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The Ultimate Guide to Reverse ETL (Extract, Transform, and Load)

January 11, 2023
January 3, 2023
January 3, 2023

Data teams often look for ways to quickly access data and ensure it gets where it needs to go.

In this post, we’ll look in-depth at Reverse ETL – a process that enables quick data distribution from one source to another.

Reverse ETL is the opposite of traditional Extract, Transform, Load (ETL) processes in which you replicate data from a data source, like a database or API, into a central warehouse like Snowflake or BigQuery.

Reverse ETL is instead the process of copying data from your central warehouse into other applications such as customer relationship management (CRM), analytics software, marketing automation platforms (MAPs), and more.

This process can be completed using special tools or sometimes even with some CDPs that can also activate your data in those apps.

By understanding what Reverse ETL is and how it works, you’ll be better equipped with knowledge on how to set up efficient pipelines for your organization that best meet its business needs when transferring important information from source systems and databases into silos specifically used by specific departments or functions within the company.

Next, we’ll discuss Reverse ETL in further detail, so read on if this caught your attention!

What Is Reverse ETL?

Reverse ETL, or reverse Extract-Transform-Load, takes data from your modern data stack and activates it in business applications. This process was created to help teams easily move their raw data from a centralized warehouse into operational tools to boost efficient decision-making.

Simply put, Reverse ETL is the process of transferring raw data from a source like a Data Warehouse into one or more business applications for further processing.

With this process, businesses can better use their available customer data by filtering out valuable insights for the business, customer success, or marketing teams.

What is a Data Warehouse?

A Data Warehouse is an organized collection of structured information stored in a computer system that enables users to analyze large volumes of transactional data related to business operations.

This kind of dataset usually contains all kinds of useful information, including product usage data, customers’ demographics and purchase history, and other elements related to sales operations.

These types of datasets are essential for providing meaningful insights that can help propel businesses forward through informed decisions.

How Does Reverse ETL Work?

When using a Reverse ETL platform like Hevo Activate, you create custom pipelines that take product usage data out of your centralized warehouse and transform it before delivering it directly into tools like CRM systems, analytics engines, marketing automation solutions, etc.

This helps ensure customer success teams have access to the product insights they need while allowing the marketing team accesses to the rich datasets they require faster than traditional ETL pipelines allow.

This real-time delivery approach allows for quick decisions based on real information in the cloud rather than needing bespoke spreadsheets filled with simulations boosting cooperation among different departments across organizations.

Advantages of Reverse ETL

Reverse ETL helps data teams move customer data from their central data warehouse to the operational systems for business insights and reporting.

As such, it offers some major benefits to SaaS companies of all sizes:

Improved Data Quality

Reverse ETL consolidates customer data from different sources into a single, reliable repository or cloud Data Warehouse. This makes it easier to access unified and high-quality customer data for analysis and reporting on an ongoing basis.

With Reverse ETL, companies can bridge the gap between manual processes like maintaining a Google Sheet or working with multiple siloed databases that lack quality assurance.

Increased Visibility and Transparency  

Using a Reverse ETL tool, you don't need to export/import your customer data manually.

Instead, your team has full visibility into which software tools they're leveraging – while also having complete control over the source of the data being used in those tools.

Moreover, outlier detection is simpler (as all relevant information streams through one centralized platform), making it easier for stakeholders to communicate problems more accurately & spot possible discrepancies faster.

Enhanced Scalability and Flexibility  

You can use Reverse ETL in many scenarios as it allows companies to scale up quickly without any additional overhead costs caused by manual processes – resulting in faster time-to-market when launching new applications or features within existing ones.

It also offers maximum flexibility as different subsystems can be deployed autonomously based on individual business needs (e.g., analytics, marketing campaigns).

Streamlined Data Integration Processes  

In addition to improved scalability & flexibility, Reverse ETL facilitates automated real-time integration between apps such as CRMs, or third-party systems like financial institutions via API protocols, without needing a massive upfront investment upfront.

This saves both time and money for businesses in the long run while providing secure access control mechanisms throughout.

Besides increased visibility and transparency over data pipelines across different apps/tools, Reverse ELT provides better insights into operational analytics, allowing organizations to get more value out of their Customer Data Platforms.

As a result, companies can better take advantage of upsell opportunities as they arise.

Parative Revenue Expansion Offer

Challenges of Reverse ETL

Reverse ETL benefits many organizations that incorporate it into their data workflow. Still, it also presents short- and long-term challenges – especially for those unfamiliar with this process and its associated technologies. Let’s explore the key challenges of Reverse ETL and how to overcome them.

Implementation and Maintenance Complexity

For many companies just getting started with Reverse ETL, one of the primary concerns is complexity.

A successful setup requires considerable operational effort across engineering and product teams, even more so than standard ETL processes.

The custom pipelines built during implementation can be highly complex, and maintenance needs can be difficult due to tight integration between source systems and external applications receiving data updates.

Furthermore, any changes made on either end — code modifications or updating an existing SaaS application — require technical knowledge or assistance from the vendor itself.  

Cost Considerations

In addition to the implementation complexities mentioned above, cost considerations are another factor when deciding whether or not to use Reverse ETL within your organization's data analytics stack.

Some vendors offer purpose-built solutions as part of their suite for automated replication – taking much of the difficulty out of building a custom pipeline from scratch – but these solutions typically come at a cost far greater than traditional ETL pipelines, often relying on single-source cloud platform offerings that must be negotiated depending on service scale requirements.

Security Concerns

Secure handling, storage, and transport are paramount when deploying Reverse ETL pipelines.

Since these operations involve sending datasets back to source systems - leveraging existing data authorization protocols while ensuring rigid access control lists consistent with security best practices should become an integral part of your operational toolset.

Ultimately, your goal is enhanced visibility and auditability over downstream endpoints throughout your production stack.

Data Governance Issues

Businesses need to ensure they have the right people in place to ensure their Reverse ETL implementations go smoothly and without problems.

It's important to have people looking out for potential risks and ensure the business follows all the rules and regulations. It's also important to collect feedback from people involved to be sure the business is doing what customers want.

Reverse ETLs: Are they Right for Your Business?

Reverse ETL solutions were not purpose-built for every use case.

Reverse ETLs, also known as Extract, Transform, Load in reverse, are a powerful tool for unifying customer data from multiple sources.

However, before investing in this technology, it's important to understand its challenges and determine whether it is the right solution for your business.

Why Reverse ETLs may not be right for everyone:

  • They require significant engineering resources to set up and maintain
  • They may not be the best solution for unifying customer data
  • They require buy-in from your product team

Introducing Parative Revenue Scoring Engine

The Parative Revenue Scoring Engine is a purpose-built solution for unifying customer data, including relationship data (CRM) and behavioral data (product usage). It offers several key features that make it a more efficient solution for revenue expansion efforts, including:

Key Features:

  • Identify key revenue signals, such as customer behavior, usage, intent, contract consumption, feedback, and market conditions.
  • Score each customer's outcome readiness in real-time
  • Automate actions in other tools, such as alerting teams and triggering workflows when scoring indicates an opportunity.
  • The ID Matrix captures and unifies all customer data with 99.98% accuracy, providing the missing context that teams need to make accurate predictions.

Real-life Example:

Let's say you're a SaaS company that wants to increase revenue. You have a variety of data sources, including a CRM, product usage data, and customer feedback data. With Parative, you can:

  • Understand your customer data holistically
  • Identify the key revenue signals that indicate a customer is ready to buy more or at risk of churning
  • Score each customer based on these signals in real-time
  • Automate actions in your CRM or other tools, such as alerting your sales team when a customer is ready to buy more


  • Automate revenue expansion efforts
  • Increase employee efficiency
  • Improve customer targeting and segmentation

Reverse ETLs can be a powerful tool for unifying customer data, but they require significant resources and ongoing maintenance.

And their high level of complexity, the requirement of having dedicated engineering resources to manage, and the difficulty of identifying where something has broken in the pipeline all mean that a scaling SaaS company might be better served looking elsewhere for a solution to operationalize their customer data.

That's why Parative is the best solution for teams looking to track necessary customer behavior signals from within their product and combine them with the data tools they already use. 

You can learn more about Parative here

Best Practices for Implementing Reverse ETL

best practices for implementing reverse etl

Reverse ETL is a powerful tool that allows companies to synchronize their data systems quickly and efficiently. However, getting started with the process can be hard if you don’t know best practices. To ensure the successful implementation of Reverse ETL, here are some best practices to follow:

1. Establish Clear Goals and Objectives

Before embarking on any major data integration projects, having a well-defined set of objectives with measurable, achievable goals is important. Knowing precisely what you'd like to achieve by integrating your data sources will help you choose the right tools for your setup and streamline success metrics for measuring performance.

2. Identify the Right Tools for Your Setup

Not all reverse ETL processes are created equal. To ensure optimal performance and accurate data synchronization between different sources, choosing the right tools for your setup that suit your specific needs is important. Familiarize yourself with the components and functionality of various reverse ETL solutions—such as popular cloud-based solutions like Fivetran or MuleSoft—and pick one that best fits your existing data stack.

3. Create a Comprehensive Data Governance

Your goal should always be creating clean, consistent datasets within acceptable boundaries across all data pipelines connected in reverse ETL processes. Companies need robust governance protocols tailored specifically around maximum cross-source consistency requirements to maintain quality control over all sets of incoming integrated data accrued throughout existing analytics pipelines.  

4. Monitor and Optimize Regularly

As with any other automated process dependent upon accuracy from external sources (e.g., social media feeds), monitoring is a key step toward optimization in both short-term (real-time) scenarios and long-term scenarios related use cases concerned with backdated loading/refreshing datasets.

5. Leverage Automation

Automation takes out manual labor involved during frequent integration tasks otherwise handled by custom scripts or other manual means, allowing staff resources dedicated towards more value-adding activities outside the range of traditional coding/integration workflows.    

6. Utilize Cloud-Based Solutions

Cloud storage acting source target architectures connection facilitate remote access centralized syncing feature blocks primary capability driving entire concept platform situated web app realms allow modification single application interface end-user access points particular advantage removing latency issues normally associated physical exchange information formats nodes operating local networks secure connections safe transferring data streams files securely via cloud computing services.

7. Prioritize Security

Ensure that your company has proper security measures in place to protect against potential risks, such as external threats from third parties and internal leaks. This can include implementing policies for regular security audits and implementing network protection measures and firewalls at the network and server levels. Introduce modern security measures, such as two-factor authentication, to cover areas that may be missing in older systems. This will help protect your company's databases and confidential information and ensure that services are uninterrupted.


Reverse ETL is becoming an increasingly important part of the modern-day SaaS infrastructure due to its ability to consolidate disparate datasets while maintaining accuracy throughout the process efficiently.

In addition, it provides organizations across departments like marketing, sales, product, support, and data engineering greater flexibility when accessing valuable resources already existing within their environment rather than having to build out new ones.

But it can be challenging and isn't necessarily the best choice for every company when it comes to leveraging their customer data and tools such as Parative Revenue Scoring Engine might be better suited to SaaS companies with this use case.

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Mark Lerner

Head of Marketing @ Parative, the Customer Behavior Platform. SaaS enthusiast, B2B Marketing Specialist, Startup Survivalist. Dad x2.

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