CRM’s 3 Data Dilemmas, and How to Solve Them

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Marketing and sales professionals could easily divide the industry into two chapters: before customer relationship management technology, and after.

CRM systems became a mainstay when the world realized what data and smart analytics could do together—but even today, the most popular software options haven’t reached their full potential. 33 percent of customers who abandoned a business relationship last year did so because it lacked personalization. So what are they missing, and how does it impact businesses?

The first issue is that the majority of CRMs are just databases built mostly for sales managers, not salespeople. But perhaps more importantly, these databases exclude field sales. That’s important, because a shift is happening. As we continue to automate every aspect of customer relationships, the industry is seeing ROI from face-time investments. In the end, managers still have a hard time answering more critical questions about sales in the field and understanding where leads are geographically, due to the following three data issues:

1. Data sources are more limited than they seem. Dale Carnegie said that the one advantage someone can give themselves in business is to be with the right customer at the right time. In reality, most sales managers have little idea what their salespeople are doing to close new deals or grow existing ones. And most sales and marketing professionals will admit that a fair portion of their CRM data is stale.

To solve this, CRMs must “layer” actionable data that works for every team member. That means drawing from unique, agile information sources for a more comprehensive picture. For example, geospatial data from Google can generate heat maps and data visualization—in real time—to improve the likelihood that one’s time will convert into revenue.

Incorporating these different layers has benefits for managers as well. Team leads can review such data points as average number of customers visited in a day, average duration of visits, the number miles traveled, and so on. (In an interesting case, one customer was able to leverage this data to reduce driving time by 200 miles each week, which saved on gas expenditures.)

We can’t fully optimize our data if we are missing important feeds. As an example, personal notes—being able to see what “micro notes” your salesperson input about each interaction—can offer more value than budgetary figures. Google can map the quickest route and provides guesstimates as to when your subject might be too busy to chat. It isn’t just about seeing more customers, but optimizing your chances.

2. Analytics look in the wrong direction. When I talk to different organizations about how they use their data, the majority have an idea of which KPIs they prioritize, and those tend to be revenue, YTD, MTD, close rate, and so one. But a business can have all the customer data in the world and none of it will matter unless it’s used strategically. And for most CRMs, the focus is on retrospective rather than future-facing reports, fueled by predictive analytics. Learning from the past is important, but using data to plan the future will make the difference in a business’s bottom line.

In the near future, we will see on-demand lead generation, informed by existing data on various accounts, in a seamless matter. As the business world becomes more fast-paced, the ability to generate leads with the click of a button—or compare to existing accounts—will be transformative. And believe it or not, currently, this feature isn't attainable from the big CRM providers.

What sales and marketing teams need is a workflow tool that helps them close deals, which means CRMs need to be more prescriptive—where is that 10 percent of your customer base that could drive 90 percent of your future revenue? If your CRM can answer that, businesses will have a true prospecting pipeline.

3. There’s a gap between reporting and closing. The CRM market is competitive, and as a result, some will not integrate with anyone they see as a competitor. This alone limits how your data can work together to customize action plans for clients, and pushes the onus on the user to intuitively know what to do.

Data can’t just be reporting data; it has to be actionable data for the sales or marketing person (which is where things like the micro notes I mentioned earlier are useful). For example, any CRM will tell an oil salesperson that Dallas is the biggest in oil deals. Great. Now where are your best prospects in this large city? It’s difficult for CRMs to effectively identify leads that are similar to existing customers, who the best contacts are, and when are the best times to get in touch with them—all based on live data.

With this ability, managers can get a better look into what their reps are doing and use that to tweak the plan for next quarter. Executive leaders look at pipeline management when they want improvement and want to know the deals that are likely to close and the ones that aren’t.

The past 15 years has seen digital tools dominate the marketplace, but they ignore chances to incorporate useful information from personal interactions, and sometimes those nuggets can make the difference between a contract and a lost prospect. So, yes, we can find new ways to automate relationships, but we shouldn’t do so without looking at the human-to-human element.

Emad Khan is cofounder and COO of Map My Customers, a field sales management platform. Earlier in his career he held vice president positions at Mattermark and Lumiata.

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