Your CRM is Only as Good as the Data You Gather

Nelson Mandela It always seems impossible until it's doneRecently I have had a spate of discussions about information and a general lack thereof in the typical CRM. To be clear, neither I nor the people I have been speaking with are suggesting that CRM solutions inherently lack information. What everyone seems to agree on is that most CRMs have only a fraction of the prospect/customer information they could or should, Further, the consensus appears to be that this is because most sales people can’t or won’t populate information about their opportunities and accounts.

For the most part, I am not the one taking this position. In my various conversations rather it is being taken by a variety of people who believe they “know” sales people and that sales people WILL NOT enter information into the CRM. More specifically, these same people believe sales people will ONLY ENTER THE MINIMUM NECESSARY TO GET PAID OR TO COMPLY WITH COMPANY POLICY. In fact, according to some self-described experts, that’s the way it was, is, and always will be.

Now, this may or may not be true for any given sales person or team, but let’s stipulate for the point of this discussion that it is correct for the overwhelming majority of people. Assuming that is the case, the questions we must answer are:

  • Does it matter?
  • Do we want more information about opportunities, accounts, and customers?
  • Why don’t our sales people enter information into the CRM?
  • What, if anything, would drive change in this behavior?
  • If we cannot change this behavior, how useful will the CRM be in driving better sales performance?

Does it matter? Do we want more information about opportunities, accounts, and customers?

Surprisingly to some people, it doesn’t always matter. Certainly you want to understand your customers including the issues most important to them and/or their business and the criteria they use to evaluate your solutions. However, there are some instances where the sales cycle is so short and the transaction volume so high that capturing this data doesn’t make practical sense. To use an extreme example, a sales person at a retail clothing store may do an excellent job of understanding you and your criteria for purchasing a suit, but by the time this information would be entered into the CRM, two or three more customers may have come and gone. In those environments, other technologies including customer surveys, store heat maps, and sales data MUST be used instead.

That said, let’s suppose you are on the opposite end of the spectrum. Your sales person is working a multi-million dollar opportunity that will involve multiple evaluators on the buyer’s side and several resources from your company. Perhaps the sales-cycle will likely be six to twelve months during which time dozens of conversations will occur between your team and your prospective customer. Now, imagine that all the information gathered in those discussions is kept only on a note pad of the person on your team who had the conversation, or worse, it’s in their heads!  What happens to this opportunity if your team changes? How can they systematically work and analyze an opportunity when they don’t know what they do or don’t know about the opportunity? In this case, not only do you want information, you need to have it in a system that will facilitate better analysis and collaboration that helps the team win. In this case, your CRM can and should be a virtual war room that the team uses to develop their winning strategy. In fact, if the opportunity is significant enough, you won’t even settle for process gates and check boxes that demonstrate key points have been covered, and the right information gathered – you will want to SEE the data.

The reality is that most sales opportunities lie somewhere in between these two extremes, but most sales people will avoid putting data into the CRM irrespective of the opportunity. This leads us to the second question.

Why don’t our sales people enter information into the CRM?

Let’s begin by eliminating the obvious wrong answer – they are lazy. Sales people are neither lazy nor irresponsible. In fact, sales people are quite the opposite.

So, why don’t sales people enter data into the CRM as requested? Simple, it doesn’t benefit them to do so. Sales people are just like other human beings, and ALL human beings do what they believe is in their own personal best interest. (For more on this, see Friends clip where Phoebe lets a bee sting her as a truly “selfless act.”)

Unfortunately, many companies implement their CRM solution with little thought as to the benefit it will bring to the people who are expected to use it: reports, dashboards, triggers, and workflows are all designed so that management can better understand what is happening in the field. However, they provide little to no value until sales people receive value from putting data into the system.

The second reason people don’t enter data into the system is that doing so is too cumbersome. It is for this very reason that some applications providers replace check boxes with information in their applications. For example, rather than requiring sales people to enter into the system the companies against whom they are competing on this opportunity into the system, the application will display the question, “Do you know who you are competing against?” The sales person can then select the answer. Unfortunately, the problem with this approach is that it doesn’t teach people to have better conversations with their prospects and customers. Instead, it teaches people to check the boxes that will keep them from unwanted attention from management.

We need to do better for our sales people before they can do better for us.

In the final analysis, the reason people don’t enter data into the CRM is because the personal cost-benefit analysis is askew. Many companies have tried and failed to remedy this by administering negative consequences for non-compliance, which results in minimum compliance and bad data. The solution? Do a better job of aligning the CRM with the needs of your sales people.

Here are four quick recommendations for how to ensure you can leverage your CRM to HELP sales people be more effective by entering meaningful data. The guaranteed result is better learning, better coaching, and better selling – the combination of which will produce dramatically better results.

1. Establish a common methodology

You can’t align a system to dozens, let alone hundreds of different selling methodologies. Therefore, the minimum necessary is to get aligned around a single model, and set of agreed upon information objectives for qualifying opportunities. Unless EVERYONE can agree on what information he or she wants from prospects and customers, they won’t ever agree to enter it into the CRM.

2. Use the information to help sales people win more business

If you have defined a common set of information objectives, use what is entered to help your sellers better understand their win probability and how to improve their chances of winning each opportunity they pursue. Not only will it benefit the sales people by increasing the closing ratios, it will increase the accuracy and efficiency of sales forecasting – a major point of friction for many sales teams.

3. Leverage the information to help them learn and develop

When gathering information becomes a shared objective and your sales people see first-hand the indelible link between what they know about opportunities and how often they win, they will want to become more proficient. Leveraging your CRM investment to help them do so is the Holy Grail in the struggle to capture meaningful information. When the system can recommend solutions, learning, and experts based on the data people enter, and when managers use this same data to provide more useful feedback and coaching, your people get significant rewards for their time investment.

4. Make it easy to enter data

Last, but certainly not least, it is incumbent upon the sales operations/IT team to find ways to make data entry easier. Beyond employing pick lists and drop downs wherever possible, it is critical to find ways to better leverage data already in the system. For example, you may have multiple sales people in various geographies calling on local decision makers for a national or international company. Why should each and every person enter the same information about that company or the current solutions he or she are employing?  Once the first rep or account manager has entered it, it should be available for the others to pull into their respective opportunities. This single capability allows everyone to benefit from data across multiple opportunities without duplicating an administrative function.

No matter the severity or frequency of the stick, sales people will continue to fight the directives to use CRM until leadership makes the CRM serve the sales people. However, if done properly, this has the potential to transform your sales organization and provide you with a sustainable competitive advantage. Seem impossible? Remember the words of Nelson Mandela when facing far greater obstacles than these, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”


Axiom Sales Kinetics LLC Jacksonville Beach, FL 32250