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Being a marketer today can be a challenging task, particularly because today’s savvy customers have already completed about 80 percent of their purchase research by the time they even contact you. This shortened sales cycle means that if your data isn’t organized across systems to make your customers’ history and preferences easily accessible, lost sales opportunities and lower customer satisfaction will inevitably result.

Why Data Collection Benefits from Data Connection

Avoiding these pitfalls requires a step-by-step data integration approach that carefully collects the data your organization needs and then connects it in a way that integrates marketing, sales and customer service intelligence into a single customer relationship management (CRM) application.

Collecting the data you need turns out to be the easy part, while connecting it in a centralized, meaningful way that will be useful to both sales and marketing is considerably more challenging. It’s no easy task to create a system that allows for more precise targeting and segmentation, higher conversion rates, improved customer experience and increased revenues.

To Succeed Big, Start Small

Paradoxically, to succeed at such a broad mission, companies need to start small and pursue their CRM connectivity efforts in a focused, integrated systematic way. Here are three steps that we think represent a good progression for most organizations:

  1. Integrate your CRM with marketing automation: By starting with integration between these two systems, forecasting will become easier as sales and marketing data are reported from a single source -- your CRM. What’s more, integrating your CRM with marketing automation applications will likely lead to operational efficiencies ranging from the elimination of manual data entry to putting real-time data at the fingertips of your sales and service employees.
  2. Integrate your sales operations enterprise resource planning (ERP) system with your CRM: Merging these two systems puts renewal and contract data at your sales reps’ fingertips, allowing them access to such critical information as outstanding credit issues before they close a deal. Further integrating your ERP with social media and web analytics data can shed even more light on whether prospects will buy or if they are just kicking tires for a better deal from their existing vendor. And finally, visibility into support cases can enable your salespeople to reach out proactively to customers who may need a little extra care, or identify potential issues blocking an upcoming sale.
  3. Leverage the resources and expertise of your internal IT organization when you integrate your systems: When you are evaluating and selecting marketing, sales and customer service systems, cloud applications are easy to buy with the swipe of the credit card and a few clicks but integrating these apps is another story. Let your IT team use its expertise up front to assess your proposed cloud application with a practiced eye to understand how easy it will be to access the data you want and need. And it’s worth remembering that even if your IT department doesn’t have the needed skill sets in-house, they certainly can find consultants or partner vendors who do. Having IT working with you during your application purchase process will save a lot of aggravation and costly mistakes when it comes time to get that application working with your other business systems.

This Way There Be Dragons

In addition to these three fundamental “dos” when it comes to integrating specific systems, knowing which “don’ts” to avoid by following best practices is also key to success. From our experience working with integration partners and using integration ourselves, here are a few vital tips to keep in mind when developing your integration strategy for customer data:

  • Let the real needs of your organization dictate your data needs, not vice versa. For example, if you need a particular dashboard and particular data to feed the dashboard, let your organization determine what existing operations to integrate to obtain the data rather than backing into the process by ordering changes in your business workflows.
  • Define the budget for your high-priority integrations. Be sure to make it an “all-in” budget where every aspect of the project is accounted for including time, skill, labor and additional resources.
  • Garbage in-equals garbage out. If you have a lot of duplicates, incomplete or inconsistent data, consider a data cleanup initiative at the beginning of your integration project to avoid spreading bad data through integrated systems.
  • Document everything before integrating. This includes all of the system dependencies, structures, and workflows, as well as the end-users and their roles. Your integration project should make sense to these users because it makes their jobs easier.
  • Make sure your plan has true, measurable outcomes. Your team and your stakeholders should all agree on outcomes such as lead aging, conversion rates or number of days in the sales cycle in advance. Develop baseline metrics before you start the project so you can understand and report on areas that improved and those still requiring additional attention.
  • Use an integration platform. Third-party integration vendors get you a fast start because they have pre-built connectivity to popular applications and databases. A good integration platform allows configurable updates to workflows and integration maps without the intervention of a developer or writing code.

We believe that by working systematically toward integration goals, using good integration practices, starting small and harnessing the right technical know-how with your IT organization or a partner, your organization’s new found control of its data sources will drive a new level of personalized customer engagement for your business.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic LicenseTitle image by  jaybergesen