Can You Trust Your CRM Data?

It’s time to leave behind the hype of each new application release and get fundamental about what you are doing with your CRM strategies in the first place. Here’s the bottom line: You will only be able to reach your goals if the processes that feed your CRM applications with verifiable, reliable, real data are functioning.

It’s amazing how many companies have blind faith in the processes that capture and record data in multiple, often conflicting systems of record that all feed CRM applications. If you’re using or considering purchasing a CRM system, be sure to stop and think seriously about the processes that will feed data into the system. Think beyond the adapters, application servers and technology to the business processes that generate the data in the first place.

Here are some of the processes that will cause your CRM system to be populated with data that doesn’t scale over the long term.

Volume of CRM content is rewarded over quality.

Many manufacturing and service companies reward the most prolific contributors to their CRM systems — but how many managers actually go into the records, check the figures and verify the quality? Less than 1 percent, on average.

Too many companies are too focused on running up the metrics of staff performance and use of CRM systems, often at the detriment of quality. Check your own CRM system for this problem: Just go into a customer record that has many entries and start checking the depth, insight and validity of numbers.

Bottom line: Don’t reward your sales force and support teams to create quantity alone; reward quality first by auditing entries.

CRM analytics are applied to data that doesn’t reconcile anywhere else in the company.

The big push surrounding CRM analytics has many manufacturers jumping at the chance to streamline the reporting process that burns hundreds of managers’, directors’ and vice presidents’ hours per year.

It takes honesty to stand up and say, “The data in your company is bad, and bringing in the latest hot CRM analytics application makes no sense until the internal systems can reconcile with each other first.” Resist the temptation to just speed up delivery of confusing data; instead, go back and fix the systems that feed CRM analytics to begin with.

Bottom line: The reports, charts, graphics and statistics that CRM analytics applications deliver are only of value when your internal subsystems reconcile to the query results level first.

The term ‘CRM System’ is just another word for ‘MS Outlook Folder.’

Surprisingly, there are many manufacturers, service companies and even system integrators that have turned their CRM systems into repositories of e-mail. This happens because call center, inside sales and service personnel are measured on how quickly after a call or customer interaction they complete an update to the CRM system. Check your CRM systems, and you may be surprised by just how many entries are cut-and-pasted e-mail strings. E-mail does deliver background information, but when you see customer records consisting of nothing but e-mail strings, it’s time for some coaching.

Bottom line: If you manage a team of people whose pay and bonuses are based on responsiveness of CRM entries, do an audit of entries once per week to stamp out e-mail cut-and-paste.

Your CRM data only reflects a small percentage of your customer base.

It’s amazing to see the percentage of up-to-date customer records versus the total customer population for any given company. Regrettably, it’s often in the 30 to 40 percent range, with the remaining percentage having six-month-old or even year-old entries. There are plenty of reasons for this occurrence, and foremost among them is the following: The top 20 percent of employees are the only ones making CRM entries.

This is certainly the case at one manufacturing company, where the highest performers have been given the largest accounts. These large, strategic accounts get personal attention from senior executives and, therefore, generate more action items, issues to track and financial data. The result: strong CRM data from closely managed relationships.

Fear and hoarding of CRM data are widespread.

You know them; we all do. They’re the sales reps, service managers, marketing managers and even directors who are afraid to let go of sensitive and politically powerful data about customers. Given three years of troubling economic news and almost-weekly layoff announcements, many sales, marketing, accounting, finance and service employees are not willing to share data because they think they are giving their jobs away. These people would rather delete the CRM system’s icon from their desktop than give up data that they see as making the difference in their employment status.

Change management is analyst-speak for this phenomenon, but it goes way beyond that to a visceral level for people who are not willing to trust their futures to CRM systems.

Fundamental Realignment

It’s too often said that CRM is more about changing how people work than about technology. That’s partially true, but it goes deeper than that; it’s about how you realign your entire company to focus on delivering valid, defensible data that reconciles throughout accounting, finance, sales and marketing systems. For every person using a CRM system, there are dozens of others in any given company impacting the data being input and used.

It’s time to stop throwing money at the next big application. Do some internal audits of your own systems first. Ask yourself:

  • Are they delivering consistent results?
  • Do they actually reconcile on a quarterly or even monthly basis?
  • Does the marketing team share data willingly with the sales and finance teams?

If you can’t answer “yes” to the majority of these questions, then quit dreaming about how much time your company will save with the latest analytics application. New applications will just get your company confused faster. Get busy cleaning up internal problems first.

Louis Columbus is a former senior analyst with AMR Research and is actively pursuing career opportunities in research and consulting.

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