Remember the Telephone Game back when you were a kid?
Here's a quick refresher. Everyone stands in a line. The first person whispers a message in the second person's ear. The second person then whispers that message into the third person's ear and so on.
The last person in line has to recite the message out loud to everyone and then compare it to the original message the first person whispered.
Nearly every single time, the message is very different at the end of the line than when it began.
The efficient exchange of data from one point to the next is crucial. Especially in business.
As more and more software applications are created and utilized in our professional and personal lives, more and more data is compiled.
What are you doing with all of that data?
How do you make sure your data moves through your company smoothly and consistently?
Most software applications do a fantastic job with a few very specific functions. But even the most robust and expensive ERPs lack specialized functionality requiring the use of additional tools.
As your business begins to adopt new technology to make life easier, it is important to think about how all the data contained in each of these individual software applications can work with each other.
More importantly, how can you easily share this data across different platforms without falling victim to the telephone game?
In the past, software integrations were reserved for large corporations with deep pockets. Thankfully, this has changed and most software applications can be integrated allowing data to move back and forth using web-based API.
Understanding How API Works
Before diving in further, it's important to understand how different software applications or platforms can exchange data between each other. Information can transferred between software applications through an API.
API is an acronym for Application Program Interface.
Without getting too technical, an API basically serves as the bridge between two different software applications allowing them to talk to one another.
The video below from MuleSoft does a fantastic job explaining how an API works.
In this video, MuleSoft relates an API to a waiter transporting data between different applications much the same as a waiter takes your order and delivers it to the kitchen returning with the food that you ordered.
Using an API is no longer limited to big brands with big budgets like the travel site in the video. Many of the software applications you already use have the ability to talk to one another. All you need to do is connect them.
Reasons to Integrate Your Software Platforms
There are software applications for everything.
Chances are, you are using several of these in your business such as a CRM to manage your customers, QuickBooks to handle your accounting, an email marketing software like MailChimp or ConstantContact to send emails to your customers, a live chat tool to engage with website visitors… the list is endless.
As you continue to add specialized software to your business to make operations easier, you might have noticed that you’ve also began adding complexities.
With each new software application comes a whole new set of data points that lives somewhere. Perhaps you have different members of your team in different departments contributing data to these software applications individually or collectively. Think about all of the silos of data collected and input into these systems. This can lead to chaos quickly.
Whether your business is already using software applications or are thinking about ways to streamline operations and make your data more efficient, it is important to understand the benefits of integrating these platforms so they can talk to one another.
Here are a couple of reasons why you should consider web-based APIs to integrate your software applications or platforms:
Allowing different software applications to talk to one another and exchange data can help increase the productivity of your operations.
Moving out of one platform and into another takes time and if the data is isolated within those respective software applications, it can also require extracting information from one system to update the other.
Consider the simple task of sending out a monthly email newsletter.
If your customer service and sales team are using a CRM to manage the contact details of all of your customers and prospects, all of that information resides within that CRM.
When it comes time for the marketing department to send out a monthly email newsletter, they have to access the CRM and export all the current records to then import this information into the email marketing software before they press the send button.
Simply connecting the CRM to the email marketing software will eliminate the task of exporting and importing data between platforms, not only saving time but also reducing the chance of human error in the process.
Minimizing redundant data entry will allow your team members to focus on their core tasks and not be bogged down by ones that can be automated.
Provide Access to Data Across Multiple Team Members or Departments
Different members of your team interact with the software applications you use in different ways.
Customer service representatives are fielding support inquiries and perhaps creating tickets to be sent to another department for handling the request. Sales is communicating with current customers and prospective customers all day, every day logging their interactions into a CRM. Accounts receivable is working diligently to process payments for the products and services your business provides. There is a chance that each of these different team members or departments are using specialized software that help them do their specific jobs.
Allowing these different platforms to speak to one another will provide everyone with a complete picture of your company’s interactions with a customer or prospect.
This will give sales the ability to follow up on a support ticket submitted earlier that week to make sure it was handled to the customer’s satisfaction. It will allow accounting to see that the sales department has a large deal in the pipeline and to not press too hard on that $300 outstanding invoice right at this moment.
Data transparency across your organization will make your team look organized and efficient which will lead to better relationships with customers.
Reduction in Errors
Having data scattered across multiple platforms can get hairy pretty quickly.
Trying to update the data from one platform to another can go from bad to worse even faster. Manually moving data drastically increases the chances for errors and good data points to be overwritten with outdated data points.
Think for a moment about a simple address change for one of your customers. If they are on a call with a member of your sales team and notify you of the address change, that address update will likely be made by the salesperson in the company CRM. But what if the salesperson doesn’t notify accounting of the address update and invoices continue to be sent to the old address? Now your company is sending invoices to an old address delaying the turnaround in payment as you wait for the USPS to forward your invoice to their new address.
Connecting your systems to each other with an API integration will allow this data to flow back and forth between platforms taking out the element of human error that comes with manual data migrations.
Make Better Business Decisions
Centralizing data into a single point can be a savior for making business decisions.
Management can quickly review collective data allowing them to quickly make decisions without having 4 different departments run individual reports and then having to piece all of that information together.
Knowing the data is consolidated and accurate will provide a better overall picture of the various data points in your organization.
Integrating data will help your sales team be more productive by giving them real-time data to use during the sales process.
Inquiries through the website or call-ins to customer service can immediately be funneled to a salesperson for immediate follow up.
Follow-up tasks can be automated. Emails sent to customers and prospects can automatically be logged into the CRM providing a complete customer record in a single location without relying on the salesperson to manually enter in the details of the email message.
Live chat conversations that began in customer service can quickly be turned over to a member of the sales team to immediately continue the conversation.
Precious time normally spent on data entry can now be devoted to time actively selling.
The faster customer data can be put into the hands of a salesperson, the better they will be able to perform their selling tasks.
At this point, you should be able to clearly see from the previous reasons that money can be saved from productivity and sales can increase.
Beyond that, there might be some tools you are currently paying for that can be eliminated as a result of integrating your systems.
Client Case Study: Automating the Mailing of Birthday Cards
One example of an API integration we recently deployed is automating the delivery of birthday cards to customers.
Our client wanted to mail birthday cards to their customers a week or so before their birthdays. Their customer base was growing and manually writing each card out, addressing it, and dropping it in the mail started taking more and more time.
We connected their HubSpot CRM which contained all of their customers' birthdates to the online card delivery platform called Handwrytten with a custom API. Every other Monday, the API gathers all of the contacts in the CRM who have a birthday in the upcoming two weeks and delivers this information to the Handwrytten platform. The Handwrytten platform then automatically creates and sends birthday cards with the pre-selected design and message through the mail directly to the customers at an affordable cost.
This simple API reduced the time our client spent manually sending out these cards. The only time requirement now is the simple task of making sure the birthdate field in their CRM is populated for each customer.
Tools to Help You Integrate Your Software Platforms
Now that you’re convinced to really take a look at how you can integrate your software applications, the next logical question is how do you get started?
There are a couple of different routes you can take here.
Third-Party Integration Tools
Look at the options third-party integration tools like Zapier, PieSync, and Unito can provide you for connecting your data. Using third-party integration tools may not be as easy as the established integrations, but they are still pretty user-friendly. Each has a wide library of popular applications they have already configured for quick and easy connectivity.
A lot of software applications will have an integrations section in the platform settings showing other software applications they have direct integrations with. This process is often times as simple as enabling the integration, logging into the platform you wish to integrate with, and granting permissions for data to be sent from one to another.
Newer or less popular software platforms may not be supported (yet) using a third-party integration tool or an established integration. In this instance, you can work with a developer to uncover the options for creating a custom integration to connect your data.
Start Integrating Your Software Platforms
It’s time to get started.
The first step is to take inventory of all the current software applications you are using. It might make sense to create a simple spreadsheet to organize everything.
Note how you are using each software application including all of the functions it performs to help you do specific tasks. Outline all of the data points within each platform so you can have a clear picture of where there might be overlap.
Begin to consider the different data points that can be connected through an integration and how those might help you.
Go one step further and think about some of the current manual processes you are doing and how you could automate some of these to make your life easier. Explore the software applications you already own to see if this functionality already exists and you are simply not yet taking advantage of it. You might consider looking at new software applications you can integrate with current platforms that will fill in any blanks.
Explore the established integrations of your current platforms. Which ones already have integrations setup with other software applications?
Look at the options third-party integration tools like Zapier and PieSync can provide you for connecting your data. Using third-party integration tools may not be as easy as the established integrations, but they are still pretty user-friendly.
If you strike out with these first two options, connect with a developer and explain to them your overall goals and see how they might be able to help. Their experience will come in handy with getting you setup.
In the event that all of this seems overwhelming, but you really want to understand it better, reach out to your current website developer to see how they can help or who they might recommend. Leverage experienced professionals to help you formulate your overall strategy and save you a lot of time, headaches, and (likely) money in the long run.
Oh yeah! One last thing... We can help too.
Reach out to Neon Goldfish for a free strategy call to learn more about how we can help you evaluate your current software applications and learn ways to connect data to automate and streamline your business processes.