Email-to-CRM Contact Connection Easier Said Than Done

People are the starting point for managing relationships. In your CRM, they're stored as leads and contacts. In your email client, it's the address book. It takes a lot more than fate to bring them together.

By David Taber
Thu, August 30, 2012

CIO — What could be more basic than making your contact lists, mailing lists and address books all work together? Every CRM system takes care of as many of the basics as it can, and the simple act of importing contact lists is a snap.

However, an import is just the starting point, and there will still be silos of contact information scattered across the enterprise. CRM lead records are typically not synchronized with other back-office enterprise systems (after all, leads have no real business relationship yet).

How-To: Tracking Leads, Contact, People and Accounts in a CRM System

You want to synchronize CRM lead records with marketing automation systems, forums, discussion groups and other customer-facing registration databases. When it comes to back-end systems, synchronizing CRM contact records is enabled by integration connectors, foreign keys and duplicate detection logic.

Synchronizing CRM Contacts a Dedupe Nightmare

"Enabled," it should be pointed out, means "you can," not "you'll like it." This aspect of the contact problem can be solved—as long as your integration team deals with the following deduplication nuances:

  • Case insensitivity.
  • Typos and abbreviations.
  • Accented characters. For dupe detection, you probably should consider é the same as e.
  • Misspellings, name substitutes and people's nicknames, such as Scott, Scotty and Scooter.
  • So-called "street names" (Disney instead of The Walt Disney Company) and divisions (Pixar instead of Disney) for a Contact's employer.
  • Converting a CRM lead record to a contact if there's already a match with one of the outside contacts.
  • Multiplying (roughly) 10 email addresses, eight phone numbers and five mailing addresses per contact. Of course, each of these should be a related record off the main contact, but you have to accommodate systems that don't support that natively.
  • Accounting for country and state variations. As I wrote previously, you really want ISO codes, but many systems' data won't have them.
  • Merging multiple avatars for the same individual. Some systems won't easily support merges, so you have to have a strategy for this.
  • Finally, applying adaptive or fuzzy scoring for duplicate candidates. For example, if you've matched an unusual name such as Flash qFiasco, it's probably a dupe, even if the addresses are in different states.

Now That the Simple Stuff Is Done…

The bulk of an enterprise's contact information is in everyone's email client address book. Most of those address books can be totally ignored for synchronization with the CRM. That said, address books of executives, sales people and customer support people are likely to be valuable.

There are two main use-cases for email and CRM Contact synching. First, there's aggregating everyone in the client and prospect world. This level-0 social network is useful in both prospecting and cultivating customer relationships. In this case, the value is in collecting and centralizing information from users' address books.

Tip: Avoid 3 Key CRM User Identity Mistakes

Second, there's distributing the latest contact information to anyone who needs to use it. If we find out that Joe Bigshot at Widgets Inc. has a new mobile phone number, then that new number should show up in everyone's address book.

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