What is CRM integration? Here’s what you need to know

A guide to implementing CRM integrations

The market size for the CRM space is projected to increase from roughly 58 to 129 billion dollars from 2021 to 2028.

While the growth rate might seem staggering when taken at face value, it makes sense when you look at the value provided by the platform.

A customer relationship management platform helps sales reps engage in effective prospecting; it empowers customer success managers to support and delight clients; it allows your customer-facing colleagues to collaborate and stay aligned—and so much more.

These benefits are magnified once you’ve integrated your CRM system with the other tools your organization relies on. We’ll break down common CRM integrations that illustrate this point, and we’ll share various options for implementing these integrations. But first, let’s review the basics.

Related: How automation can help you enrich leads quickly, yet effectively

What is a CRM?

It’s a technology platform that lets you manage client and prospect relationships. Its overarching aim is to help you deliver valuable experiences to both groups while maximizing revenue opportunities for your business. 

Sales reps, marketers, customer success managers, among other customer-facing employees, can use the platform to store and look up prospect and customer information, set task reminders, perform sales forecasts, message colleagues, view dashboards, among a wide range of other activities. Given all the ways it can function, it’s perhaps little surprise that integrating it with other apps is critical to its implementation and the success of your business. 

What is CRM integration?

It’s the process of connecting your CRM with the other modern apps and legacy systems your organization uses. Once connected, the data can be shared freely between them, allowing your employees to access a richer set of data within the apps they’re already using.

Related: What is software integration? Here’s a short definition

The challenges of operating without CRM integration

To better understand why CRM integration is critical, let’s imagine how your business would operate without it.

Employees would be forced to perform extensive data entry

If your CRM operated independent from the rest of your tech stack, your team would be forced to perform data entry for every bit of information you wanted to add, either in your CRM or from your CRM to another app. This lends itself to a poor employee experience, as employees are forced to perform mind-numbing, repetitive tasks in place of more thoughtful, strategic tasks; just as important, it also leaves your employees vulnerable to all kinds of human errors that could have significant downstream effects on your business. 

Your organization would lack a customer 360

A customer 360, or a centralized, comprehensive collection of customer data, is paramount to your organization’s success for a number of reasons. 

It gives your teams a single source of truth, preventing any misalignment and friction between departments; it empowers customer-facing teams to deliver personalized experiences to clients, allowing clients to experience more value from your organization and for your organization to capture additional revenue opportunities successfully; and, as we’ll also cover later, it helps remove data silos, as teams no longer have to request access to certain types of customer information. 

Clearly, the consequences of operating without one are severe, both for your target audience and your employees.

You’d struggle to make full use of best-in-class applications

Without an integration strategy in place, you’re all but certain to yield a lower ROI from your CRM and the tools that complement it.

For instance, say your organization uses a marketing automation platform to collect and nurture leads. Without a streamlined way to sync leads between your marketing automation software and your CRM, your organization would struggle to keep information up-to-date in the latter. As a result, your sales team is unaware of warm leads, and will fail to reach them at opportune moments.

CRM integration use cases

The following examples can help bring our definition to life.

Note: An enterprise automation platform powers the integrations and workflows across these examples. We’ll cover more on how this type of platform works, in addition to your other options for implementing integrations, later in this article. Also, while our examples use Salesforce, you can easily replace it with another CRM solution, whether that’s HubSpot, Freshworks, etc.

Automatically add files to your content management system

Files are consistently uploaded into, removed from, or edited in your CRM platform.

To help your team account for these changes in the platform that’s relied on to backup and store your data (content management system), you can connect a CRM system like Salesforce with a content management system like Dropbox

From there, one of the workflows you can implement works as follows:

A workflow where an opportunities' attachments from Salesforce get downloaded and added as files to a Dropbox folder

1. When an opportunity gets added to Salesforce and includes at least one attachment, the workflow gets triggered.  

2. An enterprise automation platform checks to see if a folder already exists for that opportunity in Dropbox. 

a. If it does, the files are downloaded from Salesforce and uploaded into the appropriate Dropbox folder. 
b. If it doesn’t, a folder gets created in Dropbox for that opportunity. Then, the files gets downloaded from Salesforce and uploaded into the newly-created folder.

Related: Everything you need to know about integrating your CRM and ERP system

Instantly create incidents in your ITSM tool

As your customer success managers (CSMs) engage with clients, they’re bound to uncover issues that require help from their colleagues in support.

By connecting your CRM software with your ITSM tool, you can streamline the time it takes your support team to become aware of an issue—allowing them to resolve it faster. 

Here’s how it can work, assuming you use Salesforce as your CRM and ServiceNow as your ITSM platform:

A workflow that shows how a new case in Salesforce leads to a new incident getting created in ServiceNow

1. Once your CSM (or any employee) adds a case in Salesforce, the workflow gets triggered.

2. An enterprise automation platform checks to see if the incident already exists in ServiceNow. 

a. If the incident already exists, the workflow ends.
b. If the incident doesn’t exist, the enterprise automation platform checks to see if the point of contact at the client account exists in ServiceNow. If they don’t, they get created and the incident gets added in ServiceNow (if the user does exist, the workflow goes straight to adding the incident).

Related: 3 examples of integrating your ITSM tool with other apps

Update lead info in your marketing automation platform based on edits in your CRM 

Your marketing and sales teams’ ability to coordinate can significantly impact both the experiences and conversion rates of your leads.

To help your teams stay aligned, you can connect your CRM software with a marketing automation tool like Marketo and then build a workflow that keeps leads in sync between the two apps.

Here’s a closer look:

A workflow that shows how a new or updated lead in Salesforce leads to a new or updated lead in Marketo

1. Once a lead is created or updated in Salesforce, the workflow gets triggered.

2. An enterprise automation platform searches for the lead in Marketo. 

a. If it exists, the lead is updated based on the changes in Salesforce.
b. If the lead doesn’t exist, it gets added in Marketo. It’s then updated accordingly.

Create a new client in your ERP system once they’re marked as closed won in your CRM

A salesperson needs to be closely aligned with colleagues in finance in order to convert prospects quickly and with little hiccups.

To aid their efforts, you can sync your CRM solution with an ERP system like NetSuite and then implement the following:

A workflow that shows how a new or updated account in Salesforce leads to a new or updated customer in NetSuite

1. Once a client in Salesforce is updated, the workflow gets triggered.

2. An enterprise automation platform checks to see if the client already exists in NetSuite. 

a. If the client exists, their account gets updated in NetSuite based on the changes made in Salesforce
b. If the client doesn’t exist in NetSuite, their account gets created. Then, the updates are carried out in their new account. 

Related: A guide to implementing ERP integrations

Add new leads from social media ad campaigns to your CRM in real time

Your organization is likely investing in ad campaigns that target specific social media channels. 

If your organization can share the leads from these ad campaigns with sales reps in real-time, your reps will be more likely to reach out quickly and—as a result—convert leads at a higher rate.

Using Linkedin as an example, you can facilitate this need by connecting the platform with your CRM and implementing the following workflow:

A workflow where once a lead comes in via Linkedin, it's automatically enriched and added to Salesforce

1. Once a new lead comes in from Linkedin, the workflow gets triggered.

2. Using a platform like ZoomInfo, the lead gets enriched.

3. Assuming the lead passes your established criteria (in the example above, it’s a minimum revenue threshold), it’s added to Salesforce as a new lead; otherwise, the enterprise automation platform doesn’t add the lead.

Include a client’s purchase history in their CRM account

Understanding a client’s purchase history—including how often they buy from you, the items they buy, how much they spend, etc.—can help your sales reps and customer success managers identify your most valuable clients. Moreover, your team can use the insights to shape their approach to engaging with potential customers and existing ones. For example, if your organization finds that clients in certain industries tend to see more value from one of your product offerings (and, as a result, spend more on it over time), your reps can double down on selling it to that target group.

Now, let’s assume your organization runs an ecommerce store and uses an ecommerce platform like Shopify to operate it. You can arm your customer-facing teams with clients’ purchase histories by doing the following: integrating your ecommerce platform with your CRM and implementing a workflow where any time a client makes a new purchase, the line items get added to the appropriate place within the client’s CRM account.

Create a new contact when you receive a prospect’s email address

There are a multitude of ways that marketers can collect email addresses, from gating a piece of content behind a form to promoting an email newsletter. 

Whichever levers your team pulls, you can ensure that subscribers are added to your CRM automatically and, as a result, nurtured promptly by integrating your email marketing provider (e.g. MailChimp) with your CRM and setting up a workflow that works as follows:

A workflow where any time a new subscriber gets added in MailChimp, a contact gets created in Salesforce

1. Once MailChimp receives a new subscriber, the workflow gets triggered.

2. An enterprise automation platform checks to see if the subscriber already exists as a contact in Salesforce.

a. If it exists, the workflow ends.
b. If the contact doesn’t exist, it gets added—along with all of the contact information they provided.

3. A note gets added to the subscriber’s profile in MailChimp, where users can confirm that the contact was created in Salesforce (you can even include the link to their contact page).

The benefits of CRM integration

Given these use cases, you likely have a sense of the benefits that come with integrating your CRM with other apps. But in case any skip your attention, let’s break down the top ones:

  •  Costly errors are easily prevented

By syncing or moving data across apps, your colleagues don’t have to perform the error-prone task of moving between apps and re-entering data manually. This leaves you with more accurate data on clients and prospects, which helps your team make better decisions for these key stakeholders and your business.

  •  Data silos get broken down

Allowing colleagues to access the data they need, when they need it, allows them to perform their work more effectively. 

For example, if an inbound lead comes in, but a sales rep has to request access to information on them—due to existing data silos—, it can lead to a time delay that lowers their chances of engaging that (initially) warm lead successfully. With CRM integration, on the other hand, the sales rep can access the insights they need on the lead in real time, empowering them to follow-up quickly and thoughtfully.

  • The employee experience improves

Empowering your employees to avoid the grind of hopping between apps, entering data manually, requesting data internally, among other manually-intensive, unproductive activities, allows them to focus more on thoughtful, business-critical work, instead.

For recruiters this can take the form of engaging with target candidates proactively; for sales reps, this can be sending key accounts more personalized emails; for marketers, this can be ideating and developing more effective nurture campaigns for cold leads—and the list goes on.

  •  Customers are more likely to receive positive experiences

As your employees dedicate more time on strategic tasks that directly impact clients, the customer experience will undoubtedly improve. In the case of managing incidents, for example, your support team can work faster in resolving client issues (as they don’t have to waste time moving between apps to learn about an issue and log it in their ITSM tool).

  • Revenue opportunities are maximized

By giving customer support more time to address critical client issues, and by also empowering your sales and marketing teams to nurture leads more thoughtfully, your organization is better positioned to increase new business sales, customer retention, and upsells/cross-sells over time.

How to integrate your CRM with other apps

Now that you’re bought into integrating your CRM with other apps, let’s review a view of your options for implementation.

1. Point-to-point integration: the use of custom code to connect individual applications with one another

Pros:

  • Can be sufficient if your integrations’ requirements don’t often evolve over time and if you don’t need to build many integrations 
  • Allows your team to avoid relying on a 3rd-party vendor

Cons:

  • Can be extremely time consuming to build and maintain—which can end up taking your engineers away from other critical tasks
  • Since only a select few engineers understand how a given integration works, your organization is left vulnerable when those employees leave
  • It doesn’t allow you to implement end-to-end automations that can transform your core workflows

2. Native integration: an out-of-the-box connection that an app provides with another app

Pros:

  • Often comes included with your subscription (or at a low additional cost)
  • Can sufficiently address your integration needs, at least for that app

Cons:

  • The number of integrations provided likely falls short of your needs (as your organization likely uses hundreds of applications)
  • The provider is more than likely unable to invest enough resources into maintaining and improving upon the integrations (given that their dev team has competing priorities)
  • It doesn’t allow you to implement end-to-end automations that can transform your core workflows

3. Integration platform as a service (iPaaS): a cloud-based, 3rd-party platform that allows you to integrate your apps and implement data flows between them

Pros:

  • Likely meets your data security needs, as many of the platforms are compliant with rigorous regulatory measures, like GDPR
  • Provides a single, centralized place to monitor and troubleshoot your integrations

Cons:

  • Requires technical expertise to manage, which effectively eliminates lines of business from using the tool (this, in and of itself, creates significant integration bottlenecks)
  • It doesn’t allow you to implement end-to-end automations that can transform your core workflows

Finally, there’s a 4th option that includes the benefits from these options while also addressing their drawbacks: an enterprise automation platform.

This type of platform allows your team to implement integrations AND automate business processes at scale by:

  • Offering a low-code UX that lines of business can use to implement integrations and automations (in a secure, governed environment)
  • Providing thousands of automation templates (“recipes”) and hundreds of pre-built connectors so that your team can take automations live quickly
  • Allowing organizations to use platform bots that enable employees to work in their apps and automate their workflows without leaving their business communications platform, whether that’s Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Facebook Workplace
To learn more about this type of platform, you can schedule a demo with an automation expert at Workato, the leader in enterprise automation.

About the author
Jon Gitlin Content Strategist @ Workato
Jon Gitlin is the managing editor of The Connector, where you can get the latest news on Workato and uncover tips and frameworks for implementing powerful integrations and automations. In his free time, he loves to run outside, watch soccer (er...football) matches, and explore local restaurants.