• October 5, 2020
  • By Danny Estrada, Vice President of Consulting, Rare Karma

The Ugly Truth About CRM Data

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WITH THE SUMMER coming to a close, we are now more than six months into the pandemic, and sales and marketing teams are still adjusting to the new normal when it comes to finding and growing revenue. The spread of COVID-19 has removed the option of people getting together for traditional meetings, networking, and large gatherings. This challenge has forced organizations to elevate their focus on digital transformation, but many are discovering a harsh truth when it comes to the execution of this process: Critical CRM data is often stale, missing, or wrong. Here we’ll discuss why this happens, how to effect permanent change, and the implications going forward for you and your business.

As a practitioner implementing CRM for many years, I’m aware that ensuring the accuracy of core account and contact data is a challenge. Arriving at a single, accurate database has always been a big part of the struggle in getting a CRM platform rolled out. And the reality is that the day after your system goes live with users, the information is already out of date. Philip Grosch, partner and global sales force transformation executive at PricewaterhouseCoopers, says, “We know that 75 percent of front office transformations fail, not because of the technology, but they fail because you don’t enable people.”

As time passes, few organizations have a strategy or the manpower to constantly update and ensure that contacts and who they work for remain valid and accurate with the right data points populated. The primary users of CRM, after all, have jobs that require most of their time, and administrative priorities like CRM data will always be secondary in their minds.

Many firms have tried to address these challenges with incentives or mandates, neither with very much success. In addition, companies with more employees and bigger budgets have attempted to augment their CRM data by using data source providers, but ensuring the accuracy of these services can often be a challenge. Regardless of their approach, when COVID-19 changed the way we do business, managers and executives became acutely aware that the state of their CRM data was insufficient, leading to consequences across their sales and marketing organizations.

One of the first obstacles to overcome was messaging and communications. In conversations with many of the firms I counsel and interact with, it became clear there were two main problems. First, a significant number of the contacts people were engaging with had never been entered into the CRM system. Second, the contacts who had been entered had not been updated, so their titles and other critical information—including whether they were still working for the same organization—were out of date. The implication of these two challenges was this: No digital transformation could take place if reps were unable to communicate with the right people and in the right contexts.

Digital marketers are very smart, and they understand the need for personalized messaging. Such messaging relies on accurate CRM data, because generic messaging or the wrong messaging based on inaccurate information does not yield results. More important, when everyone ramps up their digital campaigns, the targets of those campaigns become subject to the tsunami of webinar invites coming from every direction. The net result of these challenges, along with the lack of face-to-face interaction, is that there are less qualified leads going into the top of the funnel, which will eventually translate into lower revenue.

Another implication revolves around compliance. Unlike the past, when many companies acquired lists, messaged, and qualified leads based on their engagement, restrictions like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) are now in place. This is an area where CRM, depending on legislative requirements, can help by documenting implied consent. But that assumes that the CRM system’s contact and lead data is being maintained and cleaned regularly.

So the question becomes, how do you get from where you might be today to a manageable place with all this data?

The answer for many companies lies in where and how they deal with data. In other words, the right strategy will lead to the right tactical approach. And the right tactical approach, companies are finding, is automation—with it they can make significant headway in both the near and long term with updating CRM data and using it in other areas of the organization. As Jon Metcalf, principal data scientist at law firm Wilson Sonsini, puts it, “Any firm that wants to invest in CRM has to leverage automation tools to get the best return on investment and highest level of success.”

Fortunately, virtually every quality CRM platform is just that, a platform, and not just a set of features and functions. Platforms bestow the benefits of workflow, automation, reporting, artificial intelligence engines, and the ability to move or change data without human intervention. There are also many providers that work with CRM platforms to advance capabilities in each of these areas, with specific use cases around particular challenges. Therefore, it is imperative to have a CRM data strategy and not approach the current challenges with one-time Band-Aids.

We are now seeing the implications of having clean and accurate CRM data as the selling and marketing motions change to adapt to our new environment. Businesses and their leaders are transacting more with prospects and entities with which they have relationships—the “R” in CRM is becoming more and more important. And understanding where you have well-documented relationships affords the opportunity to learn new ways of networking in a virtual world.

At the end of the day, having visibility and trust in CRM data will allow you to personalize messaging and increase the number of marketing qualified leads (MQLs), which will translate into more opportunities and eventually more business. Whatever the state of your CRM data, remember to automate wherever possible to ensure data accuracy, because this data is the foundation upon which all other things are possible. 

Danny Estrada is director, enterprise solutions, at Introhive, and has spent more than 25 years helping organizations implement and adopt CRM platforms. Throughout his career, he has been an author and thought leader on adoption, as well as a speaker for many industry leaders like Salesforce and Microsoft. His experience includes leading a CRM consulting practice and serving as a management consultant across hundreds of CRM implementations. Estrada also holds an executive MBA from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

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