CRM Data Quality is Your Responsibility

Having a well-defined CRM strategy directly correlates to the short and long -term success of your CRM implementation and is essential to developing a high-quality data driven business program. Hazem Gamal, a CRM expert in Financial Services states that “It’s worth taking a moment to point out what might seem very obvious: A CRM tool or platform is never a CRM strategy by any stretch of the imagination.   While that might seem apparent, the reality is that we often lose sight of what our overall CRM strategy actually is, then how the application itself can facilitate and enable that strategy to be executed in the most effective and efficient way.   Strategy must always lead tactics – which is all a CRM tool ever is”.

Your CRM strategy will have several purposes or several business drivers, particularly where a number of client-facing departments with different agendas are all using the same application

  • If you are working in a client service center, your CRM tool will involve taking client service issues or requests and capturing information, routing the request to the right team for resolution, and analyzing all the calls to improve the product or service you sell or generally, to enhance the overall client experience.
  • If your CRM strategy is focused on marketing and client outreach, then launching campaigns, providing leads to generate new revenue, producing thought leadership, and segmenting clients for email marketing (and now even texts) are just a few of the tasks that fall within the scope of your CRM solution.
  • If you are the leader of a sales organization or manage sales teams, your CRM tool should include opportunity management, activity management, a desire to drive consistency throughout the sales life cycle, and the goal of developing a repeatable process so that you can capture critical data to measure success at various stages of the process and at different levels. Sales managers are metric driven.They want to measure their success by sales person, by product, velocity, by region and by business unit.  CRM is about improving the customer experience throughout the sales process and measuring that change in the overall experience. The desire to prove ROI and justify the expense associated to the CRM platform has forever married CRM with business intelligence and, now, AI.  We look forward to exploring this union of CRM and BI/AI in future white papers.

CRM is NEVER just about technology and the technology should never be the first thing you think about when developing your company’s CRM initiative.   As stated above, the focus must be on defining a set of aims and objectives for your customer service and new business generation activities that will produce practical strategies to enable CRM to develop and be used as intended.  At the CRM Forum that was recently held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Tony Busaca principal at OnCourse Advisors, echoes this view, “CRM is never about a particular tool.   Sure, technology plays a critical role, but CRM is really about culture change, business process optimization and how the application is integrated into the sales (or business) process of client facing staff and their management”.

We couldn’t agree more!  In fact, the vendor is a part of your strategy, not what defines it.   Clearly, any vendor and/ or related business partner you choose needs to be able to provide the required functionality in a ‘fit for purpose’ way, can demonstrate experience of providing success with similar minded companies, as well as having a solid understanding of your goals.   Also, as it is unlikely that any vendor will be able to match all your needs, you should consider how innovative and practical any proposed workaround may be, as well as their commitment to working with you to meet your strategic goals.

Most of the large CRM vendors like Microsoft Dynamics, Pega CRM, SAP or satisfy these criteria, however, do not ignore smaller vendors like Hubspot CRM, Zoho CRM, Sugar CRM, Workbooks or Gold Vision, among many others.   We would strongly recommend that you add at least one of these newer, ‘just off the block’ companies to your “vendor beauty parade”, as, typically, they will be very keen to generate success and cement their position in the market. Once, was a small player and now is one of the leaders of the CRM pack.  They even offer verticalization through partner relationships with companies like Vlocity and Veeva Systems (Life Sciences).

Regardless of what product you choose, technology plays a vital guiding and support role as the business defines your CRM landscape and prepares for deployment.    Success often escapes a company that does not have experienced technology leaders to help the business align solutions to the requirements.  However, the right vendor and a solid technology team cannot guarantee success without the daily leadership, commitment and motivation from the senior business management team, driving the overall strategy.  Changes to current operations are a critical and an expected part of this.

These changes need to be addressed continuously and built into your evolving strategy.  It is recommended that change management is established as a separate, but related stream in your program and that resources are permanently assigned to the complex challenge of inducing change.

Today’s business leaders are metric driven and make decisions based largely on data.   Having accurate data is critical and ensures that decision makers are equipped with the facts to help them make quicker informed decisions, shape strategy and drive revenue.  CRM has been plagued since inception and incorrectly blamed for inaccurate and incorrect data.   CRM leaders, like Michelle Dunlap, the Director of Global Sales Operations at a large Asset Management firm and a member of the CRM Forum, are often faced with comments from other senior leaders like, “Why can’t I just log into CRM and have it magically make sense?”.

Michelle, like many leaders who live and breathe the advancement of CRM technologies and culture change, believe that “CRM professionals strive to make the platform as intuitive and as straightforward as possible.   However, a misconception is that the platform is what makes CRM complicated when it is often the business process or business requirements that make training and support a continuous need”.

Michelle’s point is that business processes are complicated.   Your CRM tool often surrounds, intersects and is entwined with various complex processes requiring CRM technologies to align with the detailed processes that have been established and streamlined to align with your business strategy.   Michelle continues, “CRM is more than a Rolodex.   If you are a CRM professional that is building a large-scale CRM tool that aligns with your sales organization’s needs, it is going to take process enhancements coupled with the right technology and followed by constant and ongoing training and support to drive the message of change”.

Jacob McConnell, a senior CRM trainer and culture change agent at a large custodian bank echoes Michelle’s statement: “CRM platforms are actually not complicated.   The business process that sits on top of CRM is what makes CRM difficult or cumbersome for client facing staff.  The more fields that are required by the business, the more frustration the end-user has in completing a particular task.   Conversely, if you do not have the right fields required, you cannot measure the ROI.  The goal – and where the experience of your CRM leadership matters – is in finding the right balance between process and requirements”.

Mike Driver, a champion for CRM technologies and strategies and a Change Management professional, states “Your CRM leadership and management really need to compromise when it comes to required fields vs making the system overly complicated.  Determine which fields are crucial, reduce the number, have 5 not 25 particularly at the start, you can always add more once the process has been embedded and users are aligned and fostering change.  Simplicity and clarity will make data capture easier and improve data quality. It is much better to have less data but ensure the data you have is accurate than massive data that is suspect”

Comparing large corporations with small and medium sized businesses, Michelle states “SMB companies might have a limited need for customizations.  However, if you are going to buy/customize/build a tool which meets the needs of a large, complex sales organization, CRM is going to take constant support and training. I am not sure CRM will ever get the recognition (outside those who support it and use it daily) that it is a complex, multi-faceted tool that has enormous potential’.

Data input and migration has been one of the most challenging efforts for CRM professionals and a source of immense frustration for users of a CRM Platform.   As it is now 20+ years since CRM was introduced, the inability to migrate or provide the end-user with clean reliable data is totally unacceptable.   We understand that legacy systems are often the culprit of ‘dirty data’.   We also recognize that, although it shouldn’t be, if enough attention is given to the original design, the input process can be confusing even after significant training and support.  However, after the initial migration, data should only entered (and maintained) into your CRM platform in one of two methods.

  • It is either entered directly by client facing staff and process controls are put in place to ensure data is clean and not duplicative;
  • or integrated from other existing legacy systems through a data migration process.

The perception of poor data in CRM – particularly that which comes from other important operational legacy systems – must change and technology has to be held accountable to deliver the cleansing tools to keep data clean and deliver data that the business can leverage from legacy platforms.  Much has been done by the business (and their technology partners) to ensure the data quality is optimal.   CRM professionals have attended vendor learning sessions, solicited best practices from peers, tightened the data migration process, deployed tools to scrub existing data and place controls on the input and data gathering process.  These efforts have not completely resolved the issue and data continues to plague the CRM system which will inevitably impact the success of business intelligence and artificial intelligence.

One simple approach is to ensure that all data is maintained and manipulated in the CRM system directly.  At times, users chose to carry out their own analysis by exporting their data and manipulating it outside the confines of CRM.   The issue here is that afterwards, the results may not align with the original data set contained in CRM which perpetuates the data inconsistency issue. Your CRM system should be ‘The single source of truth’ for client data and opportunity management.  If such external calculations need to be carried out, these must be done in line with an agreed process to ensure that all data held centrally is properly coordinated.


Well, it’s really simple. In fact, it is so simple that you will not think it is the right answer.   While it is not as simple as ‘clicking your heels three times’ and saying, “there is no place like home”, it is comforting “you’ve had the power all along, but you just wouldn’t have believed me”.   The responsibility of entering, maintaining and validating data falls with the SALES PERSON or CLIENT FACING STAFF!   I know, it’s shocking and you may even stop reading – but it is true.  As part of the data management stream referenced above, each piece of data (or data type) in the organization should have an owner or owners and “rules of the road” established for ensuring that the data is accurate.  Sometimes entering data is perceived as a non-revenue generating task for client facing staff, however this is wrong.  Certainly, data entry must be made simple and intuitive, it is important to raise the profile and value of clean data within the organization, so that this work gets carried out correctly.

It is the person who owns or manages the relationship who must be held accountable and ensure that the data is accurate.  That means at the contact, company, account, and opportunity level.  Furthermore, if the data is wrong, it is their responsibility to fix it.   In other words, ‘if you see something, fix something’!

What if the data is shared – meaning it is owned by a team of people that look after the client, possibly from different departments?  The answer is the same in that if you are a part of the team that gets paid for selling (or servicing the client), you are a part of the team that is responsible for making sure everything to do with the client, including the data, is right.   Actually, this makes it easier as it distributes that responsibility across the team, but it does not eliminate the responsibility of the individual.   It’s really that simple.  As the Nike slogan says, “Just do it”.

There is another point here.  We cannot continue with the situation where sales, in effect, decide whether they are going to update CRM or not.  Those days really must be long gone.  It should be part of their job as defined as such.  In the same way as there are other tasks which sales must do, this must be one of them.  As already mentioned, we should make data entry easy, it should be beneficial and should add value to their daily life but there is no doubt that there must be certain data items which sales must compete as mandatory, no ifs or buts.  These should be defined as being crucial to the ongoing operations of the business and ownership allocated and agreed right at the start of the CRM process.  The time to do the arguing is now, not when the application has been rolled out!  Oh yes, sales managers have to manage too!

We realize that data is often duplicated and may be held in numerous systems.  An example would be a client’s mobile number.  It is also highly probable that there could be different values, in this example; cell numbers, across your technical infrastructure.  Having a central repository that owns each data element is or should be part of your overall data strategy. Any changes or updates would be fed to those other systems which need it or most probably to one central repository which represented the truth.

The next, and most obvious question is “who is responsible for ensuring that sales maintains their data accurately”?   Well, let’s play a game and choose from the following list (select all that apply):

  • Technology Solutions & their management
  • Business Management & Business Leadership
  • The CRM business team such as process owners, business analysts, trainers
  • The sales assistant that support the sales person

If you answered the 2nd, you answered correctly.  Business Management and their Leadership is responsible for accurate client data.   No exceptions.  No excuses.  In today’s data driven world, data is the only way to align with clients, sell smarter, perform meaningful direct marketing and service the client accurately.  It is essential – actually critical – that a company can mine their data and determine:

  • What?
  • Who?
  • Why?
  • When?
  • How?

If you cannot determine the answer to these questions from looking into your CRM system, your data and your client facing staff are not being optimized.  Today, in order to get the answers to the above questions, numerous additional and often unnecessary steps are taken (meetings, phone calls, emails, IM’s, etc.). This takes away valuable time from client facing staff.   While shifting the responsibility from technology to the business (other than migration) will be a challenge in the short-term.  “A CRM system must help management interpret the state of their business.  When it does, senior management will be granted opportunities to make informed decisions and have “coachable moments” with their team members” says Scott Kasper, Director of Business Development at Ivy Distributors, Inc. and long standing member of the CRM Forum.  This change must be managed from the top, it must be deemed “mission critical”.

The value of data is becoming a competitive differentiator for the financial services industry and in particular, the business development teams.  CRM is the hub of client data and the system of record that feeds down-stream technologies or business processes.   The information that flows across your organization generates new business, provides a better client experience and allows for growth through stronger marketing campaigns and sales insights.




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