How easily can you answer these business data questions?
- What customer information do you collect in your customer relationship management (CRM) software? Does it provide a full history of clients’ purchases and a log of communications and service calls?
- Do you have enterprise resource planning (ERP) software for accounting, inventory, project management, and other back-office functions? How do your salespeople know if there is enough inventory available when they are writing up a sales agreement?
- Do you have the necessary safeguards in place to protect your corporate data?
- And finally, can the customer data collection systems you use seamlessly work together to provide on-demand, accurate information, even to employees in the field?
If you’re hesitating to answer any of these questions, there are a few things you should learn about your company’s data structure and software integration method. In fact, everyone within your company should understand how your customer data works. Otherwise, data integrity can be compromised, or data reporting can give inaccurate information.
In most cases, only your internal IT staff or technology service provider need to know the nitty-gritty workings of data systems, but if your staff is aware of how data is collected, secured, and processed, it will provide greater value to everyone in your company. And as a result, it will improve both sales and customer relationships.
Let’s look at a few scenarios that address the different types of software integration and the important data questions that coincide with each.
Scenario #1: No Integration Between ERP, CRM, and Other Systems
In a company without integration, each data program runs independently. When a salesperson is working to close a sale, they may be tracking customer information in some type of CRM system. This is where you’ll keep valuable data such as contact names, titles, and email addresses as well as a history of communications with the potential customer regarding their situation and their needs.
Now imagine that a sale is won, and the CRM lead entry must be converted to an active customer ERP entry. You do this by emailing contact information to someone in Accounting who will input the data by hand.
The first problem is that you lose all valuable history on this customer when they are accessed through the newly created ERP entry. So if a salesperson receives a call from this customer to learn about another product offering, the upsell opportunity can be lost due to a lack of insight into billing, project status, or perhaps even customer service issues (which, of course, may be in your service desk software solution).
Another problem is the increased risk of human error. Since information must be input multiple times by multiple people, it is more likely that someone along the way has spelled the contact’s name or company name wrong. You may also end up with duplicate entries for the same customer, which will create a number of problems going forward.
In addition to data integrity concerns, companies that manage multiple datasets run a greater risk of a security breach.
Scenario #2: A Point-to-Point Software Integration Method
If your company has realized how serious the problems in our last scenario could be, you may have considered a point-to-point software integration method, which is a way to connect applications directly by allowing one point in an Application A to speak to one point in Application B.
Now lets say, once again, your salesperson closed a deal and you have a new customer. There’s a point-to-point connection set up that adds this new customer to your ERP. However, if your ERP has limited functionality, a separate call center software and a field service management solution must also be set up to communicate with your ERP.
If point-to-point integration is not configured across all systems to deliver up-to-date, accurate data, and your new customer calls your help-desk, irate because their product delivery is two weeks late, you would not learn that the employee assigned to this new account has been on vacation since the first of the month until it is too late.
As your business grows, software solutions become complex, and the point-to-point software integration gets complicated. In fact, it rarely works as needed.
Point-to-point integrations do not have a centralized governance for security and compliance and multiple user accounts increase exposure, which leads to security breaches.
Scenario #3: API Integration
Built for accuracy and for more sophisticated system integrations, APIs are sets of routines that are coded to specify how software components interact.
Let’s say, in this scenario, the sales and marketing teams are working together in a CRM program to engage and nurture a lead. They’re both able to monitor communications as well as the marketing spend required to close the sale.
After some time, your efforts have paid off and you have a new customer. When you convert the lead in your CRM into an active sales contact, and a new record is created in your financial program that contains all of the contact information and financial data that is related to the customer. The project manager is automatically notified and can begin planning resources and timing for the new job. Your API gateway has been set up to ensure that your data is protected from unauthorized access.
When planning for full data collection system integration, there are steps that will make your project successful and ensure your data is secure. An expert software consultant can help you outline all the functionality your business uses today, while leaving space for future growth.