I took part in a recent panel discussion on the challenges facing sales enablement teams, and as we examined the main causes for not achieving the full ROI on a CRM initiative, the topic of incomplete or inaccurate data reared its ugly head yet again. For more than a decade now, when we have asked sales and marketing teams to assess the quantity and quality of the information they have on customers, prospects, competitors, and the markets they sell to, it is the rare exception when we find a firm that can list that level of data management as a core strength.
I have heard all the excuses from sales and marketing teams for why data management remains an ongoing challenge; many of them are the exact ones I used when I ran those functions for my past companies. But since we’re now well into the year 2020, and that number sequence suggests clarity and sharpness of vision, let’s consider how acquisition, automation, and augmentation can help overcome data management challenges.
Starting first with acquisition, historically there have been firms to which CRM teams can turn to buy data to enrich or replace what they already have. Today, these companies have moved far beyond just providing access to name, title, and contact information. InsideView, for example, provides insights on account-based marketing, total addressable market, and lead enrichment, as well as social selling insights, customer churn risk, and sales acceleration. While investment is required, this is a solid first step toward improving CRM data.
Advances in automation have led to solutions that can take over several data management tasks and are poised to do even more. In the past we often have placed a heavy burden on sales teams to be data entry clerks: create and update CRM records, record sales activities with clients, update their pipeline and forecast, etc. All of this takes time away from sales professionals to do what we hired them to do, which is engage and collaborate with customers and prospects. And so those data management tasks fall by the wayside.
Today, innovations within solutions like Einstein, Chorus.ai, People.ai, Olono, and so on can capture activity data and handle tasks such as creating contact and opportunity records, linking emails and sales conversations to specific stakeholders and deals, and updating managers on which deals are progressing/getting stalled in the sales funnel. The net result is that data management tasks get done in a consistent and timely manner and salespeople have more time to sell—so everyone wins.
Augmentation is an emerging area that has caught my attention. This feature is often AI-enabled, with technology taking on the task of analyzing existing data to create new data. For example, I was introduced to a company called Bridgei2i Analytics. Its sales enablement system conducts continuous analysis of the sales cycle at scale. For every deal, no matter win, loss, or no-decision, its AI-powered system calls the salesperson’s phone and conducts deal interviews. It then combines that with data it pulls from other internal and external systems and analyzes all these sources, looking for factors that influence the outcome of a deal; it then suggests best practices for increasing win rates. This takes the process of opportunity data management to a whole new level of robustness.
We hear a lot of talk today about how data is the new oil. But some pundits have pointed out that only refined oil has real value. CRM teams need to find ways to refine their data to optimize its usefulness. It is convenient that solutions to help them do just that, via acquisition, automation, and augmentation, are arriving at a time in which they are definitely needed.