Fixing the “Garbage In” Half of the Data Equation: Sales Edition
We’re taking a short break from our revenue operations hiring series to bring you some insights from industry leaders on fixing your sales data problems before they start.
Or at least turn them around once your CRM has fallen off the rails.
(It happens to the best of us.)
We’ll look at some of the latest tools that make your end-users’ lives easier while improving your data quality (I wish this stuff existed years ago), methods for improving what you have without buying something new, and automation that works.
It’s a lot to cover in one article, so hang onto your hats and be prepared to take some notes.
But First...What Doesn’t Work.
Many of us have tried desperate acts to turn around our data situation once we realize how very bad it is. Whether it’s a tragic revenue quarter despite all signs pointing to a robust forecast in month one, or customer success bemoaning the craptastic data quality of customer accounts being passed off (“Who am I supposed to call to onboard them? This is basic stuff!”), the signs are clear.
Sales Compensation Clauses
No salesperson wants to use a CRM. They don’t see the value in it. They know which deals they are running after (they can only effectively sell so many deals at once) and they want to be left alone to make their number.
Unfortunately, businesses need to understand forecasts if they want any shot at receiving another round of funding. Managers also need to understand a forecast so they don’t look absolutely clueless when one of their reps brings in a goose egg at the end of the quarter or they missed obvious signs that a whale was swimming off to a competitor.
Keeping opportunity data clean and current is pretty essential to running a business. When the old “that’s what they get paid a base salary for” line doesn’t work, managers often turn to incentives and penalties added to the sales compensation plan.
Here’s the thing.
Everyone knows that a salesperson who kills their number every quarter isn’t going to be hassled by management if they brush off their CRM upkeep. When it comes to keeping a breadwinner happy or beating them over the head with non-sales-related upkeep, we err on the side of keeping them happy. The rep will do the bare minimum they need to do to get paid (or sweet talk someone in ops to do it for them), and that’s that.
Because salespeople rarely view a CRM as something they need to do well at their job, a compensation clause just doesn’t work—and sometimes it even backfires spectacularly.
“I meet with a lot of companies, especially in high-velocity SaaS, that have compensation plans structured around outbound dials or logging information manually into a CRM. These comp plans were designed to incentivize the right behaviors, but in reality, they accomplish the exact opposite. As a career sales professional myself, I can confidently say that if you base comp plans on squishy metrics, it will be all too easy for a sales rep or sales manager to ‘game the system.’
“This is why I advocate for outcome-based compensation plans that are directly aligned with the company’s strategic objectives when I speak to CROs, VPs of Sales, and VPs of Finance.”
I've been in a sales operations department where our primary function was to nag sales to provide the details needed to compensate supporting teams properly, fill out an order, and close out business.
It was awful for every single person involved.
We either sat on the phone, did the data entry for them, or emailed them (and their managers and then finally their manager's manager) until they responded with the necessary information.
Again, here’s the thing (the same thing we mentioned above). The only time a salesperson got in trouble was when they weren’t hitting their number.
You may get some traction with a manager who stays on top of their team to keep their pipeline clean, but if your system is clunky to use and validation rules pop up like zits on a 15-year-old’s chin, you’re not going to get very far.
What Actually Works
The good news is that there are many things operations can do to make using a CRM less painful, and many more useful tools (in salespeople's eyes) integrate with your CRM and pass along business-critical information. I spoke with some experts (and provide my modest contribution) so others can stop banging their heads against the data wall.
Tell Them WHY
“If you are telling a sales rep or manager that they need to keep a data field accurate, and you tell them that I'm expecting you to do this ‘or else,’ it doesn't build a very compelling reason for them to do it. It just feels like a chore. It's even pitched the way your parents might have said, ‘Go mow the lawn—or else.’
“Instead of imposing arbitrary penalties or threatening rhetoric, try this: Trust that the people you hire can (and deserve to) be given information as to how your ask has a commercial impact on the business.
“For example, maybe I want you to update your next steps so that your manager can tell whether or not this deal should be included in their pipeline so that we can make hiring decisions based on the amount of work we're bringing in. Your small deal might seem insignificant when you're thinking about yourself and your take-home, but if you put it into context and make them aware that updating next steps and stages daily could be a dotted line to us hiring people or losing margin, it's more meaningful.
“If we're a private company looking to go public or raise capital, your cooperation might have an impact on your shares if you're invested or have equity in the company. So instead of just trying to police things for the sake of policing them, trust that your employees will be able to understand the commercial impact.”
Streamline What You Have
Way back in 2006, I had the unenviable job of trying to sell a field sales team on using Oracle CRM.
I didn’t fool anyone on that sales team. Some went out and bought their own CRM tools like GoldMine and Sales Logix (if these don’t sound familiar, it’s because I’m old). They were grateful when we finally installed Salesforce, which was cutting edge back then.
If a tool isn’t intuitive for you to use, there’s no way that someone spending half of their day in a car is going to be patient enough to figure it out.
System administrators should also be aware that they’re prone to bias (because I built it, of course it’s easy for me to understand). We also tend to think of additions as we build them and not the cumulative experience we're adding to.
Every quarter, schedule a call with a salesperson and run through converting a lead and creating an opportunity. Watch them manage a few in-flight opportunities, and then watch someone close an opportunity. Don't guide them. Don't tell them where to click.
“Problems like these do warrant an in-depth retro and review of the UX and UI from start to finish to better understand what can be automated as well as understand why/where/how garbage enters. Doing a full audit by shadowing or screen recording the day-to-day of a few different reps in different functions can be eye-opening.”
And for goodness sake, don't explain why it's actually easy if they complain that it is hard to use.
While it’s tempting to write someone off as technically inept, it’s much harder to do so after watching two or three people hit the same snag. As much as it may bruise the ego, never blame a user for your bad design. Spend your time fixing the problem instead.
Meet Your Salespeople Where They Are
How we interact with technology has changed. In the span of fifty years, we went from a giant computer using punch cards to crank out simple math to a smartphone that’s millions of times more powerful. We have the technology to make things much more straightforward than typing text into a field on a laptop, and we better start using it.
“We integrate with a lot of third-party services, like Zoominfo, that send information to Salesforce. We're also using tools like Scratchpad that are helping us update the information in Salesforce. The common principle here is that you should be designed for where your users are working.
“If that's mobile, you should design for mobile. If that's from a desktop, it should be from a web interface. If it's from Outlook and your team is on Outlook 24/7, then you should find a way to be able to update your data from Outlook (like with Salesforce Inbox or similar tool).”
Make it as simple as possible for your users to update information from wherever they’d prefer.
Use Tools They Love and Automate What You Can
There are many tools out there that salespeople DO love, and most of them integrate with the major CRM players. Outreach, Salesloft, InsightSquared, Scratchpad, Aircall, and Talkdesk all come to mind.
On the other hand, If you have people entering the same data in multiple locations (fields, objects, or systems), you’re inviting a rebellion.
“InsightSquared is our saving grace for logging events and meetings automatically into salesforce for reps. They also support automated ‘action’ reminders to Slack to help users with their data hygiene. It’s expensive but serves many purposes and has the best combined email/meeting activity and CRM reporting I’ve seen in a while.”
“As a high growth company ourselves, we try to keep our forecast at the beginning of a forecast cycle within 10% of the period of time that we're forecasting for. If I'm forecasting my quarter sales, then at the beginning of Q1 (month one, week one, day one), I want my forecast for that quarter to be plus or minus a variance of less than 10%.
“Scratchpad helps us do that because I have a list of all of my sales reps’ opportunities, and because it’s a Google Chrome app, it shows them their entire pipeline filtered by last updated deals as soon as they open up their web browser.
“The reason why that's important is if you want to have really clean data without an app like Scratchpad, you have to go out of your way to go to your CRM to login, go to the forecast tab, write in your new forecast, go to every opportunity, and modify the opportunity. That's going to take time. With Scratchpad, if they were on their way to a different website, it immediately pops up their pipeline number and the last time it was updated. They can populate the update super fast and go on with their day.”
“At Workato we have built bots in Slack using our own technology that makes it easy to update data in Salesforce and allow us to prompt reps for key data when it makes sense. For example, we have a forecasting bot, a sales engineering task bot, a competitive intelligence bot, a lead bot, and more. People.ai is also a great tool for activity capture and reducing manual sales data entry which can be extended through automation and Slack.”
“Troops.ai will change your life on pipeline hygiene. (And post-meeting notes entry for anyone on the road, when that comes back.) Troops is one of those tools that makes it so simple that if you're still having issues with certain reps not adhering thereafter, you can skip right to the end game and start talking about if they are a fit.”
Consolidate Where You Can
Try to keep your systems as consolidated as possible. If your salespeople want to use a different tool to log all of their activities, see what you can do to let them update their pipeline in that tool as well. If they want to interact with people over social media, see if you can get information to flow back to your CRM.
Reducing the number of tools not only cuts down on the pain of remembering multiple usernames and passwords but also reduces the amount of work you’ll have to do later to give teams visibility to data and merge data for reporting.
Final Words of Wisdom
It’s normal for startup executives to want a lot of data in the early days to determine whether their product is holding up, which features customers want to see, which use cases make sense, and many other stats.
I believe that it’s revenue operations’ role to speak up for the people we support and push back when requests become unreasonable. This will go a long way in establishing yourself as an ally for those departments and in preventing a rebellion because of an overly complex CRM configuration.
When you see validation rule requests getting out of hand:
- Determine whether any data can be automatically gleaned from another source
- Record salespeople going through the process of creating and updating records
- Time them how long these steps take
- Make sales leadership watch the recordings so they understand what’s currently being asked of their team
- Make a list of every required field & validation rule
- Come to the table with a recommendation of which fields should be removed/discontinued if leadership still wants to collect additional data points
Your sales team will thank you, and so will your executive team once they realize that you’re improving data integrity through better configuration. By keeping your system as streamlined as possible, you’re increasing the odds that the data they do need to run their business will be collected.