The Futile Quest for CRM Data Accuracy

I was wrong…very wrong.

For years I preached a story of simplicity of data in the CRM system. I was convinced that with only six pieces of data you could manage the world. Simply tell me:

  1. The customer name
  2. The opportunity name
  3. The sales rep
  4. The value of the opportunity
  5. The close date
  6. The sales stage

…and I can manage the world. In fact, I coined the phrase “The Shape and Velocity” of the sales cycle over a decade ago that was based on the theory of movement and change in the sales process by tracking changes in only three of these data points. The theory was sound; still is. The resulting insights are powerful if the practitioner knows how to interpret them. The problem is not the theory, nor the desire to keep the CRM system simple.

CRM Data

The problem is that marketing and sales involve people. People cannot be represented by CRM “fields”. People are unstructured.

To illustrate what I mean, let me ask a question. How many fields do you have in your opportunity record in Salesforce.com? How many of them are consistently and accurately recorded by the rep? Maybe 20? Let’s be generous and say that we can accurately report on 30 separate and unique fields (pieces of information) for each opportunity over time. Some of the field values change over time, so by the end of the sales cycle, let’s say we have 100 unique pieces of information for each opportunity to help us understand our reps’ and buyers’ behavior. This is called structured data; it’s in a database, categorized in fields.

Now, another few questions. During that one sales process, how many interactions (emails, chats, social posts, documents, voicemails, live conversations) take place between your company and the buyer’s company? How long is each one? How many words are written or spoken in each? (Keep in mind the average speech-rate is 200 words per minute…higher among sales reps.) Even if you have a very fast sales cycle, and there are only 20 total interactions from suspect to close, and only a few are longer than 10 minutes, you likely have over 50,000 words exchanged. How many “pieces of information” are there here? Unfortunately, even if you’re capturing all your emails in your CRM with a cool new technology like SalesforceIQ, this information is not in “fields”. This is called unstructured data.

In this little math exercise, the ratio is 100 times more unstructured information than structured. In reality, it’s higher. Another rather inconvenient truth about unstructured data is:

  • Structured data can only tell us what happened
  • It’s the unstructured data that tells us why it happened; the behavior, psychology, sentiment, intent of the buyer

I was wrong. While simplifying and analyzing CRM fields can be helpful, the real value is hidden away “inside the conversation”.

How do you personally get inside the conversation? How many calls per day do you listen to? How many emails do you read? How many could you if you spent every minute of every day doing it?

There must be a better way.

Powerful and actionable insights are hiding inside your conversations. In future posts we will explore how to find them through the power of A.I. applied to unstructured big data.

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