Guide to CRM data hygiene best practices

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Sales teams and dealmakers rely on the data in their customer relationship management (CRM) systems for contact records, deal tracking, due diligence, and so much more. A CRM has become a critical element of the tech stack for most companies, but particularly those whose bottom line depend on relationships.

In response, the CRM systems market has exploded with software options. From Salesforce to Streak, software companies are creating CRM platforms with all the bells and whistles to empower deal teams with customer intelligence. 

No matter which CRM software you choose, however, and no matter how powerful it is, if it’s full of dirty data, it will become useless.

Dirty data comes in many forms, including inaccurate information, duplicate data, and missing or delayed data, but the results are always the same: Users begin to doubt the data in the system, they stop using it in their day-to-day work, and the CRM becomes an expense with no ROI. In fact, recent research from Gartner reveals that poor data quality is costing businesses $15 million per year in losses.

Your sales team or deal team is reliant on their CRM to do their jobs—but the CRM is reliant on data hygiene to do its job.

The need for high-quality data is only increasing as the shift to doing business online has accelerated in recent years. Your CRM is the key to reaching the right people at the right time in the right way. When your data is clean and up to date (i.e., you have good CRM data hygiene), your team members can move forward with a deal quickly and with confidence. And vice versa, when your data is dirty, your team must spend time tracking down and validating information instead of doing deals.

No matter if your company handles transactional sales or long-term, sophisticated, relationship-driven deals, CRM data integrity means everything. In this CRM data hygiene guide, you’ll learn what CRM data hygiene is, the causes of dirty data, and how to keep your CRM data clean.

What is CRM data hygiene?

CRM data hygiene is the process of ensuring the cleanliness of the data in your CRM. It means keeping data error-free and up to date—in the context of modern business, it also means ensuring that your data is comprehensive and consistent.

Why CRM data hygiene matters

Even if your team enters all data perfectly and regularly, contact data naturally decays over time. People change jobs, move to new locations, and change their last names. If you have a CRM that requires manual contact data entry (that’s all but a few CRM databases on the market!), that data won’t stay clean of its own accord. As contact information changes, it becomes dirty data in your CRM until it’s updated. 

Because your sales team or deal team relies on CRM data to know who to reach out to and how, this dirty data is going to pose a big problem. This could quickly result in a decline in sales productivity, or worse, angry customers and partners.

Maintaining the cleanliness of your CRM data means capturing data quickly and regularly, and ensuring data entry is complete, accurate, and consistent. For this, you’ll need a plan that everyone on your team can follow—because it only takes one person lagging behind for all CRM data to become suspect.

Common causes of "dirty data"

There are a few causes of poor CRM data hygiene common across business sectors.

Incomplete or incorrect contact data

Most organizations capture many different data points on their customers, including:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Email address
  • Industry
  • Company
  • Job title
  • Phone number
  • Date last contacted
  • Related deals
  • Social profiles (like LinkedIn or Twitter accounts)

When you’re manually entering data, or even pulling that information in from web forms, it’s easy to make mistakes that result in inaccurate data or incorrect data. Partial names, missing data points, misspelled words, miskeyed addresses—human error happens.

Email marketing campaigns and direct mail marketing strategy efforts are particularly impacted by incorrect addresses. Bounced emails put your company at risk of being blacklisted by email providers, and incorrect physical mailing addresses result wasted postage costs when your mail is returned to sender.

Sometimes, though, the problem is just that your team members are too busy to input contact data into the CRM. If it’s months between a conversation and when your sales team enters the contact data, there are more likely going to be errors. Timeliness of data entry is key to accurate data.

Duplicate data

Contact duplication is another very common problem for most companies using a CRM. Sometimes these duplications stem from two team members entering the same contact data. Sometimes it happens when a team member enters the contact data, and then that customer fills out a web form and the data is imported into the CRM. Duplicate records happen often when companies import data from old CRM systems into new ones, too.

How to keep your CRM data clean

Depending on your CRM platform, keeping your CRM data clean may take some effort. Or if you’re using a CRM with advanced automation technology, like Affinity, you may be able to automate some of these processes and eliminate a great deal of human error.

Establish rules, standards, and constraints

Your first order of business for better CRM data management is to set a company standard for data formatting. This must include capitalization, abbreviations, number formats, and required fields.

Poor CRM data hygiene can stem from something as simple as some people putting a period after “Ms.” and others choosing not to—or some people abbreviating street names (like “Ave” and “St”) and others spelling them out.

Establish which data fields your team is responsible for entering data into in the CRM, then set rules for each data field.

In cases where customers are entering their own data, such as in web forms, setting standards may not fix the problem for open-fill data fields. In these cases, the next step—performing a regular audit—will be critical.

Perform audits regularly

Do you know how much of your data is inaccurate? Most people can’t answer that question. That’s where an audit helps.

Regularly review and evaluate your CRM data and set time to address inaccuracies. Data cleansing (aka data cleaning) should be a routine process your company goes through to ensure data is clean.

While you’re performing the audit, also take note if any data input fields seem to be blank more often than not. That might be a sign that a field is not in use and should be removed to eliminate an entry point for dirty data. More fields do not necessarily equal more customer intelligence or insight.

Be sure to audit any forms where contacts are entering their own data, as well. Be on the lookout for unused fields and unclear field names or prompts. If you can remove fields, do so—the more information you ask for, the less likely it is that a customer will fill out the form to begin with. Plus, more data entry fields means more doorways for bad data to enter into your CRM. 

Update data as frequently as possible, ideally in real-time  

Contacts change addresses, roles, companies, phone numbers, even names. Various sources state different average rates of data quality decline—anywhere from 30% to 70% per year—but one thing is for sure, people’s contact information changes quickly, no matter the industry. And if this CRM data isn’t regularly updated, your team could be sending messages to the wrong contacts, or sending messages that don’t reach anyone at all.

But updating the database is time-consuming. Who has time to chase down this information and manually enter it? 

Luckily, there are CRMs on the market that can automate this for you—like Affinity. Affinity's relationship intelligence CRM eliminates manual contact data entry through automated data capture and enrichment.

Affinity automatically populates CRM data fields from information present in emails, calendar events, and can fill in more information with data enrichment from external data sources like Pitchbook and Crunchbase. And Affinity continues to enrich contact data over time as your customer’s information changes. 

Improve transparency and eliminate data silos

CRM data is siloed in most companies—especially once a company grows large enough to have distinct departments like sales and marketing. Each department establishes its own CRM and data management standards, and contact data can become inaccessible to other departments. 

With a long onboarding and heavy training requirements of most CRMs like Salesforce and DealCloud, it’s no wonder people don’t want to change CRMs. A new traditional CRM can take months to set up, and often has a steep learning curve. It’s easier to stick with the CRM system you’ve chosen.

Plus, teams sometimes speak their own language. The way a sales team talks about customer data is different than how customer service or marketing team might talk about customer data.

Review other alternative CRM options for your team here.

There are many excuses for siloed CRM data, but with more advanced and streamlined solutions on the market today, those excuses can finally be put to rest. You can standardize your CRM across the company and improve the transparency of your customer data without the heavy lift of big, overly complex traditional CRM platforms.

With Affinity, onboarding and deployment is fast—sometimes in as little as a few days, unlike other CRM platforms that can take weeks or months. The intuitive and easy-to-use software solution works with the tools your team is already using, so little or no training is required. With Affinity, you can achieve team-wide CRM adoption faster and more painlessly than with traditional CRM platforms.

Once your CRM system is standardized across the company, data hygiene becomes much easier to manage. 

Clean up your CRM data and keep your deals moving

For sales teams, marketing teams, customer support teams and more, CRM data hygiene makes all the difference.

If you’re using a traditional CRM that requires manual data entry, it can be a harder task to keep data clean and up to date. It’s not impossible, and it’s worth it to give everyone in your company confidence that what they’re seeing in their CRM is the truth. With the right platform, it’s that much easier.

With clean data, your sales team or deal team can get better insights into contacts, relationships across contacts, pipeline, and deals in progress. They can move more quickly and with more confidence working with a trusted source of customer data. And with a CRM with automated data capture, they can cut down on wasted time, no longer having to chase down information, validate what information they have easily, and fix errors. With good data hygiene, your leadership team members will have more accurate data for analytics, reporting, and measuring key metrics.

Whether your company is a small firm or a large, multinational organization, it’s critical that your CRM is easy to keep clean and accurate. The Affinity automated relationship intelligence CRM supports better data hygiene from data capture through to reporting and analysis, while freeing your team from manual contact data entry, all while providing relationship intelligence—insights into your team’s collective network and business relationships that help you find, manage, and close more deals faster.

Talk to an Affinity sales team member today to discover how quickly your company can reap the benefits of automation and relationship intelligence.


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