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When it comes to working with data, the pressure to treat it properly can be daunting. With the abundance of customer information now at our fingertips, it’s time for businesses to get serious with their systems and be mindful of what they measure.

Many businesses start their sales efforts with a simple list. Often, this is a spreadsheet containing names, contact details and maybe space for a date when the customer was last spoken to. It’s a straightforward method, but it’s not a sustainable approach in the long-term.

In every old sales spreadsheet, there are bound to be a few hidden nuggets of gold that could transform a business, if only its owners knew about them. A lead that’s been unforgivably ignored, a conversation that wasn’t fulfilled, a call back that wasn’t made. The data on spreadsheets is incomplete and only really meaningful to those who added it. But, as the days pass by, memories fade, staff move on and opportunities are lost.

Many businesses also have active accounts that could be worked far more profitably if only they explored the available options. When a customer has bought from you once, they are many times more likely than a new prospect to buy from you again. People buy from people - but only from people who get in touch and ask for the business.

The spreadsheet needs to be ditched in favour of a system that’s more sophisticated and more likely to lead to sales. Businesses that want to grow should invest in customer relationship management (CRM) software. Understandably, many businesses are somewhat wary about such an investment. It’s a significant cost and represents a major step change in the way a business is run.

The CRM sits at the heart of the business and focuses on your customers. It should give managers all the information they need to steer their business towards growth. A system like Microsoft Dynamics365 gives you real visibility of your company’s interactions with customers and sales leads. Information is no longer siloed in departments or with individuals – it won’t walk out of the door when they leave.

Those hidden golden nuggets of sales data are also far easier to find with Dynamics. A smart CRM such as this plugs directly into accounts, operations, marketing and customer service. It should be the first port of call for directors when they are looking to create strategies for growth, as it will offer them all the information they need.

But implementing a CRM is not something a business should try to do alone. You’ll want a partner on this journey. That partner should be there from the beginning and continue with you on that journey once the system is up and running.

When the CRM is fully integrated into a business then the magic can begin to happen. Managers can get the information they need and use it to drive performance. Targets can be more easily set and these can be stretched over time. But a word of warning on this point: be careful what you measure. 

Businesses are defined by what they measure. People respond to targets and metrics and this can be very impactful. A metric might make perfect sense in the boardroom, but it can take on another form for those who have to actually achieve it.

Data is very powerful and can transform a business. Managers need to know both what’s happening in their businesses and what could be happening. It’s time for businesses that want to grow to ditch the spreadsheet and find those golden nuggets that can propel them forward.

◗ Carlene Jackson is the CEO of Brighton-based tech company Cloud9 Insight, a Microsoft Gold Partner and Top 20 SME for Culture (Real Business), which has provided more than 600 UK businesses with cloud-based CRM software systems. Founded in 2010, the company has 25 staff and is also an award-winning apprenticeship provider, Vantage Academy.

Frequently quoted in national and local media, Carlene was listed by About Time magazine in the Top 10 Female Tech Entrepreneurs, and named as an Inspirational Woman in Tech by Capterra.

◗ If you’d like a free consultation to discuss how companies in your industry are adapting to the digital revolution, email or call 01273 921510 

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