Understanding your Marketing and Sales Systems to Ensure Proper Data Interpretation

by Maria Pergolino on April 30, 2009

Recently a vendor I used to work with told me that the lead programs I had run with him yielded no sales to my previous company, and asked me why I did them if they did not benefit my organization. He said that my old company was not continuing to run programs with his organization because of this and that they knew this because of reports run in their CRM system. I quickly corrected the vendor, and explained that they did yield sales, but that it was because of the way my old company was reviewing the data. He was curious, wondering how the new person and I could come up with different outcomes when looking at the same data in the same system.

Many marketers think because they run reports in their CRM or have canned reports ready for them in their marketing automation system that they are looking at the right data and are ready to make decisions. This is often an incorrect assumption. Data by itself is meaningless without context. Marketers must understand that data in a CRM is only as good as the information sales is entering, and if they are not working with sales to ensure the proper information is being entered that the data they pull from it is meaningless. They also must understand that a single report is often just one piece of a much larger puzzle. In the case above, the leads purchased from the vendor were not attached to the opportunity because they were not the final buyer in a long sales cycle. Instead, they were the initial contact and primary influencer of the purchase. Without these names the sales to many companies would not have occurred, but because of the simple canned report ran from the CRM, leads that would undoubtedly result in sales will not be purchased.

So how do marketers know when to rely on the data in a report, and when the report is not telling the whole story?

1.       Listen to your gut: If the report you are viewing doesn’t seem right or like it is missing data, it probably is. Try running the report a different way or look at a few individual records to make sure the right data is being captured.

2.    Audit: Don’t simply trust the data in your CRM. Monthly or quarterly audit the data in a report to ensure accuracy. For organizations that sell expensive products with long sales cycles, it is reasonable to review every sale to ensure the data in the record is correct and that you are properly capturing lead sources, search terms, and other pieces of information key to marketing.

3.      Clean out your CRM: Remove all fields that are never populated, make important fields mandatory- this will allow your sales team to focus on answering the important questions.

4.      Training: Be a champion of the CRM system. Work with sales so that it is clear what is expected and create dashboards that highlight data errors so that they can be fixed quickly.

5.      Automating: Try to capture as much information as possible from databases, the lead themselves, or other external sources. Then rely on sales to simply audit the data when speaking to a contact.

6.      Practice and Test: You must become familiar with the reporting features of the tools you are using. You can’t simply reply on the reports that others have created or utilize canned reports. Every company is different, so canned reports will often not apply to your business model and will need tweaking.

Not only will following the tips below ensure you are looking at better data, but by working regularly with sales and reviewing data you will understand how information is captured. This will result in better reports run, because you will understand what fields tell what story.

It’s important to use data to tell a story, and to do this you must understand all the different pieces that make it up. Don’t just run reports, focus on visualizing what you are trying to understand, and then find a way to capture data that answers your questions.

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