What Does CRM to CMS Integration Really Mean?

CMS CRM Integration MeaningAlmost eclipsing requests among CRM buyers for CRM to ERP integration is interest in CRM to CMS (Content Management System) integration.

As with the former, the latter can mean a lot of different things. It’s important for CRM buyers to define what the business needs are behind a desired technological connection between CRM and CMS — and develop definition beyond listing “Website Integration” as a bullet point on a CRM feature requirements list.

For many people, CRM to ERP integration is easy to conceptualize — two operational database applications exchange certain records and field-level data in some fashion. For example, one possible CRM to ERP integration result is that ERP sales order history records can be viewed within a CRM account record.

But how do you “integrate” a database application (CRM) with a what amounts to a collection of website pages (a CMS)? On the surface, these are different species of application.

A recommended first step is to loosen the definition of the word integration. There are a number of ways in which CRM and CMS can interconnect. Here are just a few.

Embed CRM Web Form Code Within a Website

The simplest level of CRM to CMS integration is the embedding CRM-generated forms within a website that’s built on a popular standalone CMS platform such as WordPress, Drupal or Joomla. Some CRM systems allow for natively generating the web form code that is embedded in a CMS using an iFrame or HTML plus JavaScript. Other CRM systems rely on third party solutions for form code.

In the nonprofit world, donation forms are often embedded within a CMS system. Transaction information can be added to a CRM system via integration between the donation processing system and the CRM system. Classy’s CRM integration is an example of this.

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A recommended first step is to loosen the definition of the word integration.

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Embed Dynamic CRM Data Within Website Pages

When real time numbers, statistics or other data-driven content needs to be displayed to website visitors, CRM data can be rendered dynamically on a content management system’s pages. This can be done by synchronizing CRM data with the CMS database, or by embedding content from a page that’s hosted on a CRM platform within a CMS page.

Host a Segment of a Site’s Pages on a CRM Platform

InsideView’s knowledge base is an example of one that has the look and feel of the organization’s main website, but is actually hosted on a CRM vendor’s servers — in InsideView’s case, Zendesk.

Via a combination of host mapping and styling tools, the site visitor’s perception in this case is that the knowledge base is a fully integrated component of InsideView’s overall website, although the knowledge base is, technically speaking, a different website.

Host an Entire Website on a CRM Platform

Several CRM vendors offer the ability to host an entire website on their platform. Zoho offers Sites. Salesforce.com offers a website builder that is native to its platform.

Salesforce.com’s Site.com offering can be used to display real time CRM data to visitors and/or to collect information from visitors and write directly to CRM record or records. This represents a single-platform CRM and CMS. Neil Young’s PonoMusic is an example of website that leverages these combined capabilities.

Neil Young Integrated CRM CMS Customer

Image Courtesy of NRK P3/Flickr

Hosting a website on a CRM platform does not provide all the flexibility and options, such as functionality provided by third party plugins, of a standalone CMS. This means that more time should be allocated to site setup and ongoing content maintenance than needs to be devoted to a standalone CMS.

Host an Entire Website on a Marketing Automation Platform

HubSpot is a popular marketing automation (MA) system that includes a content management system and CRM functionality. While, at the time of this writing, HubSpot’s CRM functionality is fairly new, HubSpot is uniquely offering an all-in-one MA, CRM and CMS system.

Build a Website Using a Third Party CRM-Based CMS

OrchestraCMS is an example of a third party CMS that’s built on top of a CRM platform. A third party solution can provide additional flexibility and functionality over a vendor’s core offering.

Use a CMS’s Database as a CRM Database

This the case in which CRM functionality has been built on top of a CMS system. For example, there are several open source CRM systems are built on top of Drupal. These include CRM Core and RedHen CRM.

While this is an option for some to consider, these systems often lack the breadth of functionality of standalone CRM systems.

Selecting the Right Platform(s)

By restating “integration” as “interconnection”, there are more ways to look at how CMS and CRM can be interfaced.

One decision point is to what degree a website site should have the appearance to visitors of being a unified whole versus to what degree the two systems are technically integrated. The former path allows for taking a best of breed approach to CRM to CMS integration.

As with all things CRM, it’s best to begin with the business requirements and then evaluate the appropriate technologies to address those requirements.

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