Customer relationship management (CRM) software, think Salesforce, SugarCRM, and Microsoft Dynamics, helps businesses optimize relationships with customers during each step of the Sales funnel and conversion process. CRM integration ensures that you, your customers, and your partners can collect and access Sales data - such as accounts, contacts, leads and opportunities and campaigns - across multiple CRM systems and Sales tools, where it's used to convert and retain customers.
During our AMA (Ask Me Anything) Talk Show Series, we interviewed two leading experts in the CRM realm, Kris Chant, Developer Relations at Salesforce and Kyle Burnett, CTO and Co-Founder at Allbound, on all things CRM integration. We learned that building a CRM integration strategy can be a lengthy, challenging process. Luckily the experts provided 8 awesome tips for project managers and technical executives when it comes to designing their API strategy:
1. Designing an API Strategy That's Valuable for Your Business
API integration is expensive and takes time, and it's worse when a company is handling each integration separately. Figuring out the CRM API integration strategy that meets your specific business' needs will make the progress easier, faster and less expensive.
Kyle Burnett from Allbound notes, “from day one we’ve had an ‘API-first’ strategy. We’re a use case driven company...and we don’t know all the answers to what we need to solve for our potential customers.”
2. Driving Adoption of Your APIs
Adoption and successful integration with other services, is the key to accomplishing the business goals that you established when you built the API.To accelerate the success of your API initiative, you will need to identify the barriers to adoption and address these with enhancements just as you would with any product development initiative.The experts suggest employing savvy marketing, providing developers with tools and improving the API's accessibility like awesome API documentation, build a developer community, support forums for developers, and/or host a hack-a-thon .
“The important thing about driving adoption of APIs is to provide functionality that wouldn’t otherwise be immediately accessible to users of the API,” Kris Chant from Salesforce advices.
For even more tips on on how to boost adoption of your API, check out our latest infographic.
3. Supporting Developers That Write to Your API
The experts recommend that you don't “just throw your API out there.” Providing support means developers will be more eager to work with it.
Here are a few ways you can offer API support:
- Offer an API Sandbox
- Weekly Google Hangouts for developers
- YouTube how-to videos
- In-person help sessions
- API help forums
- Detailed catalog of APIs
- Code samples
4. How to Keep Systems of Record in Sync and Handle Data Transformations
Data transformation is the processing of one data type, such as XML or SOAP, into another format. A company may have planned for the API's data transformations to work in one way to meet a company's needs, but other companies will undoubtedly have different needs. Make sure your data structure isn't obstructing your integration plans, and get the Abstraction Layer up and running ASAP.
Kyle Burnett provides, “tread lightly when looking to get systems talking to each other and do small use cases. Put your own throttling in place so you don’t overwhelm the system.”
5. Open APIs vs. Private
All API developers need to make hard decisions about how open their API is. Do they want to provide all applications and products themselves? Or can developers write directly for the API? Each expert recommends an open API, making the readily available for developers, customers, and partners.
At Salesforce their approach is to provide developers with great access to the APIs and the technology without having to make an investment so developers can understand what the platform can do. Understanding that value is a core part of Salesforce’s developer strategy.
6. Data Security
APIs handle lots of Personally Identifiable Information (or PII), so security is vital. Kris from Salesforce has seen some clever ways to keep data encrypted at rest so that one party might not have any access to the data even if they’re holding on to it. With sophisticated key management strategies, or encryption key management strategies, the data can become accessible as an on, need-to-know kind of basis.
As Allbound is a smaller, growing company, Kyle recommends hiring a security consultant to look over the API's code and the company's data-handling practices.
At Cloud Elements, security is at the forefront of our thoughts when we architect our solutions. Read more about our approach to security here.
7. Data Transformations Best Practices and Strategies
Always conduct research before getting started and don’t jump on the first solution that pops up. Make sure the business is using the best API for the job, and that the system can handle the amount of data that'll be transformed.
Kris recommends, “Understand how the rate limits will be consumed based on your integration, and what your projected growth is going to be.”
8. Top Advice When Designing an API Strategy
Both experts offer a few key insights on designing a CRM API Strategy: Plan ahead, and take advantage of every resource available, be limber, and future proof your strategy.
Kris’s top advice is to, “Plan ahead. It can be tempting to just jump in and start architecting solutions but...it really pays off in dividends to create a strategy for your integrations and building your APIs. Understand what your long-term goals are going to be.”
To dive deeper into these 8 tips, download the complete CRM integration guide below.