Data difficulties hamper success

Root causes of data difficulties reveal the path forward

You have a data problem but haven’t fixed it. You know that you are losing sales. And, with an inability to derive insights from your data your company will lose its competitive edge. But your data challenges run deep and it would take serious effort to get your data cleaned up. That data holds power and there are tremendous benefits in getting this problem under control. Data difficulties hamper success. Does the organization understand what is at stake? Broken sales data has an adverse effect on revenue and the ability to evaluate the health of the organization. So, you must take action. In order to do so, it’s best to acknowledge the root causes of your data difficulties. This will reveal the most efficient path forward to reinstate success and revenue.

Did you inherit data difficulties and the responsibility for fixing them?

You have a new charge to grow sales immediately. Not next month, next quarter, or next year. Any data project will take time. That being the case, a revenue increase on this quarter’s income statement is unlikely. As the person responsible for revenue generation, if you are also charged with fixing this problem, you will be stressed. But, you also must be able to articulate what is happening in order to gain organizational understanding and support.

Data collection

If you arrive at a young company, it is entirely possible they haven’t established rigorous data collection standards. Or, it’s possible the company makes frequent changes to how it collects data. Maybe it’s an older company that fell into bad habits. Did your predecessor fail to see the benefit of basic CRM hygiene?  Was he or she able to convince a diverse sales team of its benefits? Were data quality standards put on the back burner because of new reps, expanding products, or markets?

All of these questions must be answered and must be understood by leadership within the organization.

Habits and the CRM

Reps don’t like the system and management doesn’t either. You are planning a move to a new CRM system and will focus on quality then. Kicking the “quality” can down the road during such a change is not a good idea. If people or teams sandbag, for example, by not entering sales information until immediately before deals close, these habits likely won’t change with a new system.

Fix the problem with a plan

We can empathize with the root causes, but you need to take ownership of the problem. In order to fix data difficulties that hamper success, you need an airtight plan. As you build that plan, keep the following considerations in mind.

How to message the plan

Consider all stakeholders’ needs – most importantly your sales reps and managers. Data difficulties that hamper success often start with bad habits. When they are sloppy with their data habits, it’s likely your sales professionals they don’t see the upside in doing it any other way. So, 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. Most sales professionals are competitive by nature and financially motivated. Therefore, 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:

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. So, don’t blame sandbaggers in your plan. And, resist the temptation to be inconsistent. Reps who hit their targets are usually given a free pass. Those who don’t hit their numbers are not. They 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?

When the plan is complete, its benefits need to be communicated throughout the organization immediately.


“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 useful data.

Before you make any changes, start by learning which of your data fields 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.


If a major technical overhaul or system change 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 the timeline to ultimate success will be indefinitely extended.

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.