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CRM Integration Basics: Meaning, Strategy, and How-to

Did you know your employees switch apps and interfaces more than 1,100 times a day? That’s hours of clicking between programs, dividing their attention, and copying and pasting information that might get compromised along the way.

In an ideal world, productivity apps and sales software increase organization and save time. But if your reps are using so many non-compatible programs that data isn’t getting where it needs to, then those apps are actually hindering, not helping your team.

The solution is integration—with a powerful CRM at the center. The right integrations create a digital transformation in your company where data syncs up and accuracy is guaranteed.

If you have a CRM but you’re not using the integration features, then you’re not fully benefiting from the abilities of this powerful technology. A CRM system only reaches its full potential when it’s connected with other applications and software, making it the central data hub.

And if you’re using Zendesk’s sales CRM, there’s a massive amount of integrations that make the tool infinitely customizable.

In this piece, we’ll guide you through everything you need to become an integrations expert and take your business productivity to the next step.

Integrated CRM definition

CRM (customer relationship management) system integration refers to the connectivity between your CRM tool and any other software or applications that you use on a regular basis. CRM integration means that when you do something in one integrated application, it automatically affects the data in all other integrated applications. This radically increases efficiency, saves time, and means you don’t have to go back and forth between systems or screens.

Ideally, successful CRM integration means that all company data moves accurately through different business applications so that everyone in the company, no matter what application they’re looking at, is working off of the same data.

What is a CRM integration?

A CRM integration is any application that either enhances your CRM experience or is enhanced by your CRM data. Whatever type of CRM software you use, you’ll want to find one that easily integrates with the other software you use daily. Depending on the size of your company, that could be well over a hundred different tools — the astounding average in 2021 was 110 software applications per business.

These applications add up quickly because they exist in so many places. On a daily basis, companies toggle between cloud applications, legacy infrastructure, and on-site hardware and software—frequently with overlap and lost data.

Considering that less than half of those applications are actually used to any benefit, it’s worth ensuring that your CRM comes with as many practical features as possible inside the CRM platform. Fewer applications mean that your integrations run more smoothly and that you’re less likely to miss linking one, resulting in mismanaged data.

What are the benefits of CRM integration?

We know that successful CRM integration can increase data accuracy and save time, but what does that mean for your company? Increased accuracy and more efficient time use aren’t just perks—they can create valuable ripple effects throughout the entire business.

Key benefits of fully utilizing CRM integrations include:

Better customer care and experience

The customer experience is the most important trend in sales right now. PwC’s 25th Annual CEO Survey revealed that 89 percent of CEOs have a focus on building trust with customers/clients over the next year.

And 81 percent of companies see customer experience as a key competitive differentiator.

When you use CRM integrations, you streamline customer communication, organize customer records, ensure accuracy in those records, and gain valuable customer insight:

  • Organized customer communication history means customer service reps won’t waste time going over issues multiple times.

  • Accurate customer records and contact management mean that customers won’t get angry when you try to show them false data.

  • Organized customer records mean that you don’t have to keep customers waiting while you switch between programs trying to gain a full picture of their issue.

  • Tracked customer histories and sales force automation mean that you can predict ideal items for upsells and cross sells while determining the best times to reach out for future purchases.

All of these benefits lead to happier customers — happier customers lead to increased revenue.

Automation, Organization, and Efficiency

Some clichés are absolutely true in the business world. Time does, in fact, equal money. And wasted time might as well be spent shredding dollars in the breakroom.

Office-based employees currently spend about 2 hours of their 8-hour workday on unproductive emails. That’s 30 working days/year per employee, all spent searching through inboxes to confirm information, grab contacts, and check for new messages. If you have 100 employees, that’s a loss of 3,000 work days in one year — and that’s not counting the hours of lost focus due to email refreshing.

CRM integration can cut those lost hours in half. When employees can access any and all data in one place through a simple search engine or knowledge base, they can respond faster and stay focused.

Additionally, features like mobile crm apps and cloud crm platforms enable your staff to work from any location. When reps are in the field, they simply can’t be dependent on office-specific software for answers to customer questions. Mobile CRM solutions allow your team to access information from anywhere.

Most useful types of CRM integrations

Every application you integrate with your CRM boosts alignment and streamlines communication, but there are some that are inherently more beneficial for your business. We’ll take a deeper look at those below, but first, here are three useful categories of CRM integrations you’ll want to consider:

  • CRM integration with marketing (e.g. Act-On)

  • CRM integration with customer service (e.g. IT service management software)

  • CRM integration with e-commerce (e.g. Square or Magento)

Most integrations will fall into one of these categories. Looking at CRM integrations from this perspective lets you know which categories you may be short on or over-invested in. It also helps frame the purpose of these integrations, so they don’t exist just for the sake of additional data.

Knowing that, let’s take a closer look at a few of the most useful CRM integrations you can use.

CRM website integration

Website integration is the first and easiest integration available to your CRM. Synching your CRM with your website and web forms software (e.g. WordPress, Mailchimp, etc) keeps your contact list updated and quickly captures leads for your marketing and sales teams.

Once captured, your CRM’s contact management software can help you qualify leads and segment them for appropriate targeting. This keeps your leads fresh, accurate, organized, and automated. No more uploading contact information, no more searching through leads for marketing segments — just clean sales work.

CRM data integration

Data integration is arguably what CRMs were built for in the first place. Depending on how many applications your company uses and how many customers and/or employees you have, data integration can take different forms. CRMs for SMBs (small businesses) can often compile data without assistance, while larger businesses may need the help of an API strategy (we’ll get further into that later on).

Either way, CRM data integration allows for the creation of a CRM database that holds all of your customer information in one, easily accessible place. That way, your sales team can see the full picture of each customer with the touch of a button and compare it to other customer profiles. They can also use the sales tracker tool to determine where prospects are in the pipeline and whether or not they might need a nudge.

CRM marketing automation

CRM platforms are crucial for aligning sales and marketing. Many companies only use CRMs for sales teams. But CRMs can use sales data and sales automation to help the marketing customer support departments as well.

CRM integrations connect relevant data from the sales and customer service departments so that marketing can assess and adjust inbound lead generation tactics to prioritize the most successful channels. When marketing has access to the data from sales software, they can use current customer behavior to perfect their strategies and attract future customers.

CRM ERP integration

ERP (enterprise resource planning) software is often paired alongside a CRM to handle primary business activities. ERPs handle business functions (like inventory and HR) and CRMs handle business transactions (sales, marketing, etc). Since companies use both platforms so frequently, a common question is ‘Can CRM be integrated with ERP’?

The answer is yes—and there are potent benefits to doing so. It doesn’t always have to be ERP vs. CRM. Both ERPs and CRMs work with business data that can influence your company’s growth and success, so why not combine forces?

Integrating your ERP and your CRM can:

  • Reduce duplication and/or loss of financial reports and reimbursement forms.

  • Improve sales forecasting with the combination of inventory reports and sales reports.

  • Enable reps to give customers more accurate quotes based on available inventory.

The more knowledge you can keep in one location, the more accurate and productive your business will be in the long run.

CRM and ecommerce integration

If your company deals with any kind of ecommerce, your ecommerce app needs to be integrated with your CRM. Integrating ecommerce apps automatically updates your customer profiles with live purchase information so that your sales reps have completely accurate customer histories to work from.

Ecommerce integrations also help build inbound leads. Say your business allows customers to self-purchase without the assistance of a sales rep. When a purchase is made, your ecommerce app can log that buyer’s information so that your CRM can properly register the contact and create a customer profile.

Additional CRM integrations

Of course, there are many other incredibly useful CRM integrations. Some other CRM integrations that can greatly benefit your company include:

Email integrations (e.g. like email tracking)

Calendar integrations (e.g. Google Calendar)

Prospecting software integrations

Social media integrations

Team communication integrations (e.g. Slack)

Calling software integrations (e.g. Fireflies)

Form and survey integrations (e.g. Survey Monkey)

Many of these integrations are available with top CRMs and should be used to their fullest extent. The more you can centralize all of your data and communications, the smoother your operations will run.

How to integrate a CRM system

So, you have your CRM and you have your third-party system … now what?

There are three options for integrating systems and applications into a CRM.

  1. You can invest in one company and/or provider’s software so that all systems automatically integrate (akin to how all Apple products automatically sync up when you log in).

  2. Your IT department or tech department can write additional code to link the systems (not recommended if you’re using a large number of systems, but possible for small businesses with the right resources).

  3. You can use an API, or Application Programming Interface.

The third option is often the best, especially since companies are always expanding their software use. Let’s take a closer look at CRM and API integration.

CRM API integration strategy

APIs are intermediary softwares that allow two different applications to communicate and run seamlessly. We see APIs used every day in our non-work lives. Any time you order a Lyft, the GPS technology from Google Maps is integrated with the Lyft app through an API. Every time your company embeds a Youtube video into your website, that video runs through an API.

The simplicity of API technology is often overlooked because an API sounds like “just another complicated software” you need to invest in. That’s not necessarily true. You do need to invest in an API (and you can through businesses like Nordic Apis), but API platforms are not expensive and they contribute an incalculable level of smoothness to your integrations and operations.

Additionally, APIs play several roles in CRM integrations:

  • System APIs pull data from large systems when access is needed — like a rep requesting information from the marketing system.

  • Process APIs work specific business transitions involving multiple systems needing to function at the same time. For example, when a rep pulls up a customer profile, the payment history system, the communications and tickets system, and the marketing profile system need to simultaneously come together.

  • Experience APIs combine both and focus largely on end-game situations, usually handled by customer service teams.

If you’re not sure whether or not you need an API, you can always check your CRM software guide for implementation steps. Zendesk Sell can even provide access to its own API for unparalleled levels of customization.

Customer data integration best practices

No matter how you’re integrating your data and applications, you want to make sure nothing gets lost along the way. Here are a few best practices to keep in mind when handling integrations:

  • Check to see if your CRM is compatible with your application before trying to integrate it. Well-built CRM platforms will have a list of partners and integratable apps available on their website. Most CRMs are integratable with most systems, but certain partnerships with other companies may mean that not all integrations are possible.

  • Back up all of your application data before attempting an integration. As with any data technology, the last thing you want is a wiped system. Make sure your data is backed up before you start. You can always delete the backup later.

  • Speak to a specialist at your CRM company if you’re not sure how to integrate. The creators of the CRM are the best people to give you tech advice if you’re having trouble.

  • Alert your employees when you’re doing an integration. Employees need to know when updates are happening, and if they need to restart any systems. They will also need to understand exactly which systems their data will automatically transfer to and which may still need manual entries.

Leverage Zendesk’s pool of partners and integrations

Sell, the Zendesk CRM for sales teams, partners with over 300 apps and systems. Integrating any of these programs is a breeze. Simply navigate to “Integrations”, enable the integration on the specific app, assign users, and keep on working.

At Zendesk, we believe in making things simpler, not more complicated. You invested in a CRM to streamline your process — your integrations should enhance that. Whether you’re dealing with complex sales applications or simple social media interfaces, Zendesk makes the integration process smooth, simple, and clear.

Request a demo of Zendesk and start building your company’s perfect workflow today.

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