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5 Lessons Learned From Integrating Marketing Automation Software With An In-House CRM


Katie Hollar Headshot 2By Katie Hollar, Marketing Manager, Capterra


In early 2012, my Capterra colleagues and I decided that it was time to graduate from our email marketing software and finally upgrade to a marketing automation software suite.

The problem? We had an in-house, proprietary CRM.

You might be thinking: Why is that a problem? Well, if you’ve ever shopped for a marketing automation system, then you know that most of the major players integrate with popular CRMs such as Salesforce.com, NetSuite, Oracle and Microsoft Dynamics. But if you’ve built your own CRM (like we had), or you don’t have one of those popular solutions, you’re looking at a bumpier road to marketing automation implementation.

That being said, I’m here to assure you, it can be done.

Before you even think about implementation, you need to make sure that the marketing automation software you select has an application programming interface (API). With an API, you’ll be able to auto-feed information from your CRM into your marketing automation software, and vice-versa, depending on how you set it up. Having these two systems communicate is pretty imperative to your organization’s success — almost as much as having your sales and marketing teams communicate.

It has been about a year since we have integrated our marketing automation system with our in-house CRM, so I want to share some of the valuable lessons we learned along the way — lessons I wish I’d known when we first started. (Note: I speak purely from a marketing, not a technical, standpoint).

1. Accept The Fact That Your API Will Probably (Read: Definitely) Break

Like most technology, the first generation of your custom marketing automation/CRM integration isn’t going to be perfect — and maybe not even the second or third generations. You will undoubtedly face times where there’s old data being fed into your marketing automation software, the connection breaks, someone got an email that they weren’t supposed to, or your salesperson called someone who just asked to be opted-out, etc.

These things happen even with the built-in marketing automation/CRM integrations, but they’re even more likely to occur when you build the sync yourself.

2. Keep Your Data Clean And Up To Date

You’ll minimize issues when something breaks if all of your data is accurate and up-to-date in your CRM. For example, if you have two email addresses for the same contact in your CRM and you put them each on different nurture tracks in your marketing automation system, that person’s going to get a lot of emails — and possibly some conflicting messaging.

Go through your CRM data before setting up the sync to make sure that any criteria you might use to segment, communicate, or grade and score your prospects in the marketing automation system is clean, organized and accurate so that you don’t have to keep over-writing it in the two systems. Data will continue to change and you’ll need to update contacts from time to time, but starting with a clean slate will make life a lot easier down the road.

3. Auto-Sync As Much Data As Possible

If you’re new to automation — which most marketers are when they first buy marketing automation software — you may have a tendency to rely on manual processes. You might start out assuming that it is totally feasible to upload a new, updated spreadsheet of all of your contacts every day into the software. It’s not that different than what you’ve done in the past, right?

Wrong. The whole point of investing in the marketing technology is to save you time and energy so that you can focus on what really matters, such as generating leads and ultimately, revenue. Uploading spreadsheets is not helping you do that. When you talk to your tech team about building the integration, explain that you need to auto-sync as much information from your CRM into your marketing automation software as possible, as frequently as possible. If you’re basing your strategic marketing decisions off of month-old data, then you’re not really getting the full picture of what’s working and what’s failing. Some marketing automation systems put a limit on the number of calls out to the API each day or month, so make sure you know those limitations before you sign your contract.

4. iFrame Or Feed Your Marketing Automation Prospect Activity Into Your CRM

Your sales people aren’t going to log in to your marketing automation software in addition to the CRM that they work in every day. It’s not going to happen, so don’t try to fight it. Sure, a few might be curious every now and then, but the vast majority will log in once when you initially give them their password and then never look at it again.

That is why most of the pre-packaged CRM integrations come with the ability to display all of a prospect’s marketing activity directly in the CRM, so your left hand (sales) knows what your right hand (marketing) is up to. If you’re building an integration on your own, you’ll want to iFrame or feed all of the prospects’ activity in the marketing automation system into your CRM so it’s front and center when a sales rep reaches out to a prospect. That way, they’ll be able to reference when Sally opened the last promotional email or submitted your “contact us” form.

5. Pick Your Reporting Portal And Stick With It

Marketing automation systems give you a lot of information. Your in-house CRM probably has some built-in reports you’ve used in the past, as well. But when you pull the sales reports from both systems, the numbers don’t always match. Why? It could be any number of reasons, most of which I’ve listed above.

But few, if any, reporting systems are 100% accurate, so decide which of the two systems — your CRM or your marketing automation software — will provide you with a more complete picture, and use those same reports every month for consistency’s sake.

It may seem daunting, but integrating your marketing automation software with a proprietary CRM system is possible if you plan accordingly. Speaking from Capterra’s experience, it is certainly a lot easier than migrating all of your historical CRM data into a new system and training all of your sales and customer service reps on a new CRM!

Have you integrated your marketing automation software with a custom CRM? Any lessons you could share from your experience?

Katie Hollar is Marketing Manager at Capterra, where she specializes in helping marketers find marketing automation software.