I love Drupal and end up undertaking most of my programming projects with it. I have been using it for so long that I find it far easier to push out projects with Drupal than with anything else, despite it’s infamous learning curve.
Whether you want to call Drupal a CMS (Content Management System), a CMF (Content Management Framework) or a CMSomething, the ‘C’ always stands for Content. Content is where Drupal shines and is what it’s designed for.
When an organisation is at a stage and mindset that they also want to manage their contacts and interactions effectively they will often need tools designed specifically for that function. These are generally referred to as a CRM, which stands for Client Relationship Manager or Constituent Relationship Manager, depending on the sector (For-Profit or Not-for-Profit respectively). CRMs are big business, with many free and paid options available, all with their own advantages and disadvantages.
Often these interactions that people have with your organisation will include things such as registering for an event, making a donation, becoming a member, expressing interest in a product or receiving a newsletter. This all sounds quite simple, but often representing a business rule in the digital realm is very difficult as everyone thinks ‘their way’ is ‘the only way’ and that surely every off-the-shelf system should represent them out of the box.
What has a CRM got to do with Drupal? Nothing directly, but indirectly if you’re looking to streamline your business operations and automate the ways people can interact with you, your CRM will need to work well with your website.
If you are reading this, I will assume your website is likely built in Drupal and, unsurprisingly, Drupal continues its talents of playing well with others into the domain of CRMs.
In this article, we will look at several of the big players in the CRM space that work well with Drupal, how they integrate or how developers can get them to integrate.
Roll it yourself
Whilst I mentioned above that Drupal is aimed at Content, Drupal has always excelled at relationships between content, or in newer parlance, ‘Entity References’. Theoretically you could create content types for contacts (or the User entity) and content types for the interactions they may have with you alongside other modules such as Event and Commerce. Then create a bunch of Views and you effectively have a ‘CRM’. In some simpler cases this may be enough and you have complete control of the processes you want to represent. This could end up consuming a lot of Developer time and using a tool designed specifically for the job may be a better solution.
The team at ThinkShout effectively followed the advice above and created a collection of modules that will provide you with a lot of Drupal-Native CRM functionality. It takes the Drupal Commerce approach and instead of providing you functionality our of the box, rather provides you with a toolkit for creating that functionality. This does mean you may still need to undertake a lot of extra work yourself but you are adding no new systems into your technology stack and the problems that can entail. The other downside of RedHen is that it isn’t updated that regularly (in comparison with other options on this list), its release cycle is based more upon when ThinkShout have client requirements or run a code sprint.
If you want to customize RedHen then you can create your own sets of modules and theme overrides, it’s Drupal!
Often when searching for CRM options for Drupal, people come across CiviCRM and it initially appears as a Drupal module. I have undertaken a lot of work with CiviCRM (and contribute to the project) and the fact that it masquerades as a Drupal module is often a massive point of confusion. It’s best thought of what it actually is, an external service that happens to integrate quite well with Drupal and almost look like it’s a part of it. CiviCRM is a custom PHP application that also integrates with Joomla! and WordPress and is primarily aimed at not-for-profits but can be customized to work with commercial organisations. Out of the box CiviCRM comes with a LOT of features and is thus quite a weighty program, as an open-source project it can sometimes be a bit rough around the edges and inconsistent, but development has increased and matured a lot in the past year.
CiviCRM integrates directly with Drupal in many places, some better than others, and these include:
- A direct (optional) relationship between a Drupal user and a contact record as well as synchronization between Drupal roles and CiviCRM groups and memberships.
- Views for constructing listings of CiviCRM entities.
- Rules and triggers
- Webform for replacing CiviCRM’s inbuilt forms.
- Commerce and Ubercart
- Organic Groups
- Theming (sort of). You can use the Drupal theme to override CiviCRM CSS but CiviCRM does use its own templating engine (currently smarty but likely switching to twig).
- Another option is to set aside the Drupal/CiviCRM modules and utilise CiviCRM in a ‘headless’ approach, utilizing it’s API and REST interfaces.
CiviCRM offers a plethora of its own inbuilt customization options that I won’t go into, which, being PHP, will be reasonably familiar to many of you. You can also utilize direct CiviCRM to Drupal customization through creating your own Drupal module. In the module you can access CiviCRM hooks and API functions which offers an endless level of options to suit a plethora of client needs.
Salesforce is the main player for commercial sales focused companies and is reasonably entrenched in many business workflows. It is a large application with its own long established ecosystem and extension marketplace. It is expensive, proprietary and written in its own programming language, ‘Apex’. Development moves fast and it is a reasonably stable system.
Salesforce is a cloud based CRM, so integration happens via a REST interface. Fortunately as Salesforce is so popular in the types of environments that Drupal is also popular, there are a few prebuilt options. Bear in mind that your license may limit the options available to you:
- The SalesForce Suite is a module with a long history and it starts you on your integration journey. It will handle authentication, mapping Drupal entities to SalesForce fields, pushing and pulling data between Drupal and SalesForce and a legacy module to connect with SalesForce’s older SOAP API.
- There is some basic Webform integration via a module with seemingly stalled development.
- Springboard is a commercial Drupal distribution from Jackson River that bundles Drupal and SalesForce together into an offering specifically for not-for-profits. It’s a little unclear what it offers above just doing integration yourself, but it includes support. There are also a couple of other agencies that offer Drupal / SalesForce integration services.
Theoretically, once you have SalesForce entries represented as Drupal entities you can utilize the plethora of customization options that Drupal offers such as views, rules and module hooks. If you want to enhance SalesForce functionality then it could potentially be accomplished through Drupal and pushed to SalesForce, but chances are you will need to learn SalesForce itself at some point.
Sugar is another long established player and comes in community (open source PHP) and commercial editions. It is aimed at commercial sales focused organisations and much like SalesForce, development moves quickly and Sugar CRM also has its own marketplace for extensions.
OSSCube created a Drupal module and accompanying SugarCRM project to allow for some direct integration. I haven’t personally used them and find the documentation somewhat hard to understand. However, it claims to offer:
- Field mapping between Drupal and Sugar entities
- Data syncing between the two systems
- Webform integration to create Sugar entities
Again, you also have the option of utilizing Sugar’s SOAP and REST APIs to create Drupal entities and continue from there. Sugar also offers LDAP, so there is the potential to create a single sign on between the two systems.
I have grouped together several other options here. All the CRMs vary wildly, but their integration options are mostly the same so I didn’t want to just repeat those options over and over again. I have attempted to undertake Drupal integration work with some of them in the past and often struggled to accomplish anything. A lot of this is due to the proprietary nature of these systems, finding information on their API and developer options is a challenging endeavor unless you pay some money.
Microsoft Dynamics and BlackBaud
It is worth including Dynamics and Blackbaud as they are big players in the CRM space. Both offer their own options for a CMS (and other systems), so are often reluctant to offer integration options outside of their ecosystem.
Nation Builder and Salsa
These are both CRMs of a sort that are aimed more at the newer wave of engagement focused organisations. They are not just about tracking contributions and interactions, but also encouraging interactions.
Salsa has some integration modules for Drupal 6, so if you’re feeling generous you may want to update them. Otherwise it’s a process of communicating via the Salsa API and fortunately there is a Drupal module under development to get you started.
NationBuilder have gone out of their way to not create any direct CMS integrations, citing that their inbuilt CMS is a far better option instead. However, they do have an API that can be used with the options noted below.
How to integrate with Drupal?
Here are some potential options, but your mileage may vary:
- Utilize the CRM’s API (if it exists in your version / license) to pull entities into Drupal and then proceed in a similar vein to the SalesForce options via Services or a custom module.
- Using the Migrate module and optionally the MSSQL Server PHP extension for any .NET based systems to directly query the CRM database and import into Drupal entities. Again, your license and setup may or may not allow this.
- There is a Sandbox module for Dynamics integration, last time I tried, it didn’t work anymore, but you may feel like updating it.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of CRMs or the possible options to integrate them with Drupal. I have mainly focused on the ones I have experience with and can’t possibly keep up with all the new options that are constantly emerging. I also have far more experience working with not-for-profits, so my solutions are somewhat skewed to that sector. What are some of the systems you have tried to connect with Drupal? Did you succeed? Have you had to overcome any hurdles? Let us know!
Developer Relations, Technical Writing and Editing, (Board) Game Design, Education, Explanation and always more to come. English/Australian living in Berlin, Herzlich Willkommen!
The Principles of Beautiful Web Design, 4th Edition
Docker for Web Developers
HTML5 Games: Novice to Ninja