Having spent a good part of my career working as a consultant to others in the sales and marketing side of business, a week rarely goes by where the topic of “clean CRM data” is not discussed. Even the most seasoned marketing and sales professionals become frustrated trying to wrap their arms around building and maintaining and accurate database. As a participant in these discussion and a student of the concepts, I thought it may be valuable to others to share some thoughts and concepts that have worked best for me. This is the first in a series of blog posts you may find helpful in planning and building a useful database from which you can grow your business.
- Myth – Your Database is 100% Accurate
The first concept you have to accept is that it is virtually impossible to have a completely accurate database. It just does not exist — or at least for long. Why? Business is not static. People change jobs, businesses move offices, business are here today and gone tomorrow and they don’t call to let you know. That is simply the nature of business. The sooner you accept that principle, the sooner your marketing team will stop spiking your coffee — or maybe you did not know that. Instead of striving for perfection, you should instead plan for imperfection, because that is the best you can hope for.
- Treat Each Piece of Data as its Own
The next concept you should understand is that every unique piece of data in your database should be managed and stored on its own. This concept is based on the foundation of the relational database concept. By treating each piece of relevant data as its own, you open the door to a significantly greater use of the data later.
We can exemplify this concept with something as simple as companies and people. A company is a stand-alone entity that has people who act as employees. A person is not a company and therefore should not be exclusively tied to company, but rather treated as its own and linked to a company through a relationship. Additionally, it is very possible a company could be a subsidiary of another company and you would ideally like to link those companies through a relationship. By exercising this relationship model, you have the ability to execute marketing and sales strategies against both people and companies. This relationship model can of course be expanded infinitely. I cannot stress how important this foundation is for building useful data. You need to understand the concept of relational data to have a chance at building something useful.
- Spreadsheets Are Not Good Data Managers
Ok, so now we have a list of companies and a list of people, now what? Well, now you need to put the data somewhere other than an excel spreadsheet! Spread sheets are to data as the worm is to an apple – not good. Spreadsheets have no memory, they are not relational and are definitely not something easily shared and managed by a team. Don’t fall into the spreadsheet trap, it will lead you to frustrating places. Instead, seek out a top-tier customer relationship management (CRM) program to store and use your data. It used to be that only the big companies had relational CRM databases. With the evolution of cloud-delivered CRM, even the smallest companies have access to the same CRM products used by the big guys. Salesforce.com and Microsoft CRM are both enterprise level products available in the cloud. With an internet connection and a credit card, you too can have an enterprise level CRM to store and manipulate your data. In fact, if you have some way to connect the data, you can even import the data from your spreadsheets. (Stay tuned — I will talk about unique identifiers in the next post.)
- Clean Data Takes Time
Finally, you need to understand that building a useful database takes time and will change and grow over time. As I said previously, imperfection is the nature of data but you have to start somewhere. Building a useful database is like a journey. As the Chinese philosopher Laozi said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet.”
So get going. You’ll be at the first rest stop before you know it.