While the promise of an integrated CRM platform that allows companies to align sales, marketing, and service all in one place is appealing and sought-after, the fulfillment of that promise — which relies on technology and data structures — often falls short. Why is that? What does an integrated CRM platform actually mean? What should you look for and expect from a modern CRM platform? 

Let’s start with technological underpinnings of an integrated CRM, because they determine the scope, speed, timing, security, and quality of any company’s customer interactions from the first touch throughout the entire lifecycle of a relationship. Once you gain clarity on technology that makes it possible to create a truly aligned and consistently great experience for both your team and your customers, you’ll be able to select a provider that can actually deliver on the promise. You’ll also feel more in control and gain peace of mind from knowing that you’re investing in the right technology to help you reach your customer and business goals. In this article, we’ll explore integrated unified CRM technology and its advantages, using Insightly CRM as an example. 

What is an integrated CRM?

An integrated CRM allows you to connect marketing automation, sales automation, and customer support apps under one roof and sync all relevant data right in your CRM. 

Integrated CRMs are often separate systems and data structures that need to be synced on a regular basis to provide you with an up-to-date, comprehensive view of each customer throughout the entire journey. You may often see an integrated CRM described as a unified CRM, even though there are differences between the two. For the purposes of this article, we’ll just note the most obvious distinction – in a unified CRM, sales, marketing, and service management apps sit atop one data platform. Insightly CRM is an example of a unified platform. 

How is a modern, unified CRM like Insightly different from legacy CRMs?

With the majority of integrated legacy CRMs, which are often packaged as “suite of apps” or “point solutions” or “multi-platform” CRMs, your sales, marketing, and service data are collected, organized, and managed in separate structures. Think about it, these CRM providers built their sales, marketing, and service systems separately, most likely at different times, with different teams, using available technology and addressing known customer and business needs at the time. Over the years, they kept adding features and capabilities, often through acquisitions of smaller companies who had developed specific solutions to specific problems. So, this means that even when you think you’re buying an integrated sales and marketing platform from the same company, in reality you might be buying an assembled platform that operates on multiple levels of data synchronization and integration, adding complexity, cost, and maintenance concerns. Add to that different user interface and separate user manuals, and you might as well be using separate platforms for sales, marketing, and service. 

Now, if you look at a modern unified CRM, like Insightly, you’ll find continuity at every level — from data structures to system integrations to user interface. You can link different types of customer data (profile and actions) in a clear and meaningful way, so that you better understand your prospects and customers and can reach them with targeted sales and marketing campaigns. You can also augment existing customer data with additional data from around the business and link relevant records in just a few clicks and gain visibility into every customer touchpoint. 

Apart from cost and complexity, one of the advantages of having a unified platform built with modern technology is that you don’t have to synchronize different data sources. In just about all of the competitor offerings, the marketing database is a different database from the customer management database. And, unless you set up some synchronization and map the fields and make sure that when one is updated, the other is updated as well, you can’t leverage your existing customer data on the marketing side of the house. There’s always a lag in syncing, it doesn’t happen straight away, maybe every few hours or twice a day. In Insightly, the data is there, at your fingertips at all times. You can start to build segmented lists and derive value straight away from the totality of all the fields, rather than having to map fields between two disparate systems. On the Insightly platform you can also create custom dashboards and reports that show customer path and actions throughout different domains (websites, mobile apps, etc.) and you can add data with the correct permissions to make sure the right people see it. 

More on advantages of a modern unified CRM

Flexibility

Once you have all these data, you can use marketing tools to perform actions. You can segment customers and market to them with highly relevant and timely messages and campaigns. At the end of the day, your customers don’t know and don’t care about the origin of your outreach or which department responds to their inquiry or service request — sales, marketing, or service — they just want to have their issues resolved and receive consistently great service and brand experience. With Insightly, you can truly align your sales, marketing, and service. 

Now, easy access to actionable data, alignment, and flexibility that a unified platform offers are all good and great. But if you’re serious about creating a high definition picture of your customer, you’re bound to collect increasingly more complex data that you’ll need to organize and draw insights from. Enter scalability. 

Scalability

At Insightly we use the scale capabilities of the Amazon Web Services (AWS) platform, which is almost an infinite scale. Amazon has invested tens of billions of dollars in building out the infrastructure and the storage infrastructure to store very large amounts of data. We use that capability to be able to store extreme amounts of data and analyze them in a very fast time frame for our customers.

This is also one of the advantages of having a very modern platform that’s built on the latest technology, rather than some other marketing tools that might be 10 to 15 years old and don’t have those capabilities. We have the scale and capabilities out of the box.

Which brings us to the next point — powerful simplicity of a modern platform. 

Powerful Simplicity

While most legacy systems, like Marketo or Pardot, are powerful, they require a lot of understanding of the ins and outs of the actual engine built into those products to get the value from them. You almost need to be an expert in those tools to make your money’s worth. What’s more frustrating is that a lot of those skills are not transferable, so marketers who have used one tool for five or ten years may need a long time to ramp up after switching to another tool that has a different set of complexities and capabilities.

And even though some of these older tools have powerful features, unless you’ve been using them for years, it’s really hard to understand their breadth and power. They’re very expensive on top of it.

When we were designing the Insightly Marketing, we focused on bringing a modern user experience to marketing with some easy to use drag and drop capabilities, putting a lot more power in the user’s hands, with very little training or ramp up time required. We wanted users to be able to take immediate action on their customer data and start building campaigns, sending beautiful emails, and orchestrating web for automations very quickly, without having to spend days or weeks or months learning the tool.

Of course, we can’t discuss marketing tools and a CRM without addressing customer data security. 

Security

Access to data provides a lot of opportunity and power, but with that power comes responsibility. Insightly has built-in security safeguards and permissions to provide that layer of security from the ground up. As a CRM provider, we really need to have a very strong security model, because some of the data is sensitive, some users might have the rights or capabilities to be able to see some particular records for individual fields and other users might not. We pruned our data security and permission story over the last four years and apply it as we build new apps, capabilities, and third party integrations. 

Data security is also where you gain an advantage with a unified platform. When you’re importing and synchronizing data between two different systems, the data come across, but not necessarily the permissions of who can see what. When you set up the data in your CRM and then you have to push it to your visualization or your dashboard, you lose all of those permissions and have to set up a brand new set of permissions in the dashboard or visualization tool. In Insightly CRM, the visualization platform is built into the data tool, so it respects all of the permissions and you don’t have to redo them. So, even when you need to bring in the data from third party systems, you can pull in and synchronize the data in real time and then store it in the correct locations next to the customer record itself. We then back up and synchronize the data in our search system, so you can find specific records very easily.

As you think about a CRM for your business, keep in mind that using a CRM as a system of records is not enough anymore. If you want to compete in a subscription economy, you need to use data to reach customers at the right time with the right message and continuously improve service — you need to act. Today customers expect a personalized and timely response to every inquiry, leaving companies big and small no choice but to invest in systems and technology that would allow them to meet these expectations. When you evaluate your current systems and consider new tools, make sure you look beyond the promise of a mere access to powerful features, but examine the foundational data structures and technology behind the features, as they will ultimately determine your ROI and impact on your business.

A well-integrated modern CRM like Insightly is the fastest, easiest, and most reliable way to gain visibility into every aspect of your customer relationships, make well-informed decisions, and create customer experiences that align with your brand vision and help you earn customer loyalty. You’re not buying a CRM for the sake of a CRM — you have business goals to reach and a CRM is your means to an end. Choose your means well.