- The average small business uses nearly 100 technology applications outside its primary CRM system.
- Businesses may be able to integrate other applications with the central CRM platform to expand its functionality and streamline company organization.
- Popular CRM integrations include calendars, help desk software and email clients.
- This article is for small business owners looking to use their CRM platform to its full potential as the primary driver of their technology suite.
A customer relationship management (CRM) solution helps companies gain a deeper understanding of their customers while managing a mountain of data. However, to best utilize your CRM solution's benefits, it's essential that it works with the other applications and tools your company uses daily.
Here's a deeper look at CRM integration and the types of CRM integrations your business should consider.
What is CRM integration?
CRM integration is the process of connecting third-party applications and tools with your primary CRM software to merge their functions within one platform.
Think of CRM as the smartphone of your business. CRM platforms like Salesforce and HubSpot act as the actual phones – the systems that store and categorize your customer data. (Read our Salesforce review and our review of HubSpot to learn more.)
But like older phones, basic CRM offerings have minimal features, such as managing a contact list. In contrast, more robust CRM offerings are like state-of-the-art smartphones with expanded features. A comprehensive CRM solution boasts features and applications to help you use your CRM tools more dynamically.
Businesses use dozens of software applications, including email clients, accounting software and social media dashboards. With all these separate tools, you end up with data silos – pockets of isolated data inaccessible to some teams. This data segmentation creates fragmented customer profiles, limiting your CRM's ability to track the customer journey.
However, when you use a CRM solution as an integrated hub for all of these systems, you create an adaptable, integrated workflow with crucial data accessible to everyone. You can install or remove any number of the thousands of available applications from your CRM system at any time to best suit your needs.
Key takeaway: You can integrate the software tools your business uses into your CRM platform as third-party components designed to work seamlessly within its central network.
Editor's note: Looking for the right CRM software for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.
Choosing CRM integrations for your business
The overabundance of available integrations can tempt decision-makers to install anything they believe carries even the slightest benefit. Many integrations offer tempting CRM features that promise complex CRM analytics or upgrades to core practices. This, however, can be a trap.
Alex Haimann, partner and head of business development for Less Annoying CRM, said to stay focused on what's important.
"The biggest mistake is a major focus on analytics reporting or other kinds of high-level tools and not enough emphasis or focus on actual daily use cases," Haimann told Business News Daily. "It isn't a failure to jump up just one level. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."
Following that guidance, here are nine must-have CRM integrations for every business. We've grouped these integrations into commonly used business categories.
Tip: Read our review of Less Annoying CRM to learn more about this low-cost CRM solution.
Communication CRM integrations
CRM integrations that help with communication tasks include email and calendar platforms, internal messaging, and phone and video applications.
Email and calendar platforms
Most task management clients, such as Gmail and Microsoft Outlook, have built-in calendars that coordinate appointments and conversations within their networks.
Over 70% of people rely on a digital calendar as their primary scheduler, but time management can become muddied because many services have platform-specific schedule and reminder systems. When you have meetings scheduled across various platforms, it can lead to confusing and inefficient time management.
Integrating your task management client into your CRM platform creates one unified calendar. The primary calendar automatically updates whenever an appointment is scheduled in the primary CRM hub, task management client or another integrated application.
Instant messaging services have grown in popularity and become a primary internal communication method for businesses. Like email and calendar invites, instant messaging should correspond to the same schedule and contact base across all major systems. Connecting your instant messaging platform merges the company directory and enhances communication among team members.
Internal messaging options may soon become the preferred external outreach method. In late 2020, Salesforce acquired the Slack messaging service in a $27.7 billion megadeal, with plans to convert the messaging software into its communications interface.
Phone and video
Sales teams spend much of their time on the phone, and any time spent recording call data or other logistics is time taken away from closing deals or following up on a promising lead.
An integrated phone network automatically records every call. A salesperson can pick up, dial, record notes and quickly move to the next contact; the information is automatically saved to the CRM platform. This collected data remains attached to the customer ID and is always accessible.
Legal CRM integrations
Popular legal CRM integrations include applications for accounting and billing, proposals and documents, and time and attendance tracking.
Accounting and billing
Accounting software that operates independently of your CRM software requires repetitive manual entry for all transactions. Integrating the best accounting software with your CRM software can simplify that process.
Any transaction occurring through an integrated platform automatically updates the associated accounts in real time. Balances remain current, and when closing several simultaneous deals, you may not have time to confirm across multiple financial records if one is outdated.
Proposals and documents
When you have a customer ready to close a deal, the last thing you want is to waste time searching for the necessary paperwork. Share files securely by connecting document and file-sharing services like Dropbox to your CRM, and keep relevant files attached to their associated customer profiles.
Time and attendance tracking
Low sales figures can reflect inefficient workflows, so you might want to know how much time your team is spending on its tasks. It's one thing to ask your team to track its time via one of the best time and attendance systems. It's another thing to install a time and attendance CRM integration that makes time tracking a seamless, one-click operation.
Did you know? Your team can activate time tracking from their CRM dashboards and then instantly get back to work.
IT and knowledge CRM integrations
CRM integrations related to IT and knowledge include applications for help desks, live chat, data appending and connecting.
Customers place enormous value on how quickly customer service can resolve their issues. Help desk systems demonstrate high success rates, but long wait times arise if agents frequently switch between platforms to resolve web tickets.
Integrated help desk solutions streamline the process by grouping all tickets and communications on one platform. Issued tickets are immediately available and linked to the originating website. That ticket will link to its issuer's customer profile, which displays any of their past web tickets or purchases.
Live chat is rapidly growing as a customer communication channel. A merged live chat can better assist customers with the information already stored in the CRM platform, and it automatically records new interactions. Sales teams can more efficiently target these leads using the relevant data the chat service gleaned.
Let's say a CRM entry includes only a lead's name and email. That's not much to go on. How can you gauge the lead's buying interests?
CRM integrations for data appending can help. These integrations can connect your CRM software to the third-party platforms that are home to this data. This way, your sales reps have all the data they need to understand their leads whenever they need.
The best CRM solutions should be capable of extensive functionality. In reality, many CRMs lack several essential integrations. Just one connector app integration can change that. These apps do the work of dozens, if not hundreds, of integrations. They act as a bridge between your CRM and many apps with which it wouldn't typically integrate. The result is a more streamlined CRM experience for your whole team.
Marketing CRM integrations
Marketing CRM integrations include applications for outbound email campaigns, social media and marketing automation.
Outbound email campaigns
Disconnected data can disrupt a marketing campaign by poorly translating customer segments between email creation tools and your CRM platform. Combine your email marketing software with your CRM solution to add target segments with just a few clicks. You can do this directly from the email creation tools to save significant time and energy.
Did you know? CRMs streamline email marketing by allowing you to sync lead and customer information with other systems and create detailed personalized marketing campaigns.
The social media dashboard is another calendar to tie to your overall company schedule. You can install different social integrations for each network or install complete social management platforms.
These platforms further detail your customer data by tracking how users engage with your channels. They can also eliminate time spent on mundane tasks, such as researching which subscribers to your email newsletter might be most receptive to a discount shared through social media. That history is already attached to their profiles.
Sales work involves knowing what content to share with prospects at what stage of the sales funnel. That means a large amount of granular data tracking – likely more than your sales team can handle alone. Enter marketing automation CRM integrations, which scan prospect data and automate the delivery of timely marketing content. The result is a more seamless acquisition strategy.
Did you know? The primary difference between CRM software and marketing automation software is that CRM software is used chiefly for sales purposes, and marketing automation is used mainly for marketing.
How to integrate applications
The simplest and most popular integration method leverages the application programming interface (API). It sounds complicated, but it often entails just clicking a second download button when using many of the best CRM solutions.
An API enables this easy download. Each application your business uses stores data in its own language, and an API functions as the translator. It merges that data when you connect two services. Common examples include YouTube videos playing in a small box on other web pages or when Facebook connects with Spotify to share an embedded playlist on that user's Facebook profile.
Most CRM platforms adhere to this modular approach, and the largest often provide their own catalog of integrations to third-party applications.
If you require a more customized integration or can't find one for a specific program, web developers can create code tailored to your system needs. Although this is a viable option to merge smaller tools, it might require extensive upkeep. Any update to your CRM could invalidate that code and prevent it from operating alongside newly installed applications.
Key takeaway: Most major CRM platforms and business tools offer prebuilt integrations designed for simple installation.
How important is CRM integration?
CRM integration consolidates many of your business processes into a central platform that drives your sales and revenue. Users can work within that network without switching between programs or migrating data sets through incompatible programs.
A fully developed CRM integration suite facilitates company organization and communication, and it reduces the risk of losing or duplicating data through manual and tedious transfer procedures.
Max Freedman contributed to the writing and research in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.