The Key to Keeping CRM in Sync
Marketing experts agree that for companies to derive the most benefit from their CRM systems, the technology needs to be aligned with different departments. But which departments should be included in this effort? And once executives decide which departments to include, the next issue is the technologies that can collate all of the data and deliver the best results.
“CRM is a commodity-type solution by now; we’ve been doing this for 25 years,” says Esteban Kolsky, chief customer experience evangelist at SAP. “Alignment isn’t only about the technology, it’s about the value proposition, the proper function CRM has within the enterprise.”
The first departments to consider in CRM alignment are sales and marketing, experts agree. Others to consider are human resources, accounting, financial, and any other department that would have a need for customer information.
After sales and marketing, CRM data typically flows downstream to the operations department, specifically the advertising operations department and the people who work on advertising campaigns, says Brian Georgi, chief revenue officer of Boostr, which provides a CRM system built specifically for the media industry. “Then it’s very typical for there to be licenses granted to the finance department.…They usually want to have a window into the platform itself.”
Boostr’s customers typically obtain inbound leads through their websites, which then connect with the leads engine in the Boostr CRM and create new contacts and account records.
Patrick O’Leary, founder and CEO of Boostr, says his company’s clients often are asked to directly integrate the data that comes out of the Boostr CRM system into the customer’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Customers will also use their CRM data for cross-sell campaigns, integrating the CRM back into the marketing automation tool to bring back purchase data.
“Some people use HubSpot with our platform. They’re able to push all the information back into HubSpot about the products companies have bought and the products they are good targets for,” O’Leary says. “They use that data to market digitally back to those existing customers.”
The cross-sell comes back into the CRM system and the lead generation process. O’Leary adds that other tools for proposal, distribution, and tracking are very commonly integrated into CRM, helping to align the system with the larger organizational strategy and goals.
MAKE YOUR CRM SYSTEM THE SINGLE SOURCE OF TRUTH
With so many departments relying on CRM data, it’s essential that companies’ CRM systems have the “golden record” of customer data—a single source of truth with all company data about customers updated in real time as soon as new information, like a new cell phone number or email address, is obtained. Experts agree that the CRM system is the best place to store this golden record.
The CRM system might not collect this data directly. Instead, a customer might provide new information during a phone call or in an email to customer service or when making a purchase on the company’s website. The CRM system should be able to connect to these different, often siloed, systems to pull information depending on the need. Credit card information, for example, might be needed to complete a sale or a return, but not if a customer is just looking for product information.
Another issue to overcome is the fact that some systems might contain different information on the same customer, such as Jon Smith in one system and Jonathan Smith in another. Companies often attempt to solve these discrepancies using identity resolution, a process through which customer information is searched, analyzed, and matched across disparate information warehouses. Using probability, scoring, and a series of complex algorithms, identity resolution combines multiple customer identifiers, such as names, addresses, phone numbers, and Twitter handles, across devices and touchpoints with other data elements collected along the way to build a cohesive, omnichannel view of each individual consumer. Some of these other data sources could include online news sites, purchase transactions, surveys, email providers, public records, and device ID providers.
Providing the single source of truth for all other systems is one of the major benefits of CRM, according to Kolsky. “When you look at the end-to-end customer experience, you need a common set of known data,” he states.
Boostr encourages its customers to use CRM data as a single source of truth, enabling the finance department to have all of the correct data about campaigns sold, payments made, etc., and to track campaign success, O’Leary says. “If the finance team is using our system that way, it eliminates the necessity for them to have to go back and double-check on delivery. They have all of the proof that they need within our platform.”
Even if a company operates a distributed application architecture, the master data file will keep information properly integrated between the silos, according to O’Leary. “You need master data properly integrated with a mastering strategy. If you do that, you can make best-of-breed [technologies aligned with the CRM system] work very well. The ones who don’t do that fail because they end up spending all their time trying to reconcile information and trying to manage systems instead of operating their businesses.”
Not all master data management tools are up to the task, O’Leary cautions. “Some people will put in horrible MDM tools. To me, that’s a symptom of not having a robust enough CRM. CRM should be the master.”
CRM ALIGNMENT CHALLENGES
Alignment is the biggest challenge for companies with CRM today, according to Kolsky.
Beyond having the right technology, companies need to hire the right human resources execs, who, in turn, can hire the people with the right CRM skills, Kolsky says.
Part of the challenge, according to Matthew Nolan, Pegasystems’ senior director of product marketing, is that marketers who need the data and data scientists who design the data collection efforts don’t always work toward the same goals, which need to be in alignment for CRM to be in alignment.
“If you don’t have CRM as an integral part of your end-to-end solutions, you have a stand-alone, siloed CRM that has the information, but you have no way to access it,” Kolsky says, adding that some companies still print out Excel spreadsheets, which they then pass from one department to the next, but they don’t always include all departments in the loop.
Siloed data and even siloed CRM systems had been commonplace as companies got started with the technology, according to Kolsky, but the non-enterprise systems are becoming less commonplace.
“Silos exist because you have very specific tools that are used by very specific divisions within a company, and those tools were not designed to speak to one another or to understand the language that was coming from one place to another,” Georgi adds. “These companies have to go through a very manual process to communicate the data that they have and to put it into a readable and actionable format for another division.”
Though information silos have existed for decades, they remain an industry problem. Even worse, new ones continue to emerge, creating ongoing challenges for CRM alignment, as well as for new sales initiatives, according to Haggai Levi, CEO of SetSail Technologies, a sales enablement platform provider.
“A lot of the time, leadership goes into a room and comes up with something like five new initiatives that they need to run. They have a new product to push or a new acquisition.” By the time everything is incorporated into the CRM, it is a few months later and the opportunity has passed, Levi says, adding that CRM alignment is a challenge for established technology companies as well as for much younger companies in other industries.
To be in in alignment, the CRM system has to be usable by sales, revenue operations, finance, marketing, and (for Boostr customers) ad sales, Georgi adds. “If you have everybody logging in and out of the same platform, just for different purposes, then you don’t run the risk of data getting lost in translation between a multitude of different elements of a tech stack,” he says.
STARTING THE PROCESS OF CRM ALIGNMENT
Moving from a disjointed CRM to an aligned one can be a tricky process.
“It comes down to how you notice that this is not aligned right,” Kolsky says. “Is there a specific need, or did you just come from a great conference and someone gave a speech on CRM alignment and you think that’s what you need to get your company going?”
If it’s the latter, it will take more time because the marketer or other exec will need to spend more time convincing the right executives of the need and benefits, according to Kolsky. “Then you need to align HR to hire the right people.”
From there, companies need to identify the departments that need to be aligned, prioritize them, and go department by department, Kolsky recommends. It will be tough at first, but each successive alignment will become easier, he says.
And then the more people a marketer needs to convince within the organization, the longer it will take to start, Kolsky adds.
Some industries have quite a challenge due to a lack of enterprise CRM systems. Only about 35 percent of the mortgage industry sector, for example, has such a system in place at this time, according to Garth Graham, a senior partner at Stratmor Group, a mortgage advisory firm. “Another issue is that you can’t get a majority of people to use it. Many are using systems outside of the CRM, like Outlook or an Excel spreadsheet,” he says.
Many of the challenges with CRM alignment have existed for 20 years or more. While cloud technology and enterprise-wide systems can solve some of these issues, other technologies should also be considered for CRM alignment, according to O’Leary. “People are going to be looking to try to consolidate systems more and more. That’s one way to deal with the silos of data. There are much better tools for synching data back and forth. Some of these other enterprise-grade middleware packages have transformation rules and mapping rules to help you manage master/slave-type rule sets,” he says.
Levi adds that companies need “technology that looks at all the engagements with customers, understanding these engagements and populating your system of record automatically so reps don’t have to do it.”
“Another way to think about that, instead of the reps working for the CRM, the CRM should work for the rep now,” Levi says.
So companies need edge technologies that incorporate email, calendars, and Zoom communication data, automatically feeding it into the CRM, Levi adds. “It sounds simple, but there are a lot of complexities. You have to be very smart about what you put where in the CRM, orchestrating which conversation goes with which opportunity. Orchestrating the right interaction to the right place in your system is actually quite hard.”
Levi goes on to say that companies are looking more at alignment of CRM and other systems as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many companies to work in new ways to meet customer needs. For example, many of SetSail’s clients have inside and outside salespeople who might have worked with different technologies. The pandemic shocked companies into looking into doing business in new ways with technologies, including CRM systems, that would be aligned to maximize efficiencies throughout the organization.
Depending on the complexity of the systems and whether they are on premises or in the cloud, positive results from CRM alignment efforts could be seen in as little as three or four months, according to Kolsky. Companies with ingrained legacy processes and poor interconnection between systems could take up to three to four years to complete the initial CRM alignment process, he says, pointing out that future changes are likely to be needed as technology and business strategies evolve.
Phillip Britt is a freelance writer based in the Chicago area. He can be reached at email@example.com.