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My company sells and implements five customer relationship management applications and we’ve been doing this for too long to mention here without depressing myself. We’ve implemented CRM systems at hundreds of businesses. Many of those also take advantage of the add-ons that their CRM vendor provides, usually through a marketplace or app store. Since most CRM systems moved to the cloud during the past ten years there’s been a proliferation of add-on applications to fill the gaps in the features not provided.

So what are the most popular add-ons? Full disclosure: I didn’t do this scientifically. But I can easily list out the add-ons that my clients use the most. Here are the top five in no particular order.

1 – E-Mail Marketing

You don’t want to use your CRM system for e-mail marketing. Sure, if you’re just sending out a few dozen or maybe even a hundred emails at a time you can do that through your CRM without suffering the wrath of your internet service provider. But any more than that and you’re looking for trouble. That’s why there are so many good e-mail marketing platforms available today like MailChimp and Constant Contact. The good ones perform due diligence to ensure you’re not sending out spam and then offer templates, metrics and other features to maximize your marketing campaigns. E-mail marketing platforms will integrate with most mainstream CRM applications and synchronize lists, responses and analytics. I wrote above that this list was in no particular order but I lied a little. E-mail marketing platforms are definitely the top add-on for my CRM clients.

2 – Text Messaging

There’s good news and bad news here. On the good side, there are some pretty reliable text messaging add on applications for most CRMs like Twilio, SimpleTexting and SMS Magic. Also good is that they will send out mass texts to your – and I say this with gravity – “OPT IN” list of people that choose to receive your texts. The bad news is, after extensive research, I have yet to find a text messaging add-on that will not only send mass texts but synchronize texts from my personal mobile device – be it Android or iPhone – to my CRM. Apparently there are FCC rules in the U.S. that prohibit a lot of what these applications can do. A workaround 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

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Many of the popular CRMs offer tools to integrate your website with your database. However, my go-to recommended add-on is JotForm. It’s super easy to setup 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 hits your CRM system. Even though it’s popular, not enough of my clients integrate their CRMs with their websites and they should. Whenever someone visits, requests information or has an online question you want that interaction and any available contact details 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. By integration they really just want a few things. First is a popup of a contact record for who’s calling before the call is picked up. Next is the ability to record and transcribe the conversation automatically into that record and then finally to save it into history with perhaps workflow reminders for follow-ups. There are some stand-alone phone integration apps but my advice is always to talk to the provider of your phone system. Whether its Grasshopper, RingCentral or VirtualPBX – which are all popular cloud based communication systems for small and midsized businesses – you’ll likely find that there are apps that the communications platform provides that will plug into your CRM. Start there.

5 – Database Integration

If you want your CRM system to talk to another database then your best bet, like many of my clients, is to check out either Zapier or Workato. Both platforms have literally thousands of connectors between just about every popular CRM platform and other business systems, from accounting to social media to ecommerce to payments. As powerful as these tools and templates are you’ll still want to hire an expert in configuring them and both vendors can provide names of independent consultants, or you can find someone on LinkedIn. I also like these applications because they’re supported by the vendors and are updated as other systems are updated. Don’t develop these integrations on your own. It’s 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 loads of third party add-ons. Be careful what you choose. You want something developed by someone who’s still going to be in business next week if you have a question. Use an expert. Test out the alternatives. Then do something on a limited scale just to make sure everything is doing what you want it to do because sometimes – gasp – these vendors exaggerate the capabilities of their software solutions. However, if and when you find the right add-on it could really make your CRM system way more productive than it was before.

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