Where to start with CRM-ESP Integrations?

Mariana Santiago

Mariana Santiago

Mariana Santiago is a copywriter and email marketing specialist based in San Francisco, CA and New Orleans, LA. She believes in the power of delightful emails and thoughtful messaging.

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CRM ESP Integrations

When you’re deciding which ESP and which CRM to use, think about your future CRM-ESP integration.

CRM-ESP integrations are pivotal to the success of any email marketing program. You can’t get the information you’ll need to create a thoughtful email marketing program without the information typically contained within a CRM.

Here’s a guide to what a CRM-ESP integration is, why it’s important, and what you should look for when thinking about which integration to go with.

Definitions

Before we dive into what to look for in a software integration, let’s establish some basic definitions. 

CRM 

A CRM (which stands for “customer relationship management”) tool is integral for the success of any business which does business online. Ideally, your CRM will gather your customer interactions across all channels into one platform, enabling you and your team to gain a holistic view of how any given customers has interacted with your brand in any number of ways in one place. 

While different CRMs do different things, most CRMs will at the very least keep a record of what a customer’s purchased from you and when they made that purchase or purchases. Additionally, most CRMs will keep a record of all communications a customer has had with your business (or a representative of such.)

ESP

An email service provider – or an ESP – is a service that allows email marketers to send out email marketing campaigns to a list of subscribers. 

You might wonder “Well, can’t I just send out emails from my Gmail account?”

Well, yes. Of course you can send emails out from your Gmail account.

Can you email tens and hundreds of thousands of people at a time, though? Does your Gmail account make it easy for you to send intricately designed HTML emails or track recipient engagement with your emails? 

It does not! That’s because your Gmail account is for personal use, not for marketing use. Your ESP is specifically for marketing emails.

ESPs can send out emails to as many subscribers as you are willing to pay for. They can track important email metrics that help you evaluate the health of a campaign. Most importantly, they can work with your CRM to help you create an email marketing program based upon your subscribers’ activities.

What’s the difference between a CRM and an ESP?

ESPs are designed specifically to support your email marketing program. They offer bulk email sends, list management tools, access to email metrics, and more. CRMs are, quite literally, customer relationship management tools: essentially, a CRM is a database where you can gather all the information you need to manage individual relationships with the individuals you work with. 

Another way to put it – CRMs are for the sales department. ESPs are for your marketing department. 

Some CRMs offer ESP functionality on top of their CRM capabilities – but you might want to choose a specific ESP for its abilities and use a separate CRM. If that’s the case, you’ll have to integrate your ESP and your CRM.

Why does it matter?

You should know what the software you pay for does, what its capabilities are, and how you can get the most bang for your buck by using it to its limit.

More importantly, you can set up a better email marketing program once you’ve integrated your CRM and your ESP. Better email marketing doesn’t just mean that people will like the emails you send more (although that’s a worthy goal in and of itself!) – it often also means a better ROI on your email marketing program.

What’s a CRM-ESP integration?

Integrating your CRM and ESP means you’ve connected the two platforms, enabling one or both platforms to share data with the other. 

What does a CRM-ESP integration do?

Integrations between your CRM and ESP opens the doors to the wonderful world of marketing automation. If you want your business to actively use marketing automation as a part of its broader marketing plan, it would be wise to base your automated activities on actual prospect activity. If your ESP has no data on customer activity, it can’t send emails based upon customer activity, because it won’t know when a customer acts. Giving your ESP access to that data enables it to respond to that data, resulting in an email marketing program that’s actually based upon customer actions and not upon guesswork.

Here’s what happens without a functioning CRM-ESP integration.

Personalization doesn’t work as well.

Personalization (in the context of email marketing) encompasses anything and everything from including a subscriber’s first name in your email copy to altering the very content of an email based upon a subscriber’s demonstrated interests.

Think of it this way: which email would be more likely to inspire YOU make a purchase from your favorite ecommerce website? 

Email A: A beautifully designed email featuring a picture of a pair of sunglasses you’ve been considering buying for a few months now, with an appealing “Shop now!” button linking to a page where you can purchase aforementioned sunglasses – and even better, a coupon offering 20% as long as you buy before the beginning of August. The month is July. You live in Arizona.

Email B: An email featuring a picture of an aboveground swimming pool. The headline reads “35% off all swimming pools!” You’ve never considered buying a swimming pool before. The month is October. You live in Alaska. 

Clearly, Email A is going to make the created-for-this-hypothetical ecommerce website more money than Email B. However, the data required to create emails like Email A typically comes from CRMs.

If you don’t have a functioning CRM-ESP integration at your disposal, you won’t be able to alter the content of email campaigns to match your subscribers’ demonstrated preferences. 

Your segmentation abilities are limited.

Segmenting your subscriber list is helpful for a number of reasons. 

For example, consider subscriber lists segmented by customer activity. Customer activity can provided clues to where a customer might be in your purchase funnel – for example, people who’ve downloaded five of your white papers might be closer to committing than people who’ve merely signed up for your email list but still have yet to open a single email.

Wouldn’t it be helpful if you used different messaging for people in different parts of your purchase funnel? With a subscriber list segmented by customer activity, you can easily send entirely different campaigns with wholly unique messaging to the customer and prospects most likely to be receptive to each kind of messaging.

Were you to segment based on engagement with emails, you could send more emails to frequent openers and fewer to occasional openers, which could have positive effects on your overall deliverability. Were you to segment based upon demonstrated customer and prospect interests, you could send topical emails to the portions of your list most likely to give a damn about the topic, which could have positive effects for your company’s overall relationship with the public. Segmentation is a beautiful thing.

But wait! You may be sold on segmenting your subscriber list, but you’re going to need some information before you start breaking your list into smaller segments. On its own, your ESP can break up your list into segments based upon how often your subscribers open or click your emails. 

If you’re looking for a deeper dive, however, and hope to segment based upon other information – you’ll need access to the information typically found in CRMs, not ESPs. 

Your workflow triggers get wonky.

Workflows, or email automations, are series of emails that each send based on a trigger of your own choosing. Typically, the trigger has something to do with customer activity – for example, you might implement a drip campaign that sends an email two days after a prospect downloads your lead magnet, a second email four days after that download, and a third email a week after that download.

Some ESPs offer advanced logic enabling the creation of more advanced workflows. For example, you could upgrade the aforementioned drip campaign by sending a first email two days after a prospect downloads your email, a second email four days after that download, and a third email a week after that download, and a fourth email sometime after that – but if the prospect’s status changes from “Likely” to “Purchaser” between any of those emails, the prospect stops receiving emails from that particular drip campaign and receives a “Thank you!” email instead. 

Workflows are perfect for walking with your customers along their customer journey. Ideally, well-designed email workflows help guide your prospects and customers down the path you’d like them to take by providing helpful nudges at the right time, using the right message.

However, this all stops working with your ESP-CRM integration fails. Again, customer activity information comes from your CRM – if your ESP hasn’t been notified that the Lead Status has changed, they’ll stay in the queue for the original drip campaign instead of receiving your organization’s gracious thank-you note.

Here’s what you need to look for in an integration

Out-of-the-box

First, look for out-of-the-box integrations. 

In the context of ESP-CRM integrations, out-of-the-box integrations are integrations native to both the CRM and the ESP. These integrations require very little effort on your part to set up. Typically, out-of-the-box integrations require navigating to your CRM or ESP’s app store, selecting the platform with which you’d integrate, entering your credentials, and just like that – you’re integrated.

Out-of-the-box integrations have the benefit of removing a lot of the opportunity for human error. Manually integrating your CRM and your ESP can be tricky and requires some level of skill. Unfortunately, data might not transfer correctly if you get something wrong. 

Another advantage of out-of-the-box integrations is that you’re using two software platforms already designed to work together. That means you won’t have to jerry-rig solutions to get all the information you need from your CRM into your ESP: it’ll just work.

Alternatively, you could use a service like Zapier or Workato to automate features that aren’t directly available in a native ESP-CRM integration. Zapier and Workato solutions are fairly easy to set up, but you should think carefully about exactly what it is you want to automate and what information you want to send to which platform before orchestrating a Zapier or Workato solution.

In any case, at this point you’re using three platforms instead of two – and that’s another SaaS subscription you’ll have to pay for.

Field Mapping

A field is a part of a user profile that contains some piece of information (first name, last name, address, etc.) that you need to best serve that customer. 

If you have an ESP in addition to your CRM, you’ll have customer profiles in both platforms. If your integration allows for field mapping, your ESP and CRM will recognize which of its fields is the equivalent to a particular field in the other platform. 

Field mapping is important because you don’t want to have to enter the same information into two separate platforms. First, that literally doubles your workload. Secondly, it’s important because if something happens that’s important enough to note in your CRM, you’ll want to have access to that information in your ESP instantly. 

For example, if you change someone’s status from “prospect” to “customer” in your CRM, you’ll want your ESP to stop sending them emails meant for prospects and to start sending them emails meant for paying customers. You don’t want your sales department to email someone from marketing who they’ve never met asking the marketing employee to manually go into your ESP, go into your subscriber list, and make sure that customer isn’t receiving emails for prospects. You want it to happen automatically.

Ideally, your integration’s field mapping ability will extend to the point of being able to trigger emails based upon customer activity documented in your CRM’s fields using a drop-down menu.

This is important because you don’t want to rely on typing in fields when you’re trying to set up triggers. For example, the Salesforce Lightning / Mailchimp Integration doesn’t extend to providing the same drop-down fields in Mailchimp that you’ll see in Salesforce Lightning when you’re setting up a Custom Event Workflow in Mailchimp. In that situation, if you want an email to send based upon “Lead Status” changing to “Qualified”, you’ll need to type in the word “Qualified” instead of just picking from a list of drag-down options (think “qualified”, “unqualified”, “likely”, etc.) 

If you type “Qualified” incorrectly – “qualified”, “qaulified”, “Quali fied”…just imagine all the typo possibilities! – your workflow will not trigger correctly. In fact, if there’s any difference between how Mailchimp parses your entry and how Salesforce parses the Lead Status “Qualified”, your workflow won’t trigger correctly.  

Syncs Automatically

Investigate how often data syncs up between your ESP and your CRM.

For example, in some integrations, the data from your CRM only updates in your ESP every hour on the hour. This is typically fine, but it does present limitations on when you can send campaigns and who receives your emails.

If the data from your CRM only syncs to your ESP once an hour, you might have a problem. Let’s say you’ve created a workflow whose logic depends upon customer activity.

A customer might take an action at 9:12am that affects whether or not that customer receives a campaign scheduled to go out at 9:45 am – but if your customer data only syncs up once an hour on the hour, that activity won’t register in your ESP until 10am. Your customer won’t receive that campaign.

Saves Time or Increases Value

Finally, make sure the integration actually makes sense and adds value. Is there something you can do with your ESP once integrated with your CRM that you couldn’t do without that integration? Otherwise, reconsider whether it’s actually worth giving an additional platform access to your customer and subscribers’ information.

When someone gives your organization their name and email address, they’re giving you access to all sorts of data, whether they know it or not. You then become a custodian of their data – and you should be careful with that information. 

Make sure the software platforms you use to organize all of your customer and subscriber data aren’t likely to sell that data or share that data without your explicit consent. Be a good custodian.

Conclusion

CRM-ESP integrations can be implemented easily – and the rewards they offer when implemented correctly are generous. Start by choosing an ESP and CRM that work well together and build upon that foundation. Your email marketers will thank you!

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