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Clean and current data with 5 data integration tips

By Henning Lund - December 01, 2016

The worst thing about CRM systems is that they often get out of sync with reality. I often see (and unfortunately I have also experienced it myself) that companies get so excited about their CRM system’s possibilities to track and trace clever information that they end up missing the target because they do not keep their system up to date. If your CRM system does not have updated information, you will not trust it. And if you do not trust it, you will not use it. Integrating your CRM with your ERP is a way to keep your data current and up to date, and there are today some pretty good integration solutions that can be installed rapidly and at a reasonable price.

Generally, when you are about to invest in a CRM system like Salesforce or any other CRM system, you should not only think about what data you would like to get – you should also think about which data you want to invest in keeping up to date. For instance, having a contact’s name, e-mail and phone number and a link to the person’s related company is not unreasonable. But how about social profile, birthday date, picture, title, additional prone numbers, special interests etc. I suppose that would be nice to have too. And how about adding who the person reports to internally? What their area of interest is? When did they last visit your website? The list is long, but what is worth investing in? And if you keep adding details to your system, eventually you will reach a point where it can no longer be maintained.

Keeping data current has become a bigger challenge

Think about it, how long do people in general stay in the same job or even within the same company? According to Forbes, the average worker today stays at each of his or her jobs for 4.4 years. This is the current situation, and the future trend is that the expected tenure of the workforce’s youngest employees is about half that, so around two years. Ninety-one percent of Millennials (born between 1977 and 1997) expect to stay in a job for less than three years, according to the Future Workplace “Multiple Generations @ Work” survey of 1,189 employees and 150 managers. This means that they would have 15 – 20 jobs over the course of their working lives! This does not make the task of keeping data current easier. Basically, you need a detailed review of all of your contacts minimum once a year to have almost valid data, and this is just to have them linked to the right company (LinkedIn is a goldmine of information in that regard).

The good news is that there are clever tools out there that can help you capturing account and contact information clean. But what if the problem is not that records are outdated or incomplete? What if they are a real mess? You can ask yourself, where does really messy data come from, and there can be many different sources, the two most dominant are either manually created records where there has not be made a doublet control first so a record is duplicate. It can also be a merger of companies where for instance all customers are merged into one database with an intention to clean up later which never happened. Doublets are just adding to the complexity and there is more to the story. For example, you may have created manually customers in both you ERP and CRM system.

The above examples are not unique or special in any way, it just a result of a busy working day and the fact that not everybody can be CRM or ERP data specialist.

5 tips to keep your data current

So what can you do about it? How can you integrate your ERP and CRM to secure the highest data quality in both systems? Here are a few recommendations.

TIP #1: Have a clear data model in mind

Which data should be transferred? Which should remain in one system? Leads and opportunities sit fine in your CRM system, and you can do all required reporting from there. There is no reason to pollute your ERP system with this information. But, if you have existing prospect created as customers in your ERP, these should be moved to your CRM (unless they are there already). In short, before spending time and money on comprehensive transfers, make an evaluation of how valid the data is and if it represents a real asset (for instance if data that has not been updated for a number of years has a thin chance to make a difference). Maybe only a fraction of your data is relevant, then they you can limit the transfer to this.

As a general rule:
• Leads : should be kept in CRM systems only.
• Customers : are relevant to have in both your ERP and CRM system. Make sure they are integrated.
•  Items and pricing : If you make quotes from your CRM, make sure that items and prices are synced.

• Sales and payment history : mostly, one-way transfer from ERP, so nothing to worry about.

Whether it should sync one way or the other (or both) depends on your business processes and in which system the data is born.

 TIP #2: Clean data in the source system

If you have information in both ERP and CRM, for example leads/prospects, then you should transfer the data to CRM, delete it from ERP and do data cleansing of all these records in CRM. Data cleansing (which is by the way the same as data cleaning or data scrubbing) is the process of detecting and correcting (or removing) corrupt or inaccurate records from a record set, table, or database. In that process, you identify incomplete, incorrect, inaccurate or irrelevant parts of the data and you can then replace, modify, or delete the dirty or coarse data.

When data is transferred you can try to match records by having a data loader searching for match on name, address, and phone or similar (whatever fits your data). If you engage on this road, you need to have a plan for how to deal with duplicate records, what becomes the consolidated account, whether the data gets consolidated/merged, or if one of the records is just discarded.

TIP #3: Simplify

You don’t need a hundred fields – I just looked at contacts in my own Salesforce system – I use 10 fields whereof 7 are mandatory. The remaining 3 others carry a description, and additional contact methods. All other information is system generated or linked to a contact. Focus on using data that can be updated automatically or via your normal workflows. It’s amazing how much relevant information you can extract from CRM because you have related information from the ERP system such as sales history.

TIP #4: Integrate ERP and CRM

You can significantly increase efficiency by integrating CRM and ERP. This way you can eliminate double data entries, and master data can be synchronized automatically so that people have data they can trust. For the sales and marketing people operating within CRM, getting sales and payment history in itself is a goldmine of information to make better decisions, create more specific marketing target groups etc. A missing data integration is a bottleneck for future growth. With sales and payment history and other relevant information coming from ERP, the Salesforce Einstein AI has access to an important source of information for predictive activity recommendations.

TIP #5: Use a tool or page views with workflow support to keep your data clean

Usually, ERP data is not “that bad”, unless the company has been through a merger or a similar process where databases have been merged and not cleaned up. The specific data needed to run an ERP is strict and based on commercial relationships, so this type of data is typically kept clean. But CRM is a completely different matter. You can come up with the most creative rules in the world to discipline marketing and sales people, but even if they just need to create a company as an account in order to create a contact and link the person as an influencer to an opportunity they are working on, this simple data discipline will most likely get challenged by an everyday task.

I’m sorry to say, but even if you are a mid-sized company with let’s say 5,000 leads and thousands of customers and contacts, it is a full time job to keep data clean and there are good ways to simplify this. Besides discipline, one of the simplest ways to do this is to create editable page views in the CRM where you filter on incomplete records, and simply get a list. If you use Salesforce.com, there are at least a couple of good tools on Salesforce AppExchange to automate the data cleansing. It’s also where you can find the RapidiOnline solution for data integration.

Data cleansing is often the first thing mentioned when we start talking about data quality, but frankly it will be a never-ending maintenance. Good quality source data is crucial at all time and to achieve that, it has to be anchored in your work processes, as a “data quality culture”. I mean, unless users commit to a high data quality, it will not happen. Don’t be afraid to measure, reward and celebrate high data quality. Integrating your systems is a first step in the right direction - then you have cleaned the first set of data.

About the author

Henning Lund

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With over 25 years’ experience in strategically propelling businesses forward, Henning is considered a business development entrepreneur with a passion for transforming businesses, sales and marketing operations through out-of-the-box thinking, concepts building and process automation to improve overall performance and scalability.


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