This intervention is long overdue.

You know you have a data problem but haven’t fixed it. You know that data holds power and there are tremendous benefits getting this problem under control. You know that you are losing sales because of your inability to derive insights from your data and you know that your company needs to learn from its own sales data in order to stay competitive. But your data challenges run deep and it would take serious effort to get your data cleaned up. Given the perceived time commitments, you feel that you can’t make this a priority.

However, if we acknowledge the root causes of your data difficulties, the most efficient path forward will become easier to find:

You Inherited It

Perhaps you arrived at a company that is younger and hadn’t yet established rigorous data collection standards – or had made frequent changes to how it collected data. Maybe it’s an older company that fell into bad habits. Maybe your predecessor failed to see the benefit of basic CRM hygiene – or wasn’t able to convince a diverse sales team of its benefits. Maybe there have been changes because of new reps or expanding products or markets and data quality standards were put on the back burner.

Organizational Support Lacking / Unrealistic Expectations

You were hired to help grow sales immediately. Not next month, next quarter or next year. Any data project will take time and won’t be reflected by a revenue increase on this quarter’s income statement.

Sandbagging reps

You have a few people or teams who don’t enter sales information until immediately before deals close. Or others who downplay the likelihood of deals closing.

Inferior Old CRM

You are planning a move to a new CRM system and will focus on quality then.

These root causes, however, are becoming excuses. You need to take ownership of the problem. Your revenue team has the most direct line of site to the market. Ensuring your company’s maximum growth requires constant interpretation of market feedback.

If you are going to finally fix your data problem, you need an airtight plan. As you build that plan, consider the following:

Messaging:

Consider all stakeholders’ needs – most importantly your sales reps and managers. Most sales professionals are competitive by nature and financially motivated. When they are sloppy with their data habits it’s because they don’t see the upside in doing it any other way. Be ready to answer the question of “what’s in it for me” early and often. Tap into the individual, selfish motivations that define each rep and each manager. Your data quality plan has to connect the dots for the reps in such a way that shows them a path to more sales. (For more thoughts on sales teams’ motivation, see: http://pilytix.com/blog/3-Reasons-Your-Sales-Team-Shuns-Sales-Technology)

Blaming sandbagging reps in your plan will get you nowhere. Sandbaggers exist for two reasons: 1) The failure to answer the aforementioned question “what’s in it for me” and 2) selective outrage depending on results. Reps who hit their targets are usually given a free pass while those who don’t hit their numbers are reminded of their data habits as an item on a laundry list of behaviors that need to be improved. Ask yourself, has inconsistent messaging ever resulted in universal adoption of…anything?

Goals:

“Perfect data” should never be a goal. Many organizations who see the value in data collection have frequently ignored practical realities of selling in the 21st Century. They have built and modified their CRMs in such a way that requires sales reps to fill out too much data. This mission for perfect data ultimately prevents companies from getting any insightful data. (For more thoughts on this common misstep, see: http://pilytix.com/blog/more-vs-better-data).

Before you make any changes, start by learning which of the fields of data actually have the potential to provide useful insights about your reps or your sales opportunities. And don’t trick yourself into believing that all sales data is equally valuable.

Timing:

If a major technical overhaul is required, assume that it will take longer than expected. Behavioral changes cannot wait for the completion of the new technical infrastructure. The idea that good habits can wait only ensures that the timeline to ultimate success will be indefinitely extended. When the plan is complete, its benefits need to be communicated throughout the organization immediately.

Measuring, Monitoring and Correcting:

As your data improves, sales leadership needs to stay vigilant or bad habits will creep back in. Part of this vigilance is measuring adoption of the plan. Every other major corporate expense is typically scrutinized and assessed for effectiveness, yet we rarely see sales leaders measuring the usage of their single largest technical expense – the CRM system. If your messaging has been effective and your expectations are realistic, sales reps and their managers should want to ensure quality data. There will always be exceptions, though. Sales leaders who measure individual rep CRM usage can take much more effective corrective actions with the outlier individuals and prevent individual habits from becoming systemic challenges.

Jim Dries is the CEO for piLYTIX. He is immediately suspicious of sales managers who claim to have excellent sales data.