Microsoft Dynamics CRM Integration with Act-On Software

Editor’s Note: If you’re attending the Microsoft Dynamics Convergence conference in New Orleans March 18–21, stop by the Act-On booth (#2350) for conversation or a demo with Theresa Klinger and Jeff Linton. We’d love to see you.

Why would you consider using both Microsoft Dynamics and Act-On marketing automation? In our case, our marketing department needed to design, deploy and analyze marketing campaigns, while sales wanted to have their leads feed into CRM without having to check a separate system. We needed a marketing automation tool to connect into our Microsoft Dynamics CRM and determined Act-On Software as the best solution for our needs.

When I was tasked to integrate Act-On Software into Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011, my first step was to fully understand the synchronization. My second was to adapt both systems as needed, and the final step was to establish business processes for users.

As I worked through integrating Act-On Software with Microsoft Dynamics CRM, I developed some recommendations, best practices and recent updates to consider which will save you time and money if you plan this integration. Important improvements to how the two systems communicate with each other have just been released, so this post will get you up to speed with the latest information before you begin.

1. Understand the synchronization

Act-On connects with the Contacts Table, Leads Table and now also with Marketing Lists in Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Synchronization is bi-directional because the data flows by Push and Pull in both directions. Data fields are being pulled from CRM and then pushed back by Act-On.  You must be careful what data goes which way because you don’t want to overwrite updated data in Act-On with outdated values from CRM or vice versa.

Image Act-On and MS Dynamics-1

Pulling data from Microsoft Dynamics CRM

Let’s say you want to run a nurture campaign for all your CRM contacts. Only data fields relevant for email deployment, such as First Name, Email Address and other fields required for segmentation need to be pulled from the Contacts Table. The Act-On marketing list holding this synchronized data is called “All Microsoft Dynamics Contacts”.  Not all the data from Contacts Table needs to be pulled in order to optimize synchronization time, and to be in compliance with certain privacy rules. For example, campaigns targeting companies with a certain number of employees or a specific geographic region need those relevant data fields pulled as well.

Another option is to segment your data in CRM using Microsoft Dynamics CRM marketing lists. These marketing lists are used, for example, to group contacts by industry, or segment customers of a particular product. They can also be pulled into Act-On for separate campaigns.

Pushing data to Microsoft Dynamics CRM

In our nurture example above, where the Contacts Table synchs with the All Microsoft Dynamics Contacts list, only data fields tracking campaign results and behavior need to be pushed back to Contacts Table once Act-On has made its updates. For example, only fields such as Lead Score, Bounces, Opt-Outs and other behavior indicators need to be pushed back to Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

You can also push back data from Signup Lists used to store event registrations, whitepaper downloads and other information submitted via forms. This data can now be synchronized to Marketing Lists in Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

2. Adapt both systems

All fields required for segmentation need to cascade over in to Contacts, Leads or Marketing Lists where Act-On connects. For example, if you want to deploy an email in Act-On to Contacts working at Companies with 10 – 100 employees, that field has to cascade down into the  Contacts table from the Accounts table. Further segments and sub-segments of these lists can then be created for different campaigns in Act-On.

Some field types are easier to manage at integration than others. We recommend you use only text fields and drop down boxes from CRM to be synchronized. Act-On constantly improves the synchronization of other field types as well and more updates are coming up.

3. Establish business processes

You must clearly define for the users what system to use when updating different information. For example, contact information such as email addresses can be updated in CRM because the sync will send it to Act-On, However, the lead score must be updated in Act-On so it can be pushed to CRM. If you manually change the lead score for someone in CRM, then this change will not be reflected in Act-On since that field is only being pushed and not pulled.

Decide the frequency of the synchronization. You can schedule it to run automatically or manually start it on demand, depending on how often data is updated. List Maintenance programs from Act-On must update records such as Unsubscribes and Bounces in All Microsoft Dynamics Contacts list before the data is pushed back.

For those of you who’ve already integrated the two technologies, you’ll be happy to know that Act-On’s entire Microsoft Dynamics CRM connector has been reengineered in native .NET technology. This enhances performance and allows Act-On to build more new features for the Microsoft Dynamics CRM integration, faster. More integration features are coming up, so make sure you check with your Act-On Success Manager to find what updates you can take advantage of.

Dan Radu is the Marketing Automation Consultant for Macromator, an independent company based in Toronto, Ontario. Our clients have very ambitious marketing initiatives but lack the time or technology know-how to materialize them. We support them with marketing automation consulting, campaign and lead management services, and implementation services for Act-On marketing automation.