Beating The CRM Data Entry Blues

Kelley Consulting Co. is a classic example of a failed Customer Relationship Management implementation.

The small Louisville, KY, consulting firm installed Salesforce, a popular CRM software product, primarily to help manage its sales effort and customer contacts. "Their product seems good and feature rich," says James Kelley, the principal of the four-man firm, "but if someone called me, it wasn't likely that I'd go in and add the information. Once there was too much of a gap between what was in CRM and what was in my stack of papers, it ceased to be useful."

"In order to make good use of CRM you have to keep it up to date, but it's easier just sending an email or scribbling a note," Kelley says. Quite simply, the CRM system was more trouble than it was worth to the users, including Kelley, so they quit using it and went back to old methods.

This isn't an ideal solution as far as Kelley is concerned. "I know I miss out on business by not keeping track of things and so forth," he says, "but at the same time. . ."

CRM data entry

This is a classic challenge with CRM software adoption. CRM systems depend on data but a lot of that data has to be input into the application by people whose job is not data entry. Not only does the data have to be entered, but it almost always has to be done during another process, say a sales call. That tends to break the rhythm of the work process and slows things down. "If I'm making calls, a lot of times the call happens faster than I can enter things into the computer," Kelley says.

The result is that people don't enter the data timely, completely, accurately or at all. The Customer Relationship Management system then becomes progressively less useful and eventually the users give up on it.

Kelley Consulting is unusual only in that Kelley, the principal, was also using the system to enter information and so experienced it first hand. Most of the time upper and middle management are consumers of CRM information rather than the source, so they are insulated from the problem.

You can argue that the value of CRM software extends far beyond acting as a notebook for the sales force, and you'd be right. But the fact remains, that the sales force, or someone, has to enter the data and if they see it as a detriment to their main job, it's going to be very hard to get them to do it.

Many consultants report the same roadblock on the way to CRM success. "I joke with my clients that the real selling in CRM happens at project rollout," says Ray Simon, principal with ENPIO consulting of San Francisco. "I tell them the system we build is useless unless you can get people to use it and love it."

In an ideal world the CRM system would handle all these data entry jobs automatically. In reality however no one has developed such a system, although Kelley thinks vendors could come closer.

"If it (the CRM system) was tied into the phone system it would have been a lot more useful," Kelley says. He'd like to see a customer management system which would automatically insert the phone number and the caller's name into the system and make spec for notes. "Just logging it and making a note of the call," he says.

"If anyone were to have a CRM package that did data entry for me, gave me a stream of calls to make notes on, I'd jump on it," he says. "It seems like software vendors put a lot of focus on functions, tracking projects, showing the sales funnel and not on more simple data tasks."

However even without the added features in the CRM products, there are things you can do to ease the data entry burden on the staff. The most important, the experts say, is limit what data items you ask for. "A big part of a consultant's job when implementing CRM isn't so much adding more junk to the CRM system as it is stripping it out," says Simon. A large part of that is deciding what data you absolutely need and only asking for that.

Simplified data entry is a critical success factor in achieving user adoption. To facilitate data entry, and maximize software ease of use, CRM system forms and transactions should:

  1. Limit data entry to the salient information, that is information that will acted upon
  2. Promote blatantly simple navigation, that means forms that are intuitive and sequence data capture fields in a logical work flow
  3. Visually mark required fields, and don't make too many fields required
  4. Permit heads-down input using the keyboard tab key or hot keys, and not requiring the mouse
  5. Permit users to save incomplete records, and display incomplete records in their dashboards as a reminder to finish them
  6. Consider adding computer telephony integration (CTI) to display inbound screen pops or outbound dials in your CRM software
  7. And above all, eliminate duplicate data entry among different roles or business units

This type of CRM form design will require multiple prototype iterations with your users before you finally get it right.

"The first thing you need to do is choose the exact information you'll really need to manage the business," says Barry Moltz, an author and small business consultant in Chicago. "What information do you absolutely, positively need to have?"

Moltz also suggests starting with a subset of the data and building up gradually. "If you need 10 pieces of data, start with 5 and add an additional every single month." Finally, Moltz says it's important to lead by example. "The managers have to set the example. You can't have someone else entering data for the CEO and VP of sales.