Salesforce™ has revolutionized the way sales teams operate.
It has become the central database of information that sales reps rely on to do their jobs effectively. Sales leaders also rely on this critical data in order to make precise sales management decisions.
However, if the data being entered into Salesforce is incomplete or inaccurate, management becomes challenging and forecasts become unpredictable and inconsistent, at best.
Your sales reps always know how to prioritize their pipeline
Managers know where to focus to improve team performance
Sales leaders can easily see the data they need to optimize strategies and goals
The process of manually entering sales activity and customer data into Salesforce is often extremely tedious and frustrating, decreasing the chances that your sales reps will actually take the time to do it.
The only real solution is to find a way to eliminate manual data entry entirely and make the whole process automatic.
Ideally, your sales reps would never have to even open Salesforce. They could perform their work as they normally do, and all of their sales activity and customer data would be synced from their email inbox and calendar to Salesforce automatically.
Fortunately, many products in recent years have been developed to enable this capability. In fact, there are now so many options for integrating email with Salesforce that it has become difficult for many sales teams to decide which one is the best fit for their specific needs.
In this guide, we’ll cover the 5 most important criteria sales teams must use to evaluate Salesforce email integration systems so you can make the most informed decision possible.
In addition you will have access to a breakdown of the differences, strengths, and weaknesses of the top Salesforce email integration tools that you can use for reference in your research.
Steve is a CRM expert with 14 years as a Chief Information Officer for a software firm which relied heavily on CRM and email integration before founding a highly successful CRM practice, CRMCulture for 8 years.
Over the course of 6 months, Steve and his teams installed each application to test user stories, performance, and usability. They identified 5 main criteria to evaluate the performance of Salesforce Email integration solutions.
They found that this same criteria can be used when selecting an email-Salesforce integration for your organization:
Especially when evaluating Microsoft Outlook solutions this category is important because even if a vendor does support the particular version/environment one is looking for, the total breadth of version support is an important indicator of how that vendor will support future versions.
If the app is not fast and consistently reliable, all the features in the world will not compensate for the frustration that a sales person feels when he/she just needs it to work.
Defined by the most common tasks and workflows an individual would be responsible for managing as part of their Salesforce workflow. These include:
Advanced features span categories such as sales enablement and acceleration, automated email/calendar sync, calendar availability/scheduling, mobile phone support, sales analytics and basic marketing automation capability.
Integrating your email and calendar with Salesforce may pose the risk of creating security vulnerabilities, especially if the integration tool requires access to your company’s Exchange server credentials in the cloud.
There are many variables to consider when integrating email and calendar with Salesforce as there are various email clients in the market – Outlook being the most complex as it comes in a variety of versions for Windows, Mac, Web and Mobile.
Adding further complexity, depending on the version of Microsoft Outlook or Exchange Server you use, only certain methods of providing a sidebar (aka side panel, plug-in or extension) will be able to support your needs through the available API’s from Microsoft.
Although every organization will have different needs with different priorities some of the most common email tasks you will want to evaluate are:
Evaluate how good of a job is the system you are evaluating at handling multiple contacts on the To/Cc line. Does the system pull information for the multiple contacts in their initial side panel?
How good is the system at matching data and recognizing relationships across: opportunity, contact, role, and account? Keeping data associated with Opportunities is critical because this is where your sales activity data metrics are most useful for the purposes of managing pipeline.
Does your system allow you to create any kind of Salesforce record from the sidebar, without the need to login to Salesforce?
Some Salesforce integration solutions will only allow you to edit existing records, but do not handle the creation of accounts, new opportunities, nor have a calendar side panel. This defeats the purpose of having a sidebar altogether. If this functionality is poor in the system you are evaluating, your sales team will still be forced to login to the Salesforce interface which defeats the purpose of having an integration in the first place.
Does your system allow you to navigate through lists, contacts, opportunities, etc. Can you make searches, and update Salesforce records 100% without leaving your email? Or are you still forced to open Salesforce to perform these tasks?
Does your system allow you to link documents and attachments to a contact, account, or opportunity, from the sidebar?
Does your Salesforce email integration vendor offer iOS or Android applications, or add-ins for Outlook iOS as well? There are two major things users want to do while on the phone client: 1) link inbound and outbound email, and calendar events to a contact/opportunity and 2) navigate to key Salesforce data from the email. Can these tasks be performed with simplicity and utility, especially for initiating a new email to Salesforce contacts?
Another important criteria is simply the number of email clients supported. Beyond just looking at whether or not they support your particular email client, support for a large variety of clients is a predictor of the future stability, performance, and innovation capabilities of a vendor.
In fact, most Salesforce consulting partners and their customers prefer not to navigate through these complexities and would prefer a single vendor who can support their integration requirements regardless of email environment as email clients and services are upgraded or migrated.
Email clients supported may include:
When comparing Outlook support, you need to look at mainly two factors:
Additional Outlook criteria to consider:
If your organization relies on Google’s email and calendar apps, there are a few criteria you will want to keep in mind when making your evaluation:
In addition to providing a side panel (or plug-in) for email systems, check if your vendor also provides a mobile phone version of their product offering a similar experience to that of their Side Panel and delivered via both Android and iOS.
The main evaluation criteria for mobile options are:
Performance and stability are perhaps the most important features to consider for an application as it needs to be fast and stable otherwise its features won’t really matter.
It’s also important to gauge the amount of technical support that may be required. Most larger orgs will sacrifice features for stability to ease their implementation and support burden.
Refresh Rate: How fast is the system at retrieving and pushing data to/from Salesforce?
Caching: Does the sidebar experience caching issues when navigating through emails quickly, or performing certain actions and then moving on to another email? Does the side-panel refresh properly when the user is rapidly spinning through emails and when linking an email to a 2nd contact (this is a common problem with browser-only technology)?
Stability: Does the sidebar disconnect or log the user out after a period of inactivity? Does the sidebar ever disappear or fail to load?
Ease of Implementation / handling of custom objects: Is there any special configuration required to expose Custom Objects and Fields? Some products require the use of a configuration tool to turn on Custom Objects on a per-user basis, which is an extremely time-consuming task for large enterprises.
Customizations: Does the product allow you to hide certain fields on a per-user basis? Can you hide the Opportunities section (if you don’t use it)? Can you redefine the values displayed in the related lists? Are changes to the sidebar layout propogated to all users, or do you have to export the changes and import them individually for all other users?
Generally the former is preferred because fully-automated solutions that link emails and calendar items automatically, without any user interaction, are prone to creating a lot of duplicate and junk data in Salesforce.
Be sure to evaluate the ease of use and completeness of the side panel as a fully working Salesforce environment, including interacting with related lists, and having a side panel for the calendar.
In general, side panel apps can be categorized into two distinct approaches in their initial view of the side panel:
Most users find that it is much more important to see the list of contacts/accounts/opportunities (known and unknown to Salesforce).
In particular, the 2nd approach often causes users to miss key contacts, accounts, and opportunities otherwise shown in the first approach.
Additionally, the first approach is superior for the task of quickly linking the email. Vendors that use the list approach make it simple to link the email to all of the various contacts and other Salesforce objects
You will want to evaluate products according to the following most common tasks and workflows a typical sales user performs as part of their day-to-day email and Salesforce work:
How well does the product handle navigating, searching and updating Salesforce records, without leaving the native email or calendar interface?
How does the product handle the creation of new Salesforce records from within the apps side panel? Can all editing and record creation can be done without ever going to Salesforce? These records include leads, contacts, accounts, opportunities and custom objects, from either email or calendar items.
Does drilling down into Contacts offer a combined view of Account-related lists and Contact-related lists, making it easy to see related opportunities?
Do Detail and Related Lists (including custom objects) pull from page layout and compact layout definitions automatically, including custom objects? Or, is additional configuration required?
The act of linking the email should be carefully considered. How easy is it to link inbound/outbound email and calendar items to the Salesforce contacts/leads? Most vendors offer a “quick” method that links the email to all contacts and one or more related objects all from one screen. How does the product handle multiple contacts on the From/To/Cc line? Some vendors don’t handle this as well as others.
Evaluate the ease and completeness of linking inbound/ outbound email/calendar to opportunities and custom objects. Does the side panel properly show Opportunities, whether related only by Account or by OpportunityContactRole?
How does the product handle linking attachments to either native Salesforce Attachments or Files? Does it offer alternative storage locations for attachments, such as DropBox, OneDrive, SharePoint etc.?
Is the Side Panel available for the Calendar? Does the side panel appear in the larger calendar (preview) view in addition to when the calendar item is opened?
Sales enablement and acceleration features are the collection of features such as:
Calendar Booking Tools are now critical in the sales workflow and most of the vendors now offer options for making the users availability known to the customer and also allow the customer to then book a meeting, without all the back and forth emails.
There are two approaches that the vendors take, each with their own pros and cons:
Many customers and specific industries require every email interaction and calendar item to be captured in Salesforce. Not many vendors offer the capability to do this automatically.
A few vendors offer a solution both on the email side (where emails automatically link to opportunities) and on the Calendar, where they make a distinction between meetings with and without attendees (so that if desired one can disable sync for calendar items that aren’t customer related, i.e. Doctor’s Appointments, Job Interviews, etc).
If your organization needs to capture email interactions and calendar items in Salesforce, make sure that the product you’re considering offers the ability to sync these activities automatically.
Very few solutions offer any sort of Marketing Automation type features, but here are a few to keep in mind:
Intuitive Batch Email: An intuitive batch email feature utilizes email templates to send batch emails to multiple contacts at once.
Automated Email Campaigns: This feature allows users to place contacts onto an email campaign that automatically executes pre-determined emails at specific intervals, similar to more robust marketing automation solutions.
Many vendors offer Email Open tracking or notifications, as well as Link tracking features. Here are some criteria to consider when evaluating products with Analytics capabilities:
False Positives: Does the product create a special code as to not report false positives (such as opening your own sent mail)?
Aggregate Reporting Per Contact Does the product provide aggregate reporting per contact? Or, can you only see analytics when re-opening the same email?
Integrating your email and calendar with Salesforce poses the risk of creating security vulnerabilities, especially if the integration tool requires access to your company’s Exchange server credentials in the cloud.
Some products require global impersonation, giving admins unlimited access to every single mailbox on your company’s Exchange mail server. This kind of direct server access is inadvisable, as it could potentially expose your network to unauthorized individuals.
Make sure that the product you’re considering provides enterprise-level security, where connection paths of data are completely configurable and secured with single sign-on (SSO).
According to OneLogin, single sign-on (SSO) is “a system that enables users to securely authenticate with multiple applications and websites by logging in only once—with just one set of credentials (username and password). With SSO, the application or website that the user is trying to access relies on a trusted third party to verify that users are who they say they are. Authentication requests and information are passed using standard, secure protocols, such as SAML or OAuth.”
A common example of SSO is a website, service, or application that allows you to sign in using your existing Google or Facebook account, rather than having to create an entirely new account.
According to Salesforce, there are many benefits to using SSO:
Reduced administrative costs: With SSO, users memorize a single password to access network resources and external apps. With fewer passwords to manage, system admins receive fewer requests to reset forgotten passwords.
Time savings: On average, users take 5–20 seconds to log in to an online app. It can take longer if they mistype their username or password and are prompted to re-enter them. With SSO in place, manually logging in to an application is avoided. These saved seconds reduce frustration and add up to increased productivity.
Increased user adoption: Due to the convenience of not having to log in, users are more likely to use the application regularly.
Increased security: All password policies that you’ve established for your corporate network are in effect for the application as well. Sending an authentication credential that’s only valid for a single time also increases security for users who have access to sensitive data.
You will want to evaluate products according to the following security considerations:
Data Encryption: Is all data fully encrypted both at rest, and in transit? In particular, check for Transparent Data Encryption (TDE). TDE is a technology employed by Microsoft, IBM and Oracle that encrypts the data within the physical files of the database; the “data at rest”.
Dynamic Data Masking (DDM): Is exposure to sensitive data limited by masking it to non-privileged users?
OWASP Compliance: Is the product compliant with the OWSAP’s best practices and guidelines for application security?
You will also want to evaluate how the vendor handles data storage. Ideally, the product should store the bare minimum amount of data possible to provide the feature. In order to ensure the security and privacy of your data, make sure to ask about the following:
Integrating your email and calendar with Salesforce can help achieve several related objectives in your organization:
CONCLUSION & NEXT STEPS
As you evaluate solutions, look beyond the vision and promises of each vendor, and use this guide to determine their true ability to provide you with a seamless solution that isn’t hindered by performance or security issues.