transformation tables, or be avoided completely. This in turn makes it easier to ramp up the frequency of 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, Standardise, Automate”. Simplify means reducing the number of data collection Use Cases in the Touchpoints to a minimum. This avoids unnecessary complexity. Standardise means implementing the Use Cases consistently across the various media, platforms and systems along the Buyers Journey. If you get the Simplify and Standardise steps right, then the task of automating the dataflow between systems becomes very 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
It takes time and energy to ensure that your data management and CRM systems are well-documented, but it is always worth the effort. Database Schema diagrams document data relationships between tables and systems. Be sure to document custom integration processes, too. Flowchart diagrams with swimlanes make it easy to understand the roles of various teams or systems in the Use Cases and the way they are implemented.
Maintenance of documentation should also be rigorous. There’s nothing more frustrating than losing unnecessary time because staff who have subsequently left the organisation, made changes. And the documentation must be readily available too. Given the availability of share servers and cloud services, there’s really no excuse for poor Version Control of Documentation in the 2020s. Give team members access to the relevant information and then troubleshoot issues as needed.
Since the purpose of all this data collection and integration into CRM is to support Business Workflows, it makes sense to round out the design and implementation with staff training. Integrated data is the lifeblood of each of the Use Cases in the Buyers Journey: 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, gaining their feedback enables you to provide ongoing User support and ensure that they can maximize the value of the integration.
Continuous improvement makes CRM Integration work better
Nothing stays the same for long. The business environment changes. Technology and products adapt to evolving requirements. And CRM workflows must be updated to keep pace. As a result, any custom integration needs monitoring on a periodic basis to identify any issues or data discrepancies. Use the resulting list of adjustments to ensure the integration continues to meet your business needs.
Continuously reviewing and evaluating the impact of your custom integration on your business processes, enables you to make improvements as needed. This ensures that the integration continues to deliver the expected ROI and adds value to your organization over the long term.
To make CRM integration work, accurate and complete data from Touchpoints along the Buyers Journey must be transferred to CRM. This can be a game-changer for businesses, but it requires careful planning, execution, and maintenance. By following the key insights for the design of data collection, data management and CRM integration as outlined in this article, businesses can ensure that their custom integration works effectively, providing accurate and reliable data that supports their business workflows. The continuous improvement process can also help businesses adapt to changing business environments and evolving requirements. This keeps the CRM integration relevant and valuable in the long run. Ultimately, a well-executed custom integration can help businesses achieve their business objectives, optimize their operations, and deliver better customer experiences.