Using Reporting Tools to Turn CRM Around

Whenever the term “business intelligence” is bandied about, thoughts immediately turn to the customer. BI, it is thought, should allow you to learn things about the customer by correlation, inference and comparison.

However, BI is a two-way street. In the course of using CRM — which becomes the repository of data that BI then analyzes — you also record data about the way your business uses CRM. In fact, while complex BI tools for analyzing customer behaviors are somewhat recent and continue to develop, the tools for examining CRM usage have been a part of most CRM applications for a while.

So — does anyone use them?

Not really. If you talk to CRM integrators, you’ll discover that internal reporting is a great “forgotten feature” — something CRM users already pay for, already have access to, and could provide exceptionally useful benefits, but which few actually put to use.

Data vs. Anecdotes

If internal reporting were put to use, it would provide a window into how CRM is used within your company — how widely, how often, and by whom. All of these things are extremely useful in understanding the effect CRM is having on your business’s success.

For example, you may think a particular sales division or region or office isn’t entering sales data into the CRM system, and that it’s hurting that group’s ability to close deals — but do you know?

Internal reporting can tell you the frequency of CRM use; if a division is lagging in performance, and you can see through internal reporting that that division isn’t using CRM, you can deal with the issue in a data-driven way instead of making a guess.

Internal reporting also can provide evidence of individual use patterns, allowing you to coach your personnel to improve their use of the application. Or it can allow you to spot leadership issues. If you can demonstrate that the people a sales leader manages are missing out on maximizing their productivity because of a failure to fully adopt CRM, then you have an opportunity to address a leadership buy-in issue armed with facts and not just feelings.

If you’re in the first stages of a staged CRM rollout, internal reporting is even more important. Companies that ignore internal reporting evaluate CRM success or failure usage based not on how the system is used but on anecdotal evidence — the experience of a manager, or of the most vocal salesperson — instead of on actual usage data.

Reporting Reality Check

That’s dangerous — but even more dangerous is the use of that anecdotal evidence in building out the next phase of the CRM deployment. IT often doesn’t get a chance to do what Sonoma Partners’ principal Mike Snyder once called “a ride-along” to discover what’s really needed in updating CRM, so it implements features and functionality, or even customizations, that the loudest users of the system advocate.

The result is one or two happy loud people, a much larger number of unhappy people, and fingers being pointed at IT and the CRM administrator.

Getting a reality check is as simple as learning the reporting capabilities of your CRM application. Next, put someone in charge of monitoring usage — ideally, someone who understands both IT and the business needs of your company, and who can help translate internal reporting results into actions that make real differences in how effective your CRM becomes. This monitor should examine usage metrics monthly — or quarterly, at the very least.

There’s a lot that CRM can teach you about your own business, even as you use it to better understand your customers — and you already own the tools to learn about your own CRM usage. Are you open to learning those lessons?

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz is director of content marketing at Relayware. Bucholtz is also a speaker, writer and consultant on topics surrounding buyer-seller relationships. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.

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