• January 1, 2009
  • By Jim Fowler, cofounder and chief executive officer, Jigsaw

Data’s Independence

Harkening back to the Revolutionary Era to mark a recent product launch, fellow Jigsaw cofounder Garth Moulton and I put on our best powdered wigs, waistcoats, breeches, and tights. Our objective wasn't to embarrass ourselves or fan out old clothes, but to illustrate the heralding of a new era in business information in which data is no longer shackled behind firewalls and expensive log-ins, but is instead freely available to all, and transparent.

Drawing upon these "Revolutionary" comparisons, one can imagine how data suffers, in terms of both accuracy and usability, when controlled and owned by the few. CRM systems riddled with outdated, duplicate, incomplete, or incorrect contact information can hardly be blamed on the sales manager, marketing team, or IT professionals involved; nobody really enjoys doing data entry. Rather, we need to re-evaluate our approach to data in order to understand what changes are needed in order to improve the company and business contact data used in CRM systems.

Pre-revolution: the data days of yore

Data is the lifeblood of a company's business. Significant amounts of manpower, research, and dollars are dedicated to collecting and maintaining the CRM data that is used daily by sales, marketing, and recruiting professionals.

The status quo of data today is that people find data-one company or contact at a time-on websites, in ad-supported directories, or subscription services, which are expensive and usually good for one-time-only use. Besides being time-consuming or costly, these methods don't allow for easy integration of the data into the person or company's own contact systems.

Not only does this closed system limit ease of operation and affordability, but it also hampers the quality of the data. The sheer volume of data makes it extremely difficult for researchers to keep up with transfers, promotions, or other contact updates; records are often inaccurate or incomplete; and the lack of standardization in data entry leads to many lost marketplace battles.

Setting the stage for a successful revolution

For an industry change to take place, like in any movement, all the elements related to the timing, players, and climate must be in place. One important and recent shift in the mindset around information has been driven by the success of Wikipedia and the crowd-sourcing phenomenon.

The rise of Wikipedia illustrates how an established, traditional model-in this case, the Encyclopedia Britannica-can be advanced by drawing on the collective wisdom of a crowd. Through group participation, Wikipedia has elevated the resourcefulness and accessibility of reference materials.

The mainstream popularity of Wikipedia got the ball rolling for this new approach to information. The nature of Web 2.0, with its power for enhancing collaboration and creativity in information sharing and processing, presents real business value.

The revolution: information wants to be free

The relationship that individuals have with data and content online has changed forever. With all the wikis, blogs, user-generated content, online directories, cloud computing and more, we no longer experience the barrier between "owners or developers" of content and ourselves. The user now interacts directly with information online: augmenting it, commenting, tagging, adjusting, mashing it up, and tweaking it. With this contribution comes a sense of ownership. Folks have a deeper relationship, taking charge of the information and feeling an obligation to keeping it up-to-date.

For contact data in CRM systems, this is an important move forward. Long burdened with outdated or missing contacts, having an enormous army of contributors delivers depth and accuracy of data. A well-managed contact database can be a salesperson or marketers' springboard to success. Employees can focus more time on connecting with targets and building business relationships, and less time on upkeep or fumbling through outreach to misdirected leads or outdated contacts.

Beyond content creation, organizations must begin to utilize the actual change in information online to develop even better data best practices. For example, when contact data is updated, a company should not just simply input that new information into their CRM system. Rather, they should use that new data to compare and weed out the old. The next opportunity for companies is to leverage their knowledge of change in information and then to react quickly to the change.

From contact information controlled by the hands of the few to a true Web 2.0 revolution in which the community collaborates on valuable business contacts-CRM systems are realizing the rewards of Web 2.0 in the workplace.

And that's an occasion worthy of powdered wigs and tights.

About the Author

Jim Fowler is cofounder and chief executive officer of Jigsaw, an online directory of more than 9 million business contacts and over 1 million companies. A veteran sales executive, Jim has more than 12 years selling software for marketing and collaboration applications.

Please note that the Viewpoints listed in CRM magazine and appearing on destinationCRM.com represent the perspective of the authors, and not necessarily those of the magazine or its editors. If you would like to submit a Viewpoint for consideration on a topic related to customer relationship management, please email viewpoints@destinationCRM.com.

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