CRMs commonly exist as a standalone system where the data is collected natively in the software application. However, there are instances where it is vital that data generated from other external systems is needed to get an expanded view of the business as well as for reporting to assist in key strategic business decisions.  One of the hallmarks of a CRM is to be able to go to one place to see a full 360 degree view of each account eliminating the need to log into multiple systems to view the data.  The process of transferring the data from one system to another is called integration.

Some of the methods used to perform the integration will depend on a few questions/drivers of the data transfer itself:

  • Will the data transfer be unidirectional or bidirectional? It is determined by the requirements of data needing to be pushed or pulled from the CRM in relations to other external systems.  If one scenario is needed it is unidirectional…if both are required it is bidirectional.
  • What is the frequency of the data transfer? It is typically looked at in 3 modes: (1) Real Time Updates (TRU) where the transfer occurs instantaneously via a trigger/action from either system, (2) Scheduled Auto Updates and (3) Unscheduled Manual Updates
  • What is the type of data to be transferred and what is it be used for? The data could be for view only or dynamic, current or historical (i.e. orders vs. shipments), change conditions (i.e. credit hold, create records (i.e. sales quote conversion to sales order).  These factors will help decide the method of transfer.
  • What is the cost of the data transfer? Securing a permanent integration point tends to add additional cost to the data transfer.  Also, a hidden cost of the integration is the customization of the CRM needed to sufficiently display the imported data as well as any processes/workflows created for trigger points.

Some the most common methods (varying from advanced to basic) used for CRM integration are:

  • API – Application Programming Interface (ReST or SOAP) – since most systems now have an API, this method is the most commonly used when creating a permanent integration point and for its simplicity
  • Web Services (ReST or SOAP) – used when APIs are not available and for data transfer for CTI integration
  • Direct ODBC connection via VPN – used in applications with special/security conditions
  • Simple Batch Spreadsheet Uploads –can be accomplished manually via CRM Importing module or automatically via email

So what are some common types of CRM integration that companies use?  What they use tends to be industry and functional specific:

  • Back office system databases Integration – Integrating to back office systems is common especially Accounting Systems where A/R, orders & shipments are transferred/tracked. Manufacturing companies in particular are heavy users of this type of integration since they have many disparate back office systems such as ERPs that have Inventory, Materials Planning, Procurement, Forecasting and other data that has to be tracked.
  • CTI Integration – Integrating to a VOIP Phone System is common among outgoing call centers and incoming customer service organizations. It provides the ability for one button “call out” service as well as screen pops for incoming calls.  This allows for enhanced application streamlining and efficiency.
  • Company Website Integration– CRMs can integrate to a company website for B2B and B2C lead generation. This is done by mapping the CRM to web lead registration forms such as “Contact Us”, “Sign Up for Free Trial”, “Schedule a Demo”, “Download a Whitepaper” or any other call-to-action triggers on a website.

Online Services Integration – Many Industries such as the construction business utilize online services that are hooked into the CRM to provide lead generation.  Some popular online services are Dun & Bradstreet’s D&B Direct program and the Dodge Report Lead program.