by Aleksandr Peterson
Having long proved their strategic value, CRMs are now an essential tool for hundreds of thousands of businesses in almost every industry. According to Gartner, CRM spending in 2014 totaled about $23 billion.
Marketing automation software is a much younger technology, but gaining traction in similar ways. As vendors improve their products and businesses graduate from email blasting to more advanced engagement techniques, adoption is on the rise.
Sure, these two systems are useful on their own, but what if there was a way for CRM and marketing automation to exchange data in real time, and what if that integration was actually the best way to get your money’s worth from both?
Well, there is . . . and it is.
It’s not uncommon to implement CRM without marketing automation—especially for newer or smaller businesses. Marketing automation is a big commitment, after all. But if you’re doing it the other way around (marketing automation without a CRM), you’ll waste a lot of time and resources on futile efforts to deliver and track your leads.
Marketing and sales maturity in the digital age is almost always predicated on working from an integrated platform. And yet, about 54 percent of marketers say poor systems integration is holding them back. That’s crazy, and tragic, and a little depressing—especially since CRM and marketing automation were quite literally made for each other.
Using one without the other is like playing an electric guitar without an amp. You certainly can, but you’ll underutilize the capabilities of the instrument and the sounds you create will hardly qualify as music. In the same way, a lack of systems integration will keep your business from realizing the full potential of the lead-to-revenue process.
Let’s take a closer look.
CRM without marketing automation
A CRM is essentially a database for storing customer information and managing the sales process. As a standalone system, it does this with mild proficiency. You’ll have the basic ability to store contacts and track sales stages, but limited insight into the buyer’s journey. With no data on where your leads came from, what their priorities are, and how they’ve interacted with your business, that first conversation will be a lot harder to navigate.
That explains why 57 percent of customers feel salespeople are underprepared for their first meeting and fail to personalize the conversation.
Marketing automation without CRM
The need for integration is most acutely felt when you implement a marketing automation platform (MAP) without a connected CRM. A MAP is essentially a lead generation machine, so if you don’t have the ability to seamlessly deliver those leads to sales, why bother?
[Image credit: nihilisa-frank.tumblr.com]
You can still run lead generation campaigns, but you’ll have to export the leads to a .csv file and manually import to your sales database, and you certainly won’t have any visibility into conversion and close rates, which means it’ll be impossible to measure return. No surprise that only 21 percent of B2B marketers successfully track campaign ROI.
Getting started with integration
There are several ways to set up an integrated system. If your CRM and MAP come from a single vendor (like Infusionsoft), they’re already part of the same platform, so all you need to do is plug and play. If you purchased systems a la carte from different vendors, you have a couple options:
- If both vendors support native or “prebuilt” integration, provide your account credentials and the systems will start exchanging data.
- If the vendors do notoffer native integration, you’ll need to set it up manually using an API (application program interface).
Once the systems are configured, you’ll see notable improvements in the way your business manages the lead-to-revenue process. Here are some common benefits of an integrated system:
- Drives better-qualified leads into the sales funnel: An integrated system helps marketers run scalable campaigns that yield higher-quality leads. They can deliver those leads directly to sales without complicated manual workflows.
- Extends visibility in both directions: For sales, this means having unfettered access to lead intelligence (firmographics, behavioral data, business objectives, etc.). For marketing, it means using closed-loop reporting to track leads through the conversion process and attribute revenue to campaign efforts.
- Supports marketing and sales alignment: An integrated system helps your sales and marketing teams better understand the interconnectivity of their roles. They can hammer out a shared definition of “qualified lead” and set up scoring criteria to optimize lead hand off (when a marketing qualified lead is delivered to sales). Some businesses even create a service level agreement (SLA) between teams and use CRM/MAP to track monthly and quarterly objectives.
Bridging the gap between marketing and sales is a great way to increase lead quality and conversion rates, but you can only make this happen if your teams are sharing lead data between systems in real time. CRM and MAP integration may require some tinkering and configuration on the front end, but it opens the door to a whole new world (intentional Aladdin reference) of visibility, collaboration, and strategic alignment. Good luck.
Aleksandr Peterson is a technology analyst at TechnologyAdvice. He covers marketing automation, CRMs, project management, human resources, and other emerging business technology. Connect with him on LinkedIn.