Customer relationship management (CRM) and other software vendors like to tout their features, functionality, automation, AI tools, and analytics. Good for them. But in the end, regardless of what system you buy and what tools you use, it’s just a database. And if the data is a mess, your system is worthless – both now and as a future salable asset. So how do you ensure that your CRM database contains good, reliable, up-to-date, accurate and complete data? You must do the following.
Enable an administrator.
For starters, you need to have an administrator in charge of your database. This doesn’t have to be a database expert or IT guru. It should be a savvy power user who should ensure that fields are populated, updated and current and that users are trained to enter the data correctly. That person is responsible for the completeness and correctness of the data. They must be an expert in the system and have the support of external consultants and the software vendor. If something is missing, incorrect, or incomplete, it’s that person’s job to not only fix it, but to make the necessary checks to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Keep it simple.
Next, keep your database simple. CRM vendors like to hype that you can create thousands of fields and countless screens and views. Do not do that. Your sales and customer service representatives – the primary users of your system – don’t have the time to fill out all the information you would like in a perfect world. It’s not a perfect world. Settle for the most important fields needed to manage the customer’s account. Limit your fields and screens. Make it easy to enter the data and then keep your users on it.
Set up security controls.
And the way you keep your users on this is through security controls. When fields require data entry, make them mandatory so that a user cannot move to the next field or screen. Better yet, where possible, include drop-down lists that appear automatically, forcing users to enter the data from the list. We live in a free country, but that doesn’t mean you should give your users the freedom to enter whatever they want, wherever they want. Of course you can leave a few note fields for longer descriptions. But your remaining fields should be nailed down with limited and required choices.
Incidentally, not every user needs to see every field. The more fields and screens you show your users, the more complex you make your system, which goes against the “keep your database simple” rule above. Create custom views that are only accessible to certain users from certain user groups, so they don’t have to worry – or get confused – with other screens that don’t apply to them.
Take advantage of automation.
Next, you’ll want to leverage your system’s automation tools. They used to be called automated processes. Now they are called Workflows. But soon they will be called something with AI because AI is the latest buzzword to help sell products. Whatever. You should set up alerts on important fields so that your administrator and the relevant user are notified when a field is empty, contains questionable data, or hasn’t been updated for a certain amount of time. Your admin should be notified when new customer records are created so they can quickly review what has been done to make sure everything is done correctly. You must have fields that depend on other fields, so that when a field is complete, a related lookup appears for a connected field.
Finally, you need regular and useful reports coming out of your system. Why? Because again, your CRM system is just a database and databases contain important data to help you run your business. Choose a few key reports – pipeline, open quotes, service visits, new leads – and make sure your management not only receives these reports, but also reviews and acts on them. Once they see how useful this data is, they will adapt more to the new system. And if data is missing or incomplete, beware! Those same managers will bark at the users who aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do so they have the information they need to run their group. Having good reports that are reviewed and relied upon by management is a self-correcting internal control for any database.
All this takes time, dedication and planning. That’s why it’s important to involve a consultant or expert in your CRM system who can guide you through the process, or make the changes yourself if you don’t have the time or inclination. Once things are set up, your admin should be trained to carry the ball from there so they are well versed in making further tweaks, tweaks, and changes to the system. If you can’t, or aren’t willing to put in the time, money, and effort, you’ll end up with a mess of a database. Which means your CRM system will eventually fail. I know this. I’ve seen this. I learned the hard way!