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With CRM data, more isn't always merrier

David Taber | March 28, 2014
The cornerstone of CRM systems (and any sales or service transaction) is interaction between your people and your customers. But more people records in the system isn't necessarily better, as many data quality problems in CRM are caused by the cacophony of too many contacts.

Contacts seem so basic, so foundational to a CRM system, that it may seem there's nothing to learn on the topic. Nothing could be farther from the truth, though - and a bunch of ugly stuff only gets worse over time if left unattended.

Telltale symptoms include any of the following items, which become irritating in a hurry when they occur more than 5 percent of the time:

  • Duplicate contact and lead records.
  • Incorrect handling of "new" leads or people who have expressed interest more than once in your company's offerings.
  • Incorrect routing and ownership of leads and contacts.
  • Unreliable suppression of outbound marketing emails to people who are currently in the middle of a sales cycle.
  • Inability to generate a reliable customer mailing list.
  • Inability to identify the key people in a deal or service interaction.
  • Excessive use of picklists or simple-text fields (rather than lookup fields) for items such as referred by, primary contact, purchasing contact, partner representative and similar "supporting cast" data.

End Confusion: Define Leads, Contacts, Names and People
The starting point for this CRM issue is a fairly severe case of blurred semantics. If you talk to most sales reps, a lead is the most valuable, actionable type of person - supposedly just sitting out there waiting to give you their money. To a sales guy, a contact is less valuable, less interesting. It's just an entry in an address book.

In contrast, CRM folks put things almost exactly the other way around. A lead is low-value, nearly anonymous and unactionable, while a contact is someone ready to do business. (Note: different brands of CRM and marketing automation systems use lead and contact in different ways. The terminology used here is what you find in and other leading CRM vendors.)

There's only one way to resolve this issue: Get everyone using the terms the same way. Old habits die hard, so don't make the mistake of believing this will be a quick transition. Our recommendation is to use four different terms to keep things clear:

Names are simply the name, email and maybe phone number of people who should be in your target market. A name has never expressed interest in your company or scored well enough in the marketing automation system to deserve any human attention. Names typically come into the system as attendee lists, Outlook address books and purchased lead lists. Names have very low value, and should be hidden from most users and managed exclusively by marketing. In email blasts, mailings and other marketing campaigns, the names are the "house list."

Leads are respondents who have expressed interest in your company and its offerings. Typically, leads have a little more information than names, but it's still a pretty vague picture. In most CRM systems, a lead isn't even visible from the Account record.


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