What manufacturers should consider when planning web integration projects

What manufacturers should consider when planning web integration projects

Jun 30, 2020
Marketing Account Manager at i3 Digital
What manufacturers should consider when planning web integration projects

A large majority of digital projects we come across these days include some form of integration with third-party systems. These are typically anything from CRMs, ERPs, or Payment Gateways. From our many years of experience, we’ve learned that embarking on any integration project can be quite a daunting prospect and expensive if not completely planned out from the outset. In this article, we aim to share with you our experience, particularly on the most common types of CMS to CRM integrations and what to consider when planning out your projects. 

Web to lead

This is the most common type of integration we see. Lots of companies have connected their website forms to their lead modules of their CRM’s.

The logic behind doing it is really simple. You avoid the possibility of web inquiries going missing or being poorly handled by passing them into an existing lead management process.

For most businesses with one centralized sales force or customer services team creating this functionality is really simple. All that is needed is for the fields in the form to map to fields in the CRM.

However, some web to lead integrations can be more complex. For example: 

- If we need to capture who the customer is as part of the web form (this often means that it needs to be assigned to a particular Account Manager)

- If the form is rules-based and can send leads to specific departments depending on the data added (e.g., Customer services for complaints vs. Sales for new customer inquiries)

These integrations tend to take a little longer to configure, but in the overall CRM integration spectrum, they’re still relatively easy.

As most CRM’s have a lead function, we tend to see clients that need this functionality, select their CRM on price.

One of the drawbacks of open-source systems is that the lack of form management tools means that the rules-based form approach will require more web developer effort. Consider CMS platforms with comprehensive out-of-the-box form functionality. 

Customer login areas

These integrations tend to be more diverse than web-to-lead. Typical information integrated from CRM into front end customer login experiences include:

- Customer name

- Customer address

- Organization name

- Email address

- Phone number

- Name of Account Manager

- Email/marketing preferences

- Sales orders

- Complaints/inquiry correspondence

- Trial statuses

- Previous purchasing history

- Reward points (often through integrations with rewards systems)

- Event tickets/bookings (often with additional ticketing platform)

- Policy documents/document uploads (often via additional document management system integrations)

- Delivery statuses (frequently with integrations with logistics partners)

Customer login integrations are frequently much more complicated to specify and require a much broader UX approach. Where most manufacturers fall down on is that they feel, logically, that it makes sense to integrate with all web services available. This means that not enough time is spent on the integrations, which have a larger impact on the overall customer experience.

Frequently, user frustration in customer login areas is due to how out-of-the-box CRM and CMS integrations work. A common example of this is inquiry processes, which are overly long because we need to capture information in a certain way for the integration to work properly. In this situation, an integration specialist or a BA can help to specify how the logic of both systems can be changed to improve the overall experience.

Customer login areas range in size substantially. For more comprehensive integrations and integrations with high levels of end-customer usage, the bigger CRM’s like Microsoft Dynamics and Salesforce tend to be more popular choices.

The CMS platforms you should go towards, are ones with great out-of-the-box connectors and have a flexible integration bus which allows developers to create complex and robust integration quickly.

Product data, conversion tools, and pricing information

OK, so this isn’t the sort of thing that you would normally expect to see in a Customer Relationship Management system, however for some manufacturers (especially B2B organizations offering e-commerce) products, pricing and customer relationships are inextricably linked.

These integrations tend to include:

- Product data (name, images, sizes, colors, etc.)

- Product specifications

- Delivery availability

- Stock availability

- Basket abandonment

- Complimentary product recommendation based on previous purchases

- Special customer pricing (validated as part of a login process)

- Credit application processes (via integrations with credit checking partners)

- Credit limits (often through additional integrations with accounting systems)

With these sorts of integrations, the CRM needs to either provide a direct interface for the data or integrate with an e-commerce structure. Working without this and trying to apply individual product integrations at a page level is a world of pain to be avoided.

These integrations are normally complicated and have workflow rules attached to online customer activity to support the speed of the service. Examples of this might include putting time pressures on CRM users to accept/reject pending credit applications within a certain timeframe.

Manufacturers with this size of e-commerce requirement are also likely to be doing so much volume that stock management becomes a more regular challenge. This can mean that the CMS requires reporting controls, which help to spot significant changes in customer demand before it becomes a major operational headache.

For this sort of requirement, the biggest CRM’s like SAP, Oracle, and Dynamics proliferate. However, we often see hybrid solutions with smaller CRM systems working alongside cheaper ERP solutions. Look towards CMS platforms that have their own strong inbuilt e-commerce platforms.

Web integration success story

Recently a leading manufacturer of specialist measurement equipment, TSI Inc, embarked on a digital transformation project that featured many integration points.

The overarching project goal was to transform their business globally by delivering a tightly integrated e-commerce platform that met the e-business needs of TSI’s seven core business/product divisions internationally. The new platform needed to also focus on achieving operational efficiencies while meeting the communication and management needs of a worldwide partner distributor network.

The platform had to be seamlessly integrated via bi-directional API’s into TSI’s existing SAP (ERP & CRM) system and facilitate secure online payment. Including a seamless B2B and Partner Distributor ordering capability, with advanced account management and fulfillment tracking.

During the build phase, e-commerce capability was set up and integrated directly to their SAP ERP to provide real-time data, including:

- Pricing, availability, stock levels, Business Intelligence Dashboard

- Ordering, request a quote lead generation, order history, quotations

Integration with their bespoke payments solution was also implemented, including site-wide pricing in multiple currencies.

A full channel distribution partner portal is now available which avails of the CRM, ERP integrations, and all core e-commerce functionality, with the one product catalog meeting the needs of B2B customers and Distribution Partners.

Overall the delivered solution provides a solid, robust, highly secure, tightly integrated digital B2B e-commerce platform that will help TSI Inc. grow and evolve its business globally.

Interested in learning more? Then why not join us on our upcoming webinar on July 8, 2020, for more insights and great tips: Top digital transformation trends helping manufacturers get to market faster.

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