Optimizing CRM Database Management Made Easy

Unlock the benefits of a CRM database by understanding its role in organizing and transforming customer data across your organization.

By Jon Arancio, Vice President

Optimizing CRM Database Management Made Easy

Management Practices to Improve the Quality of Your CRM System

Is there anything more frustrating than receiving complaints from users about the quality of data or the complexity of implementing well-defined data management processes after investing in a customer relationship management system? While it may seem like an issue without a straightforward solution, it is important to anticipate and plan for such challenges. By investing time in advance to prepare for these circumstances, you can proactively address these concerns when they inevitably arise.

What is a CRM Database?

A CRM database is the collection of data stored by a CRM software.  This can include contact information, call history, custom fields, tasks, appointments, service tickets, opportunities or even custom objects created for some specific workflow.  These objects can be associated with clients, partners, prospects, competitors, members or any entity the organization interacts with.  Organizations use their CRM platform to streamline communications, automate follow-up and deliver sales and marketing campaigns.

While users will be familiar with the front-end interface of the CRM, the data is stored in a back-end database repository.  Microsoft SQL server is a common example of a database application that many CRMs rely on.  The structure will vary depending upon what the organization using the CRM is trying to accomplish with their customer database.  For the purposes of this article, we will focus on customer data management because it is common to most deployments.  However, some CRM solutions may focus on service tickets, assets or equipment.

Why should I bother with CRM Database Management?

The reason to make an effort to maintain the integrity of your CRM data is the same reason you acquired the CRM in the first place:

  • Better relationship with customers, resulting in higher customer retention
  • Clear communication with sales reps
  • Fewer missed sales opportunities
  • Personalized customer service
  • Increased user adoption

Without a reliable input process and clean data, users will quickly come to view the CRM system as ineffective.  This will discourage the team from keeping relevant information up-to-date, leading to more poor data.  Ideally the users are provided with good quality data, so that the team is encouraged to participate fully and contribute to the continuing data quality.

Optimizing CRM Database Management Made Easy
Benefits of performing a correct CRM data management

Common CRM Database Errors/Issues

While there are technical aspects to back-end data management, these go beyond the scope of what will matter to most sales teams or business owners.  This article assumes that the underlying database is properly managed by the hosting provider or the IT team, and that integrity checks are done regularly.

The most common issues in CRM databases are not technical corruption, but inaccurate data that is entered in a manner that is inconsistent or inappropriate for the intended use:

  • Duplicate entries
  • Incomplete records
  • Failure to update in a timely manner
  • Unattended tasks or notifications
  • Change of process renders data obsolete

When a user accesses client data in the CRM, they want to see good data quality. When making an update on their personal record or their customer's phone number or email, they want to see useful information. If the record is sparse, lacks populated fields or notes, or is otherwise inaccurate, ideally, the process of correcting it is quick and easy.  The better the data, the more the salesperson will see value in putting effort in on their part, capturing and storing information.

Duplicate Entries

Of all the common issues that come up, duplicates can be the most vexing. They may occur because users enter data without checking to see if it's in the system first, but that is only part of it.  It can also be hard to find customer information in some CRM systems, particularly if the searches are rigid and won't find records with partial text entry.

Consider some large healthcare companies with names like Mount Mary's Children's Hospital Center.  It is possible that this gets entered as Mt. Mary's or even Mt Marys or any number of other permutations.  Thus, there should be a way to quickly search on a simple part of the name to prevent errors (search for *Mary* *Hospital*) and train the users to be diligent about looking in the first place.  It is frustrating to start working on a record only to find out later that another copy of it exists elsewhere and has a more recent call history on it.

A larger contributor to duplicates is data imports. Frequently users will upload an initial spreadsheet, and then later add data from other lists. Without reliable duplicate-checking features, duplicates will be created.  Ideally, to build a CRM database, new records would be imported by matching against a key (or set of key) values in the existing data.  The "Name" is not a reliable key-value due to how it can vary in spelling.  If you get data from the same list vendor, they often provide an ID number that is a very reliable key for the organization or the person's record.  This is the best way to make these types of data updates.  You get both new and existing records in your CRM added correctly.

Reasons for duplicate entries
Reasons for duplicate entries

If you do not have a key to rely on to match existing records, there is another approach that can be successful, if a bit more work for the users.  CRM solutions often split their data into "Leads" and "Contacts."  The Leads area is designed to qualify entries before they get to the Contact list.  The Leads list is designed to tolerate duplicates and simply archive entries that are a 'no' and promote valuable data to the contact list.  When new entries are processed through the Leads filter, duplicate records can be much more easily managed in the right place.  Here is an example of a leads module that can help organize customer data.

Incomplete records

While this can be a common condition in a CRM database, it is not very challenging to remedy.  Within an effective CRM many fields can be made mandatory.  Once a field is mandatory, you can be certain it will be updated, since the user can't make any changes without completing that field.

Mandatory fields can be disruptive if you are asking for something the users are not currently able to provide, so it pays to consider how users work and collect data when using this setting.  For instance, they might not be able to provide a "customer number" for a record that is a prospect.  Good CRM solutions provide ways to prompt as mandatory when a preceding condition occurs - so the mandatory field won't jump up asking for a customer number until you flag the record as Status = Customer.

There may be fields such as email address that you can't necessarily make mandatory but you want to collect.  Users can be encouraged to pay attention to blank fields with basic dashboards or even notifications.  Simply making the users aware of the condition can lead to better compliance with your rules.  On top of that, making the rules well known through documentation and training provides a well-defined data management process.

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Failure to update in a timely manner

If using CRM is new to your company, it is likely that some users haven't developed work habits to update the information as they progress through their day.  If data is entered after the fact or much later (Friday night before the boss looks at it) the purpose of having the system will be defeated.  Take a moment to identify what data in your CRM should be updated daily.  Examples might be meetings or calls with clients, or email communication - anything that is consistent across the day and in a fairly high volume.

Your CRM should provide you with reports or dashboards that give insight into how much activity each user is performing.  If you can spot outliers who are not participating, you can review your process and emphasize how you expect the team to work.  This results in your team not scrambling and adding missing data after the fact.

Unattended tasks or notifications

If your CRM is designed to manage follow-up or predict opportunities in a sales pipeline, it's important to know not just that these records are being added to the system but that they are reviewed and updated regularly.  The tasks assigned in a CRM for follow-up are of a higher quality than cold calls.  The opportunities are further qualified and have revenue-related targets.   This type of information needs to be as close to real-time as possible.

To have an effective data management process and maintain updated records in your CRM related to these objects, the manager has to take an active interest in watching them.  Managing from reports or dashboards that look directly at the live data will provide the immediate feedback necessary to keep up the CRM data quality.

Optimizing CRM Database Management Made Easy

Change of process renders data obsolete

As you grow and the CRM evolves, you may decide to make changes to how you work or what you track.  This can result in some data being out of place.  In this case, you will be compelled to do some data cleansing. This isn't an indication of a faulty setup, rather a normal bit of maintenance that can be expected. It is important to have a CRM solution with sufficient administrative functionality to make these changes quickly and easily.

An example is a field that you originally intended to express a "Yes/No" value for but later you want to customize to a more descriptive multi-item pick list.  Here, you ideally want to get the old field out of view of the users so they don't populate it, but you want to move your existing values into the new fields if they apply.

Having a CRM with strong administrative tools will let you see the contents of the old and new fields, and allow for automated edits across all records.  Once you migrate your old values into the new field, you can obscure the old ones from users.  Deleting it would accomplish this goal but in some cases, you would prefer to keep it.  You might be required to hold onto it for compliance reasons or you simply may want to be sure you don't need it any longer.  The safest bet is to make the field hidden from users and archive it until such time that you feel you can remove it.

Optimizing CRM Database Management Made Easy

Integrating your CRM system into the organization's business processes means that the records within it should provide value to the users who interact with it. Give users a chance to review the interface and get familiar with the workflows.  You can quickly explore an example through this CRM software tour.  By combining best practices in data management and communicating with your team, you can optimize the user experience.  The optimization will go a long way toward driving user adoption and realizing the value expected of CRM.

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Jon Arancio, Vice President

Jon is the co-founder and Vice-President of Wintec Group Inc., a CRM software reseller and application support specialty firm. He helps clients implement Maximizer CRM, and provides outsourced application knowledge to firms who need the additional skills sets but are not looking to add support staff for this technology.


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