Shopping for a CRM is a time-consuming and thoughtful process. It’s deliberative, like shopping for a home for a growing family. On the one hand, you anticipate you’re going to need more room. When looking at options, you’ll think of the possibilities… but then you’ve got to factor in the price. Do you need so much room? Will you realistically grow enough to warrant it, or could you make do with less? In five years, will you outgrow your home and face this process all over again?
There’s a case to be made that many CRMs try to do too much. What defines the software? Contact management? Automation? Interoperability with your other business apps? Depending on the user, it might be one, all three, or completely different answers. There’s something to be said for a platform that does well within a narrow scope and integrates with third-party apps to do the rest. We’ve written before about essential integrations for CRM software with a focus on multichannel… fine, omnichannel communication. Let’s now revisit the topic with a look at external functionality integrations for your sales CRM, and a few providers for each one.
1. Email marketingEmail marketing is a pillar of digital marketing, particularly lead nurturing and qualification. While there are plenty of areas to allocate your digital marketing budget -- search engine optimization, advertisements, content generation -- the coveted email address and almighty segmented subscriber lists put relevant messages in front of interested readers. With the right email marketing solution, you can monitor their responses, refine your approach and get the highest quality leads for your sales team. Looking for an email marketing platform? Check out Constant Contact or Get Response, and our article on the basic email marketing features you'll need.
2. Business intelligenceYour CRM stores a lot of data, and you want a way to visualize it. While some CRMs come with built-in analytics, reports and dashboards, you may need a more powerful, dedicated intelligence platform. Visualize your sales data, built forecasts, track CRM activity, and customize reports for inventory planning and other uses with third-party analytics software like PowerBI, AppInsights, or Plecto.
3. AccountingIf you’re using your CRM for anything more than contact management, chances are you’ll want to integrate your sales CRM with the accounting app of your choice. You’ll be able to include invoicing, sales quotes, expense claims, and order forms with your contact and organization data without needing to switch screens. You can also store common documents in the CRM's cloud storage for easy access. If you’re looking for an online accounting solution, check out Quickbooks Online or Xero.
4. Marketing automationEmail marketing is great, but if you are looking for a more complete marketing solution, with lead generation, lead scoring, campaigns, automations and optimization tools, then the closer integration with your CRM the better. There are a lot of respectable marketing automation options out there; for highly-regarded, affordable solutions, check out Marketo or ActiveCampaign. If you’re interested in a solution with combined sales and marketing automation, take a look at Infusionsoft or HubSpot, and read our head-to-head comparison of the two.
If your business is growing well enough to warrant a dedicated customer service solution, you’re going to want it integrated with your CRM. This way you’ll have customer context, like interaction or purchase history, segmentation details, customer value and so forth, available when you’re handling support tickets. For good helpdesk solutions, check out Happyfox, Kayako, and our head-to-head comparison of Zendesk vs. Freshdesk.
6. Social media
You’ll need your CRM data for social sales, marketing and social customer service. Make sure your CRM can connect with the social networks you use the most, whether Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram, you name it. (But be wary of solutions that offer integrations with all of them -- the ‘jack of all trades’ principle applies.) Current solutions for social CRM should integrate, at least, with Facebook and Twitter and offer real-time notifications, the ability to post from within the CRM, contact, lead or ticket creation from direct messages.
7. Scheduling app/calendarIf you book sales meetings or frequently meet with clients, you’ll want to integrate either a scheduling or calendar app. Features include letting contacts book time slots, video conferencing tools and integration with communication apps. Need a good scheduling app? Check out join.me. For calendars, the big ones -- Google Calendar, Apple Calendar or Outlook -- integrate with most CRMs.
8. Sales quotes/proposals
There are plenty of solutions that help you produce polished sales quotes, proposals and other client-facing documents while also integrating with your sales CRM. This allows you to link contact or organization-specific documents in their respective activity timelines or store common documents in the CRM for easy reuse. Need a good solution? Check out PandaDoc, Octiv or Qwilr.
9. EcommerceA business with an online storefront can benefit from ecommerce and CRM integration by expanding the contextual sales and marketing advantage of CRM to the online customer base, and incorporating the storefront’s performance data into your CRM’s reporting functionality. This lets ecommerce retailers to better anticipate demand, segment customers by channel, minimize data loss with automation and reduce churn. Need a good ecommerce platform? Check out Shopify, BigCommerce or WooCommerce, and read our article on how you can leverage your retail CRM.
10. Computer TelephonyBeing able to make calls from your CRM offers the notable advantages of customer data and context for whatever the purposes of the call, whether for sales or customer service by phone. Virtual call centers have been around for a while, and numerous providers integrate with CRMs -- for a list of providers, check out this article from our sister blog on the top business VoIP solutions that integrate with CRMs.
11. WorkflowA major selling point of modern CRMs is their ability to automate common or redundant tasks. Automation is all about saving ‘clicks’: incremental amounts of time saved on data entry adds up and means either more time on productive tasks or at least a moment to save your mental bandwidth. Many CRMs allow automation of CRM activity, and native integrations with common apps can streamline other features, but to build workflows between your CRM with non-natively integrated business app, check out Zapier, Tenfold and Automate.io. Alternatively, if you’ve got a developer on board, you could build a custom integration using your CRM’s API.
For teams with remote members, or colleagues who simply don’t want to get up, connect your people with collaborative tools for them to chat, send files, create project-specific channels and so on. Many of these collaborative tools integrate with CRMs for additional features, like real-time notifications, opportunity management, and so forth. Need a collaboration app? Check out Slack, Spark, HipChat or other alternatives that do what the brand names can’t.
Bringing your business apps together is the secret sauce for increased productivity and creative focus on the profitable aspects of your business. Automate busy work, add layers of contextual detail, and attack a goal from multiple angles by connecting your sales CRM with your essential third-party integrations.