There are two primary ways to bring your eCommerce and CRM systems together – you can use two separate applications and integrate them or you can use one system that performs both functions in a unified system. In this whitepaper, we discuss the pros and cons of both and give recommendations on when each option makes sense. Before we get into the details we first need to discuss why you need to do one or the other. If your company is truly using a CRM system for its intended purpose – to track ALL interactions with your customers, use that data to richly interact with your customers, report on and analyze that data, and then change your business activities based on your findings – then you must have the critical eCommerce data in your CRM system.
Given that backdrop for why eCommerce data must be in your CRM system, let’s dive into the first option for making that happen – Integration.
- Ability to use best-of-breed systems
- Ability to change systems individually
- More complex infrastructure means more points of failure
- Potential for higher costs as you are paying for two systems
On the pros side, using your CRM system as the central hub for your customer data and integrating best-of-breed systems for specific functions needed by your business that a CRM system does not normally perform is a very powerful concept and the benefits you can gain from this are very compelling. However, when it comes to integrating eCommerce systems the benefits aren’t quite so clearly delineated. Typically, the benefits of integrating best-of-breed solutions comes from the fact that the specific function performed by that other system uses and or generates data that does not need to be stored in the CRM system. For example, if your company uses a learning management system to provide paid courses to your customers, the integration would be just the purchase information and perhaps data around taking or passing the courses. The actual course material as well as the infrastructure to present these courses to the end user is information that should not be kept in your CRM system as it is irrelevant to the purpose of CRM as discussed earlier. The reason why this is not as cut and dry when it comes to eCommerce solutions is that much of the eCommerce data is critical to have when interacting with your customers and therefore should be stored within CRM – this is not just for things like what products they bought and at what time it goes much deeper. For example, if you want to provide excellent customer service you may need your customer service representatives to be able to instantly refund a credit card transaction. If this data is not stored within CRM then this process could take much longer than the customer wants to wait. If your integration does not get to that level then you may not be getting all the benefits of using the best-of-breed systems.
Now let’s look at the other option – a Unified System. A unified system includes all the capabilities that combines all the functions of both eCommerce and CRM into one system – typically your CRM system.
- There is no integration point of failure
- Single platform allows for streamlined maintenance, training and increased visibility to critical customer information.
- A single system means you are reliant on a single vendor for new product features
- A single system means you must scale the application infrastructure uniformly
On the pros side, the fact that there is no integration point of failure is a substantial factor if real time data is critical for your business. Take, for example, a situation where you are selling products that have member or non-member pricing. If your CRM system, which contains the member and non-member designations, cannot connect with your eCommerce system you may be selling a product at an unwanted discount or for too high of a price. If you sell it for too low you are undercutting the value of your membership. If you sell it for too high you will most likely incur unwanted customer service time and effort when the customer calls in to get their member discount.
Integration is best for companies with complex eCommerce needs including sophisticated inventory and vendor management requirements with the resources to manage a more complex technology infrastructure.
A Unified System is best for companies selling intangible products, like professional or online services, or small and medium sized businesses that want to maintain fewer systems or have users that perform many different functions.