- The average small business uses nearly 100 technology applications outside of its primary customer relationship management system.
- Businesses may be able to integrate other applications into the main CRM platform to expand its functionality and streamline company organization.
- Popular CRM integrations include those for calendars, help-desk software and email clients.
- This article is for small business owners looking to use their CRM platform to its full potential as the primary driver of their technology suite.
What is CRM integration?
CRM integration is the process of connecting third-party applications and tools with your customer relationship management (CRM) software to merge their functions within one platform.
Think of CRM as the smartphone of your business. CRM platforms such as Salesforce or HubSpot act as the phones, the systems that store and categorize your customer data. But older phones, or simpler CRM offerings, can only manage a contact list; smartphones and newer CRM options feature applications to help you use your CRM more dynamically. [In need of a CRM system? Check out the CRM platforms we recommend as the best for small businesses.]
Businesses use dozens of software applications, which can include email clients, accounting software and social media dashboards. The separation of these tools creates data silos, pockets of isolated data inaccessible to some teams, that fragment customer profiles and limit how well your CRM can track the customer journey. However, when you use a CRM as the integrated hub for all of these systems, it remains adaptable. You can install or remove any number of the thousands of available applications from your CRM system at any time to best suit your needs.
Key takeaway: The software tools your business uses can be integrated into your CRM platform as third-party components designed to work natively within its central network.
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Types of CRM integrations your business should consider
The overabundance of available integrations can tempt decision-makers to install anything they believe carries even the smallest benefit. Many offer tempting features that promise complex analytics or upgrades to core practices. This, however, can be a trap.
Alex Haimann, partner and head of business development for Less Annoying CRM, said when it comes to integrations, you want to stay focused on what is important.
"The biggest mistake is a major focus on analytics reporting or other kinds of high-level tools and not enough emphasis or focus on actual daily use cases," Haimann told Business News Daily. "It isn't a failure to jump up just one level. Don't let the perfect be the envy of the good."
Following that guidance, here are nine must-have CRM integrations for every business.
1. Email and calendar platforms
Most task management clients like Gmail and Microsoft Outlook operate on an internal calendar that coordinates appointments and conversations within their own network. Over 70% of people rely on a digital calendar as their primary scheduler, but because many services rely on their own programmed schedule and reminder system, time management can become its own time sink as people try to remember which meetings are updated across each platform.
Integrating your task management client into your CRM platform creates one unified calendar. Whenever an appointment is scheduled in either the primary CRM hub, the task management client or any other integrated application, the primary calendar automatically updates.
2. Internal messaging
Instant messaging services for businesses have grown in popularity and become a primary method of internal communication. Much like email and calendar invites, instant messaging should correspond to the same schedule and contact base across all major systems. Connecting them merges the company directory and enhances communication among every member of the team.
These messaging options may soon become the preferred method for external outreach. Salesforce has acquired the Slack messaging service in a $27.7 billion megadeal, with plans to convert the messaging software into their native communications interface.
3. Accounting and billing
Accounting software that operates independently of your CRM requires repetitive, manual entry for all transactions. Integrating the accounting software with your CRM can simplify that process.
Any transaction occurring through an integrated platform automatically updates the associated accounts in real time. Balances remain current, and when closing several simultaneous deals, you may not have time to confirm across multiple financial records if one is outdated.
4. Phone and video
Sales teams spend much of their time on the phone, and any time spent recording call data or other logistics is time taken away from closing deals or following up on a promising lead. An integrated phone network automatically records every call. A salesperson can pick up, dial, record notes and quickly move to the next contact as that information is already saved into the CRM. This collected data remains attached to the customer ID and is always accessible.
5. Proposals and documents
When you have a customer who is ready to close a deal, the last thing you want is to waste time searching for the necessary paperwork. Connect document and file-sharing services like Dropbox to your CRM and keep relevant files attached to their associated customer profiles.
6. Help desk
Customers place enormous value on how quickly customer service can resolve their issues. Help desk systems demonstrate high success rates, but long wait times arise if your agents must frequently switch between platforms to resolve web tickets.
Integrated help desk solutions streamline the process by grouping all tickets and communications on one platform. Issued tickets are immediately available and linked to the originating website, and that ticket will link again to the customer profile of its issuer, which displays any of their past web tickets or purchases.
7. Live chat
Live chat is the most preferred and fastest-growing communication channel for customers. A merged live chat can better assist customers with the information already stored in the CRM platform, and it automatically records new interactions. Sales teams can then more efficiently target these leads using the relevant data learned by the chat service.
8. Outbound email campaigns
Disconnected data can disrupt a marketing campaign by poorly translating audience segments between email creation tools and your CRM platform. Combine your email marketing software with the CRM to add target segments with just a few clicks directly from the email creation tools to save significant time and energy.
9. Social media
The social media dashboard is one more calendar that needs to be tied to your overall company schedule. Separate social integrations can be installed for each network or with full social management platforms. These further detail your customer data by tracking how users engage with your channels, plus they can eliminate time spent on mundane tasks, such as researching which members of your email newsletter might be most receptive to a discount shared through social media. That history is already attached to their profile.
Key takeaway: The most important integrations for your CRM platform include email and calendar scheduling, phone and video calling, and email marketing management.
How to integrate applications
The simplest and most popular integration method leverages the application programming interface (API). It sounds complicated, but often, it entails clicking a second download button when using many of the major CRM platforms.
An API is what enables that easy download. Each application your business uses stores data in its own language, and an API functions as the translator. It merges that data when you connect two services. Common examples of this include YouTube videos playing in a small box on other webpages, or when Facebook connects with Spotify to share an embedded playlist on that user's Facebook profile. Most CRM platforms adhere to this modular approach, and the largest often provide their own catalog of integrations to third-party applications.
If you require a more customized integration or are unable to find one for a specific program, web developers can create code tailored to your system needs. Although this is a viable option to merge smaller tools, it might require extensive upkeep. Any update to your CRM could invalidate that code and prevent it from operating alongside newly installed applications.
Key takeaway: Most major CRM platforms and business tools offer prebuilt integrations designed for simple installation.
How important is CRM integration?
CRM integration consolidates many of your business processes into a central platform that drives your sales and revenue. Users can work from within that network without having to switch between programs or migrate data sets through incompatible programs.
A fully developed CRM integration suite facilitates company organization and communication, and it reduces the risk of losing or duplicating data through manual and tedious transfer procedures.
Key takeaway: The CRM platform is already the most vital tool of your sales team, but integrations boost its functionality to serve every vertical.