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Evangelizing clean data in Salesforce

Salesforce can power serious business insight with analytics and other tools, but only when the system houses clean data that's well-maintained.

This year, Salesforce, the leader in cloud-based CRM, introduced a new user interface to many of its applications. That UI has brought efficiency to many tasks, requiring fewer clicks to complete an action and sharing data more seamlessly between former silos.

These improvements have made a world of difference for those working in the application every day.

But the reality is that no user interface can make up for the damage done by bad data. Behind all the UIs and all the technology that companies have bought to bear in supporting sales and marketing, nothing is more important than the data that resides there.

No user interface can make up for the damage done by bad data.

CRM systems like Salesforce and analytics programs like the Wave Analytics Cloud and Tableau mean nothing if the data isn't clean and well-maintained. Managers should be able to run any report within a CRM system and make informed decisions, for example, on where territories should be divided based on the number of opportunities or when in the year should the company expect the most sales based on closed/won dates. However, if sellers do not close opportunities until the end of every quarter or do not fill out the opportunity's location regularly, gaps appear or, even worse, incorrect assumptions are made. Most companies, I believe, understand the need for clean data, but often when it is already a problem.

The importance of maintaining clean data is only clear when those first few critical reports are run, and incorrect or incomplete information is spit out from the technology that has been so heavily invested in by the company. Poor data quality often results from the fact that sales reps, the main contributors to CRM data, can find the system -- and data entry into it -- tedious and will often put in the least amount of data required. Often, consistent clean data requires a multipronged approach by management, the CRM admin, and the first-line contributors to the system.

New technology, especially requiring information by those working in the field, must first be adopted by management. The mantra, "It doesn't exist if it isn't in Salesforce," is music to my ears; it means that if the data isn't in the system, it isn't relevant, because it isn't recorded. Without support in the technology, and the data behind it from management, adoption will suffer and data will be incomplete.

Leaders must push for all information to be housed in a centralized source, the CRM system, to fully realize the reporting capabilities of the system. Moreover, management must decide on the key performance indicators (KPIs) that really matter to simplify the information needed in the system to get the desired stats from it. This ensures that management doesn't put too much data maintenance on sales reps.

Automation is key in a CRM system. Any time the system can auto-create tasks, new opportunities, send reports and dashboards, and so on, the better. If a company is subscription-based and clients must renew yearly, an admin could create a workflow to auto-create an opportunity with the same products added from the previous year, and send an email notification to the seller with a new task created to follow-up with the account. This helps data integrity because it is not relying on manual entry from the seller, and it is also guiding the seller on his/her activities, making it easier to do the job, therefore increasing adoption. Once the seller is utilizing the system to really run through the sales process, further automation can be done that the seller doesn't even need to be involved in. Admins can create hidden fields that appear only in reports that track the number of days in each stage, how many opportunities are open in each partner's queue, and/or how successful certain campaigns were in generating revenue. By engaging the seller in the first step of data maintenance, it empowers the system to take over on deeper reporting and analysis.

The system cannot simply be a Rolodex of contacts and accounts; if it is, adoption will fail, and management and sales will lose interest. To maintain a clean data system, page layouts should be simplified with key areas required in the template. Assume that if a field is unrequired, it is unlikely that a seller will fill it out and the data won't be reportable. This is not a bad thing when a field is only a reference point for sales, not a critical data point for leadership. But don't allow too many of these fields, because should KPIs change, going back and fixing this data can be time-consuming and costly; not to mention after a certain amount of time, it is likely not possible to return to old data and complete it accurately.

Sales reps see themselves as one function – sellers -- and many companies are challenged when it comes to engaging sellers in a CRM system. Reps don't necessarily view data entry as part of the job, but rather as a time-consuming task. To encourage use of the system, management must be fully engaged and committed to it as a system of record.

It also helps if they enlist tools like Salesforce Chatter to help reps communicate with one another, exchange information and documents and get easy access to answers. Using Salesforce's, a sales performance management tool, engages sellers by rewarding them for using the application as well as recognizing employees for their work in the company. Reps should start the day by opening the Salesforce application as soon as they arrive at their desks and should have it guide their actions daily. This kind of behavior modification, of course, also requires admins to equip the system with right tools and structure so reps have the incentive to use it.

CRM systems are a powerful tool, but only when the data behind them is clean and well-maintained. This data often is entered by the sales team, so the admin and management need to encourage them to enter this information by making the system useful for the seller and by making it a requirement. Once adoption and, by proxy, data is in good order, the company can run reports on a multitude of data points from the system and improve business performance based on decisions from the clean data.

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