Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Evaluating Marketing Automation/CRM Integration

In a recent post, we talked about the three key elements in the Marketing Automation/CRM integration stack; data, activity, and process. This gives a good sense of the key elements that need to be integrated in order to have a seamless flow of the business process between marketing and sales. The next challenge in evaluating an integration between your marketing automation and CRM systems is understanding how to approach the integration. Depending on what systems you are using, and how complex your requirements are, this can end up in one of 4 buckets, each of which has its own unique characteristics.

The way to think about this is a 2X2 matrix. The first dimension is whether your Marketing Automation software is natively “aware” of the CRM system you are working with or not. The second dimension is whether your business processes for the integration are standard, or customized.

Native Support of Chosen CRM System

There is much confusion in the industry on this point, as the claim to “be able to integrate with” a particular CRM system leaves much to be clarified. There are, to significantly simplify, two main approaches to an integration. In one method, the marketing automation system itself is natively aware of the API calls of the CRM provider, and can update data, make notes of web activity, or create leads as appropriate.

The second method, however, is a more passive approach. Instead of taking care of the calls directly and natively, the information is provided through an API, and is available for integration as needed, but a third party integration tool would likely be required. This approach definitely allows integration, but requires a more technical investment on behalf of the organization looking to perform the integration.

Standard or Custom Business Process

When examining the business processes for the integration, many businesses will discover that they have unique requirements that are outside of the standard and typical business flows. Unique sources of data for segmentation, lead scoring criteria that come from your CRM system, novel lead handoff or claw-back processes with sales, or data requirements based on analysis needs can all drive custom integration processes.

Depending on your approach to integration – native support or non-native support – these custom process requirements can be handled in different ways.

Integration Scenarios, and Questions to Ask

Each integration scenario leads to different integration considerations. Each allows integration, and each can lead to a very successful and viable integration, but the difference are important to be aware of.

Standard Business Process, Native CRM System

This is the best available option, as it combines standard business processes with a known, and natively supported CRM platform. This should be a very quick process, and ideally will incorporate best practices and experience into the standard integration processes that are enabled. If this is the situation you find yourself in, ask questions around the marketing automation provider’s experience with that CRM platform:
- How many integrated clients do you have on that specific CRM system?
- Are you that CRM vendor’s recommended provider of marketing automation?
- If custom business process requirements arise down the road, is there the flexibility to customize?

Custom Business Process, Native CRM System

Either on initial engagement, or after the initial processes begin to show their success, there is often a need to expand the depth of the integration between CRM and Marketing Automation. As your lead scoring, handoff, and nurturing process grows in maturity, you will need to expand how the two platforms coordinate. As you are dealing with a CRM system that is natively understood by your marketing automation provider, the flexibility of your marketing automation provider is what will govern your success here. Ask questions both around the flexibility of individual calls into the CRM system, and the ability to customize the workflow that governs when those calls are used:
- What entities within the CRM system are accessible; contacts, accounts, tasks, activities, custom objects, etc?
- Can any updates (ie creating a task), be fully customized to control exactly what is written?
- Can a workflow process be created to give you as a marketer complete control of the update process?

- Do you have full decision/branching control in that workflow process

Standard Business Process, Non-Native CRM System

If the CRM system you are using is not natively supported by the marketing automation provider you are considering, integration will be possible, but there will be a significant amount more work to be contemplated. Essentially in this case, both your CRM provider and your marketing automation platform will expose an API, and you will need to use either custom code or an integration platform to build the integration.

If this is the situation you are looking at, a few key questions to ask your marketing automation software provider:
- How robust and deep is their API? Does it cover all of the key functions you will need to replicate a standard integration with your CRM system?
- How much experience do they have with integrations outside of their most familiar CRM system? (If they only have experience integrating with one CRM system, you will likely find that the flexibility to integrate with other CRM systems is not present)
- Will there be an experienced best practice team to help you with the business process aspects of the integration?
- Is there a deep partner ecosystem with experience in building integrations that you can rely on if needed?

Non-Standard Business Process, Non-Native CRM System

This is the most interesting and challenging of all the integration options. With both a non-standard CRM system, and a custom business process, your integration project will likely be more challenging than the previous options. It is important in this situation to accurately assess your integration plan in order to avoid surprises as you move forward.

Some important questions to ask of your marketing automation provider:
- Does their API cover all key areas of interest? Has there been a community of partners and developers working with the API for at least a year in order to ensure that the necessary depth and robustness is present?
- Is there a workflow engine within the marketing automation platform that can work seamlessly with the API in order to allow marketers to configure unique business processes which are then easily integrated?
- Is there a community of clients and partners who have built integrations with a wide variety of systems – data warehouses, business intelligence, purchasing, CRM, etc – whose experience you can draw from

Integration Between Marketing Automation and CRM

The integration between a marketing automation platform and a CRM system is the technological underpinning of the alignment between sales and marketing. As such, it is a key area to understand and investigate in thinking about a marketing automation investment. Whereas many things are possible in looking at integration between two systems, understanding the scenario you are in and what that means for integration can make your marketing automation journey significantly smoother.
Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
In my day job, I am with Eloqua, the marketing automation software used by the worlds best marketers
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