How to Determine the Need for Custom Integration or an out-of-the-Box Connection
If you’re using a customer relationship management (CRM) application such as Salesforce.com, SugarCRM, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, or NetSuite, it’s easy to find a marketing automation tool with built-in connections. If you are using a custom-built CRM or an industry-specific CRM, you probably need a custom integration.
Either way, you have three ways to evaluate your solution based on your chosen CRM against your marketing automation tool, from basic to advanced, as follows. The level of sophistication you require, and your tools, will dictate which is correct for you.
Basic: Manual import and export. If you choose a marketing automation solution with this feature, you have the option of CRM alignment without any integration at all, but it limits your ability for dynamic interaction. This option is best if you have a custom CRM, no application performing interface (API) option, or a CRM that is not supported by your marketing automation tools with an out-of-the-box connection feature.
Manually importing and exporting requires a CSV file (a spreadsheet file format that stands for comma-separated values) to share your data between your CRM and your marketing automation system. Importing via the CSV file type saves you 60–80 hours of custom API development and still gives you the ability to report marketing campaign ROI.
This basic connection, however, limits your ability to pass leads back and forth between systems in real time. Manually importing data is also a great option to help keep your beginning marketing automation implementation simple while still achieving your goals regardless of whether your tool supports your CRM.
Standard: Out-of-the-box connection. Most CRM connections can easily be installed without a lot of IT support because the marketing automation system is ready “out of the box,” with connection features for nontechnical folks. This is the best of the three options when you can find it.
However, the more customized your CRM needs to be, the less likely you are to find an out-of-the-box connection that works for your CRM. Check with your vendor to see whether this is an option for you.
Most Complex: Custom API integration. An application programming interface (API) is developer-speak for a gateway that connects two software systems through a programming language. If you are not familiar with API programming, you need to find someone who is. This may be your IT team, or you may have to hire an outside consultant to help.
Expect building out the API to take between 60 and 80 hours of custom work to integrate your solutions. This option is the best choice if you have a custom CRM and the resources to build the connections. Only about 10 percent of companies choose this route because of cost and complexities.
APIs are not just for big companies. If you have a smaller CRM, such as Zoho or others, you may find prebuilt APIs to help you integrate your CRM with your marketing automation tool without the need to invest in a large API project. Check out cloud connector services or prebuilt services such as Kevy.com.