Integration: the key to CRM implementation

03 January 2016 by Naresh Raj

The problem with a lack of integration When I refer to ‘integration’ I don’t just mean integration with your website or email platform; I am referring to all your business systems that process contact data, such as finance, purchase and sales.


Firstly, happy new year to you all!

Over the festive period I found myself thinking about the integration of CRM to other systems (I’m that dedicated to CRM lol).

But why did this topic creep into my festive mind? Over the last year I’ve had many discussions with membership organisations where their existing systems aren’t integrated or not integrated effectively. It’s clearly a real problem so I thought I’d write a blog post on it. Ta-dah!

The problem with a lack of integration

When I refer to ‘integration’ I don’t just mean integration with your website or email platform; I am referring to all your business systems that process contact data, such as finance, purchase and sales. There are many implications to not integrating your CRM with other business systems, including the ‘loss’ of valuable information (if it doesn’t get captured into CRM it can’t add to the 360˚ view of each member) and ultimately the impact this has on serving the member.

You can be left with a CRM that effectively feels like half-built, or like that Christmas present which held so much promise wrapped up but proved to be a toy without the batteries included when unwrapped. You have all these things you want to do with your data to better serve customers and members but it’s only once the CRM is live that you realise you can’t do half the stuff because your systems aren’t all integrated. (And to get them integrated will cost more money, take more time and create loss of face with your Board.)

A CRM system is only as good as the information you put in and some of it may be missing if you don’t fully integrate all systems or if the integration isn’t working properly.

Some of the implementations I have spoken with people about have been conducted relatively recently (by other suppliers I hasten to add), which concerns me. Clearly there is a lack of knowledge, understanding or expertise of this vital area amongst CRM providers which needs addressing by the industry.

It is also understandably confusing for membership organisations as suppliers tend to position their approach around the limitations of their skills and constraints of their system, which doesn’t give the client organisation much chance to identify this gap unless they are aware of the need for integration from their own research.

Our top tips for an integrated implementation

1.    Integrate your systems directly

We have recognised that, in order to have a truly central hub for valued information, we need to integrate directly with other important data sources. I say ‘directly’ as opposed to alternative methods such as ‘portals’ or intermediate software, which add another ‘moving part’ to your infrastructure and adds another level of complexity and risk.

We also strongly recommend this best practice approach due to the flexibility and robustness it instils in the short- and long-term to make changes to the member journey, which we know to be very difficult with portals. Direct integration also supports advanced functionality such as linking website content to members’ profiles characteristics via advanced tagging.

2.    Don’t get distracted by what you see

I’ve noticed that some clients, when choosing a CRM, are transfixed on first-sight of the user portal and are seduced by its ease of use/nice colour scheme etc. They get tempted into going with what looks pretty but don’t think about the logistical detail (the integration capabilities). I call this the ‘magpie syndrome’ (when the client gets distracted by the shininess of the UI rather than actually thinking about the usability of it).

3.    Create an integration team

It is better to create a team comprising specialists who know your different systems, understand membership organisations and also have a good grasp of integration.  Don’t be afraid to create a team of people from your different provider agencies, e.g. your website CMS, your finance dept and your CRM provider. You get experts in their respective fields, as opposed to the generalists who claim to do all.

4.    Make sure your CRM provider is on board with integration

Grill your prospective CRM supplier about their integration approach: Will it integrate directly? How will it integrate/what technology will they use to facilitate this? Will it require them to write code? How long will it take? Can changes be made to it relatively quickly in the future (for example, if you wish to change the member’s online journey in some way)?

When developing our solution for integration we placed great importance on flexibility and the ability to implement it quickly. In order to address this we built an interface called smartconnector. smartconnector is easy to implement and extend because it uses configuration files, removing the need for writing code and provides robust, good quality integration. It is flexible, meaning modifications and future enhancements can be made almost instantaneously with minimum cost and risk.

We have gained a good reputation in the industry for our integration solution and we often get contacted by organisations who followed different approaches for integration to look at or replace their existing integration solution with ours.

As a client you will be told that it is essential to have a CRM which captures data from other channels but few providers will also tell you that integration is potentially the risky part of any CRM implementation. We’d say it is essential that your chosen CRM partner has a tried and tested approach and can prove it. Don’t be afraid to ask them and don’t let them get away with being woolly on the details!