As a part of my position, I am responsible both as a CRM administrator AND as a provider of data that is often requested to be provided to CRM systems. I work with Microsoft CRM, Sales Force, and many industry-specific CRM and CRM-like systems. Inevitably, I am often dragged down the rabbit hole in an attempt to educate our clients on CRM systems and API integrations without getting pulled in to actually do a free development job and hosting some integration solution custom-built for someone else.

It really is a delicate balance between fanatical customer service and getting the raw end of a deal. Sometimes a sales staff can sometimes promise the world and leave their IT team in the rear with a broom (remember that? Rocky and Bullwinkle? to clean up the mess. That’s fine, but too often the cost of development and maintenance of some promised component can sour the deal and cost more than it is worth to one side, and it often ends up that the end result is not even what the customer needed in the first place.

Here’s the deal: as the customer, you need to have an idea of exactly what you want to see in your CRM system. One of the data products my company provides via APIs is a survey system. And inevitably, during a sales call, the question “Can I get this data in my CRM” is asked. It makes sense. “I want to create a workflow that adds people to a marketing campaign if their favorite flavor of ice cream is chocolate.” The problem is real, and the solution may or may not be to bring ALL of the survey data into your CRM, but you have to consider the consequences.

Bringing in ALL of the survey data is a VERY expensive option. This would involve a customization to the CRM, and presenting the data to the CRM users in a usable way is just one of the MANY problems that would have to be solved. This kind of operation would require the storage equal to or even exceeding that same storage on the survey system side. It would require (REQUIRE!) a highly skilled technical person on the customer side to interface with the API.

Customers need to understand that the API is the fence-line. The boundary. I bring you the data to the fence, and that is as far as I can really go. You have to take it from the fence and bring it to your CRM and get it in. I can guide you. I can help you. But I can’t leave the fence. I can’t even see past the fence. When you ask me why it looks a certain way in your CRM, or why it is not there, I can’t tell you. I can see that I did or did not provide it to you in the agreed-upon format. No more.

It sounds terse, and I know that there is huge frustration that often results from not seeing what is expected in CRM systems. I also understand that the first person a customer will probably contact is the provider of the data. I am there to help as far as I can see.

I just can’t see over the fence.