My company sells and deploys five customer relationship management applications and we’ve been doing this for too long to list here without depressing myself. We have implemented CRM systems at hundreds of companies. Many also take advantage of the add-ons their CRM vendor offers, usually through a marketplace or app store. Since most CRM systems have moved to the cloud in the past decade, there has been a proliferation of add-on applications to fill the gaps in the undelivered features.
So what are the most popular add-ons? Full disclosure: I didn’t do this scientifically. But I can easily list the add-ons that my customers use the most. Here are the top five in no particular order.
1 – Email Marketing
You don’t want to use your CRM system for email marketing. Of course, if you only send a few dozen or maybe even a hundred emails at a time, you can do that through your CRM without the wrath of your ISP. But more than that and you’re looking for trouble. That’s why there are so many good email marketing platforms available today, such as: MailChimp and Constant contact. The good guys do due diligence to make sure you don’t send spam, then offer templates, stats, and other features to maximize your marketing campaigns. Email marketing platforms will integrate with most mainstream CRM applications and sync lists, replies, and analytics. I wrote above that this list was in no particular order, but I lied a bit. Email Marketing Platforms are definitely the best add-on for my CRM clients.
2 – Text messages
There is good news and bad news here. On the good side, there are some pretty reliable SMS add-on applications for most CRMs like Twilio, SimpleTexting and SMS Magic. Also good is that they send massive text messages to you – and I say this with seriousness – “OPT IN” list of people who choose to receive your texts. The bad news is, after extensive research, I haven’t yet found a text messaging add-on that not only sends massive text messages, but also texts from my personal mobile device — be it Android or iPhone — to my CRM syncs. Apparently there are FCC rules in the US that prohibit much of what these applications can do. One solution is to have a separate device/phone number for individual texts, but this isn’t helpful or even realistic for me or my clients. Regardless, these applications as add-ons to CRMs have grown in popularity.
3 – Web Integration
Many of the popular CRMs offer tools to integrate your website with your database. However, my recommended add-on is: JotForm. It’s super easy to set up and just as easy to integrate with most major CRM platforms. Plus, it comes with its own workflow and other automation tools that can provide updates, responses, and alerts even before the data reaches your CRM system. While it is popular, not enough of my clients integrate their CRMs with their websites and they should. When someone visits, requests information, or has an online question, you want that interaction and all available contact information to come into your CRM database for follow-up and further engagement.
4 – Phone Integration
Many of my clients ask me to recommend a phone integration application for their CRM system. Because of integration, they really only want a few things. The first is a contact record popup for who is calling before the call is picked up. Next up is the ability to automatically record and transcribe the conversation to that record and then save it to history with perhaps workflow reminders for follow-ups. There are some standalone phone integration apps, but my advice is always to talk to your phone system provider. Whether it’s about Grasshopper, RingCentersme or Virtual PBX – which are all popular cloud-based communication systems for small and medium businesses – you will probably find that there are apps that the communication platform provides that can plug into your CRM. Start there.
5 – Database Integration
If you want your CRM system to talk to another database, like many of my clients, your best bet is to look at either Zapier or Activities. Both platforms have literally thousands of connectors between just about every popular CRM platform and other business systems, from accounting to social media to e-commerce to payments. As powerful as these tools and templates are, you’ll want to hire an expert to configure them, and both vendors can provide names of independent consultants, or you can find someone on LinkedIn. I also like these applications because they are supported by the vendors and are updated like other systems are updated. Don’t develop these integrations alone. It is not worth it.
If you go to your CRM vendor’s website, you’ll find the marketplace or app store (or whatever they call it) where they have tons of third-party add-ons. Be careful what you choose. You want something developed by someone who will still be in business next week if you have a question. Use an expert. Test the alternatives. Then do something on a limited scale to make sure everything does what you want, because sometimes – gasped – these vendors exaggerate the capabilities of their software solutions. However, finding the right add-on can make your CRM system much more productive than before.