Strategy

For Better CRM Results, Prioritize Pipeline Over Forecast

customer data analysis

Traditional CRM software often overburdens sales teams with manual data entry and missing critical pipeline data that ultimately provides inaccurate projections.

An industry report published in 2016 voiced that assessment. Those criticisms remain today, as CRM is plagued with low adoption rates, often due to fragmented implementations and processes, despite the refined use of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Sales and marketing teams at small businesses and global enterprises adopt CRM platforms to deliver better customer experiences, acquire and retain customers, and gain new customer-centric insights, all in a quest for more accurate business forecasts. That goal often fails because the use of their customer-centric data is incomplete and flawed.

Some CRM proponents preach that the solution for better forecasting is using digital automation software that automatically captures and logs CRM data and allows sales and marketing reps to go about their daily activities unfettered.

The benefits when automation works are ideal: fewer manual entry errors, increased sales, streamlined tasks, and improved customer satisfaction. But those results fail to fully materialize if the pipeline acquiring the data is not all-inclusive.

Art Harding, COO at People.ai, maintains that bad data is at the root of poor CRM performance. His open-source company built a new approach that prioritizes pipeline data so CRM does the job sales and marketing workers need.

“We’ve got to be able to put the CRM back to work for the people in the field to help give them coaching that helps them impact the output they are going to receive,” he told CRM Buyer.

Insider’s View of CRM Software

Harding spent years studying trends and anomalies of CRM software. He first noticed how bad the data was that sales teams used to make decisions. Over the years, he watched CRM platforms focus on prioritizing governance and compliance.

As software moved to the science of pipeline, Harding looked at how much energy and how many calories people put around the forecast call. The pipeline gathered abundant data, but much of the data omitted precise indicators.

“By the time we’re forecasting a number for most companies, depending on their sales cycle, it is largely a lagging indicator,” he said. “We have seen stats showing up to 48% of sellers believe that incomplete data is one of their biggest challenges. Some 44% of organizations estimate they lose 10% of revenue due to poor data quality.”

One of CRM’s essential outcomes is to assist teams in forecasting, and Harding agrees that’s an important business tool. However, he pointed out, “Essentially, if you can quantify an opportunity to gain the ability to forecast and call a revenue number, it is largely the sales team’s responsibility. But often those forecasts are flawed.”

Unique Pipeline Design

People.ai’s approach builds automated activity capture and actionable insights into its CRM platform. Sales and marketing teams can access data from anywhere.

The software provides account and opportunity management that provides plans, organization charts, and engagement scores. It also includes pipeline inspection, sales methodologies, and activity benchmarks.

Its PeopleGlass feature brings pipeline updates, lead management, and Salesforce hygiene. The data platform translates signals from activities and engaged contacts into the pipeline and improves deal execution.

An essential element is the enterprise API’s capability to ensure data is not trapped in a single platform. Instead, it enables users to quickly set up with no code connectors to align teams, decisions, and data under one unified platform, according to Harding.

“Our platform automatically captures and syncs the data for sellers. We use AI and ML to make sure that we are compliant as well as can navigate very complex enterprise CRMs,” he said in detailing how People.ai is unique.

Businesses cannot forecast their way to growth. However, the forecast is vital for margin health, the bottom line, and responsible investing in an organization. “Our pipeline is actually going to create the opportunity [to] forecast from,” said Harding.

CRM Basis for Coaching

The demand on staff to reach outcomes is daunting, Haring noted. Coaching from the CRM output needs to be measurable.

“What we do differently is fix the fundamental flaw in the CRM concept. Early on, we were just trying to gather as much information about customers as possible. The fatal flaw was this dependency to enter data while performing some other activity,” Harding explained.

He believes that the interface layer, the workflows, and the benefits of automation and AI coming in the future are going to continue being disruptive forces. That interface layer is only as good as the quality of data in the system it runs on.

“Sitting between the interface and the data is supposed to be a person typing in all the information. Once we take the labor and the risk of inaccuracy out of the equation, managing your information is a relatively simple operation. The bottom line is that sellers should not be burdened with data entry. They go into the CRM to get assistance, not be the front line for compliance,” added Harding.

He clarified that pipeline quality is different for each type of business. You need to be very specific about the kinds of raw indicators used. Usually, these will entail the volume, timing, and quality of the activity. It can also include with whom you are meeting and how many different types of people.

“What sellers need are coaching on the indicators and intervention when they need help. Demanding results alone does not solve the problem. You still have to demand results, but also provide the coaching based on indicators to get there,” he urged.

Steps to Pipeline Success

Where the pipeline gets challenged is when it is the function owned by only one discipline. Harding offered a clear view of the pipeline problem.

“The pipeline is a team sport. Marketing plays a huge role. Sales teams also help you build pipeline,” he noted. “Post-sales or delivery services are also a part of the pipeline. Your brand, your reputation, your case studies, your results all need to be harvested as part of the customer journey.”

Harding sees two main points as critical for companies to improve their CRM results. They need to take existing data off the table and start automating. Then make sure they can implement a pipeline methodology or measurement into their CRM and measure the pipeline’s health using very discreet numbers.

“This is the area where I see so many organizations either not doing it specifically enough with the methodology or not yet having it available through any form of measurable software. It is still sitting in some physical library such as slides or written reports,” Harding offered.

The challenge is that organizations cannot connect to a discreet way of thinking about their sales process or methodology, and technology cannot do that for them.

A related issue is being specific enough.

Team leaders must stay the course. “If they can connect to a method or a process, then that empowers the technology to bring it to life inside your CRM in terms of measurable visibility,” he concluded.

Jack M. Germain

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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