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Poor-quality customer data can undermine CRM adoption

If your CRM system is just a place to house bad data, the information will undercut not only business decisions but also, use of the database.

"In God we trust; all others bring data" --W. Edwards Deming

For years, CRM professionals have lived with the stigma of "garbage in, garbage out," where poor-quality data leads to poor-quality business decisions. Often, their processes rely on poor-quality data that they have introduced to the company's customer relationship management system (through poor data entry or by dumping unverified/partial contact information into a database). Over time, incomplete, redundant or outdated information can chip away at company efficiency and the bottom line. It can also erode user adoption of CRM systems because no one trusts the CRM system -- or the data.

But this doesn't have to be the case. Companies can rally employees around the CRM system as the foundation for understanding customers by striving for only up-to-date, accurate customer data. But too often, sales teams have gotten stuck on CRM systems as a data repository.

In fact, though, CRM databases aren't about entering data, they're about improving business processes by having accurate, updated information -- and companies' survival depends on good data management practices. It's all about insight into a company's customers, which is dependent on two key factors: user adoption and the business value of data. When these two components are running at full speed, companies have a better shot at making data-based decisions.

User adoption of a CRM system can help users manage tasks more efficiently. Staff needs to stop using ad hoc methods such as Excel spreadsheets and paper-based forms of data management; companies need a centralized database of customer information in order to gain insight into its customer base. Guide team members through the process of entering data and demonstrate how cultivating a centralized customer data repository can benefit a company.

When all staff members use the system, it reinforces the importance of CRM to the company success. Everyone, from customer service representatives to top executives need to play a role in adoption.

Tips on building user adoption

There are various theories and best practice recommendations for ensuring users adopt your CRM system. Regardless of your company's situation and needs, these three recommendations are essential to all successful CRM implementations.

Bad data can chip away at company efficiency and the bottom line. It can also erode user adoption of CRM.

Needs. The most important issue is to ensure a CRM system meets users' needs. Assessing whether it does should start in the early stages of implementation by observing how users do their work and getting them involved in the design of the system. This reinforces users' ownership of the system, making buy-in more natural. Additionally, it helps ensure a CRM reflects the way things work, not the way management believes that things work.

Executive support. When the C-level team links the importance of a CRM system to company strategy, it can change the way the company behaves. In small companies, for example, implementing a CRM system can eliminate individual personalized processes and establish a consistent process that enhances company productivity. At larger companies, it can become the "system of record," enabling a company to operate at scale efficiently.

Single source. When users enter their information in one place and managers use that single location, it creates that system of record by establishing a common source of knowledge. Get rid of other islands of automation that should be tracked within CRM. Don't require team members to report on activities or processes via other informal methods. CRM then becomes the reference point for the business.

Driving adoption through CRM features

In addition to fueling user adoption through these tactics, there are also features to consider that may further enable CRM adoption.

Charts and data visualization. Bar, line and pie charts and the sales funnel can deliver understanding of trends, patterns and metrics visually. When salespeople enter information such as deal value, close date, and parties involved in the buying decision, and maintain its accuracy, it can become available to the entire company. The salesperson gets a quick view of the status of the sale against his quota, which deals are stalled and which are moving forward. A marketing department can learn how its channels are performing and link marketing budget to sales revenue. Executive management can see the big revenue picture and figure out if they will have enough money coming in to run the company.

Business logic execution. Using workflow tools that are often built into many CRM systems, companies can automate certain business processes. Automation can help remind you of events such as new opportunities, sales successes or support cases. But automation requires data and the business logic implemented to deliver value.

Exception reporting. Management is often focused on reviewing all the activities on all the deals and all the processes associated with its sales team. It can often be a time-consuming process to determine which data needs the most attention. When reporting can seek out good and bad items, management is saddled with fewer reviewing tasks.

External reporting. Not everything has to be done inside a CRM system. Most good CRM systems allow data to be easily exported into other file formats. Once the data migrates to another format, it becomes available for other parties to use. People outside the system get the data in a format they are familiar with, and can sort, search and report on it.

On the other hand, some systems are developing better native analytics that enable users, even business-side executives who don't number-crunch all day, to derive insight from the data within a CRM system and without having to export data to make use of it.

Activity grid views. Salespeople need only four pieces of information to do their jobs: what to sell, whom to sell to, how much to sell it for, and how much they will get paid. Well-structured activity grids can outline these four points by presenting the salesperson with a to-do list.

Moving to data-based decision making is a powerful benefit of initial data entry. This won't happen unless the two underlying components -- core user adoption and value of the system to the entire food chain -- occur. Only then will user adoption, which is in part the measure of data entry participation by the organization, deliver on the promise of CRM.

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Impressive! One of the few articles out there that provides solutions and reasons why a team should use a CRM. I think one of the most important points is that it needs to be embraced by the WHOLE team, especially the C-levels. If the sales people are constantly asked to pull reports or generate new reports (either because the CRM cannot or the C-leader refuses to use it) it can cause strife and resistance to fully embracing the CRM within a company.