Every company has a data monster. It’s the thing that’s lurking in the gazillion spreadsheets hidden in your multiple email chains. It’s that presence hiding under the troll-bridge that is your unreliable CRM. It’s breathing down your neck when your boss asks you, “Hey Frank, do you have time again to throw that customer sales report together?” It’s that evil voice in your head that says, “Come on, just do it in Excel for now. You won’t need this later…”
Data monsters are everywhere, and I’ve seen my fair share of them. To define them, data monsters are the entirety of your company’s data infrastructure and data flows. CRMs. Spreadsheets. Emails. Data entry processes. Every piece of data is a cell in your data monster’s body, and your data processes/flows are the veins that distribute your data around the monster’s body.
Data monsters can be nice, or they can ruin companies’ efficiency, trust, and ability to function. I’ve worked with my fair share of organizations that have HUGE data monsters they now cannot trust nor control. They did not leash their data monsters early on, and now they have to live with the consequences every single day they turn on their computers.
Rule #1: Data Monsters Never Play Nice
You might think that maintaining your customer database in a Google Spreadsheet is an easy/free way to track your campaigns, but just wait until you have 100, no, 500 customer accounts with tentacles all over your work tools! How will you track the emails that accompany that customer? How will you verify their information? Address input wrong? Good luck. Your data monster will gobble up all the 1’s and 0’s until you’re left just attempting to keep your head above water. He’ll be laughing when all you can do is spend hours and hours doing vlookups and replace all’s in Excel spreadsheets.
Rule #2: If You Don’t Tame Your Data Monster, It Will Tame You
Companies let their data monsters tame them because they don’t follow some simple tips early on, and 2–3 years after a data monster has been roaming free, it’s really hard to put back in its cage. Taming your data monster early is preferable, of course, but what if it’s already uncontrollable? Trust me; it’s worth the time no matter how screwed up your data is now. Your future self will thank you.
Some of the following tips are easier said than done, I know, but I promise you that you can be overjoyed and in love with your data monster. I’ve seen it happen. Companies’ data monsters can go from being hated to being loved very quickly, and it doesn’t have to take that long to do it. All I ask is that you try out the following tips. Even if you cannot do them exactly, try to maintain the overarching principals of data integrity and processes contained within them.
Tip #1: Cage Your Data Monster in a Comprehensive CRM
By cage, I mean give your data monster the place where it can roam freely and controlled. Not a Google Sheet; not an Excel spreadsheet. By freely and controlled, I mean get yourself the best and most comprehensive CRM that fits your budget and what your business requires. Make sure it has plugins and integrations just in case you have to go outside of it, but try to get everything in a one-stop-shop. Salesforce and Zoho do a pretty good job of providing comprehensive CRM platforms for your data monster to play in with plenty of tools and plugins just in case, but make sure your CRM tool fits your needs fully before you go on a spending spree. They can get expensive quick.
Tip #2: Limit, Assign, and Map Who Can Play with Your Data Monster
One of the biggest pitfalls that companies fall into is the following sentiment provided by leadership. I want all employees to feel empowered with our data, so everyone should be able to change/add data to our database.
Everyone does not need to edit data. Ask any data scientist about what takes up most of their time, and they’ll tell you it’s cleaning up bad data entered from past employees and disparate departments.
To start taming, assign and limit who can play with your data monster. Put user restrictions into your CRM on you can read/write/edit data. When you allow everyone to edit your data, you’ll lose consistency and accuracy, two of the MOST IMPORTANT (ALL CAPS AND IN BOLD!) steps towards taming your data monster. Also, tell your data entry assignees how exactly to enter/edit data with a very clean and detailed process. If you don’t, I promise you that someone won’t do it correctly, no matter how “common sense” it is.
If you don’t map out your data entry processes, your data monster will begin to control you, and you’ll end up with a very unreliable CRM. Map out your data entry process and assignees with a tool like diagrams.net or set up processes and roles inside your CRM’s own tool like Salesforce’s Process Builder. But overall, make sure your team knows where to find them and how to identify their roles in them.
Tip #3: Data Monsters Need Automated Data Flows
People are people. We forget things, no matter how easy it might be, but robots don’t forget, unless you scrub their memory or do a Total Recall on it…
To really tame your data monster, you need to set up automated data flows that limit how much your team needs to edit/enter the data.
Getting leads at a conference on a printed sign-up sheet? Yuck. Your data monster will laugh at you trying to input the details one by one into an Excel spreadsheet later on. Why not shut your data monster up by automating your data collection with a data flow! Just set up a simple online form inside of your CRM, collect entries on your phone or tablet, and boom! Time saved and data monster tamed!
Manually combining data from multiple spreadsheets into a master list? Super yucky. Just automate it with a data flow! One of my favorite BI platforms that allows users to set up ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) data flows with an easy non-coding way is DOMO. If you really want to tame your data monster’s data visualization and combinations, DOMO is a wonderful tool.
Tip #4: Train Your Staff -> Tame Your Data Monster
This is critical. Major critical.
What pains me the most is seeing companies with various “limbs” that are not pushing in the same direction. In fact, they’re working against each other. Different teams using separate forms tools. Multiple “off the books” spreadsheets that contain the “reliable” data for each department. One team enters this data this way, the other team enters that data that way. The other team goes and corrects the other team’s data. Oh my goodness. Your data monster begins to laugh.
Your data monster laughs at you, not with you.
To make all your company’s limbs push in the same direction, you need to do the hard work of looking at what processes and tools your company and departments are currently using, or not using, to identify where your data monster needs to be tamed. List out all of your tools. What does what? Who uses this? How do they use it?
You’ll be surprised at how many tools don’t enter data or track things the same ways, and you’ll be even more surprised at how much you could save if you consolidated tools and processes.
Also, don’t put your processes into Word documents. If you do, they will get lost and they will not be followed. Make them online charts that cleanly and clearly list out your process on your companies “Processes” dashboard page in your CRM, or better yet, make them data flows with extensive notes in your CRM’s process automation tool. Make sure you document each new process, and always research current processes before making a new one. Someone might have already solved the thing you’re trying to do, so don’t duplicate work!
Tip #5: Connect Your Tools -> Tame Your Data Monster
The more places your data lie, the harder it is to tame your data monster.
This is why, congruent with Tip #1, you need to have one main place for your data to live. If your data cannot be fully contained within your CRM’s data fields, plugins, or integrations, you’ll need to get a data automation tool like Zapier or Automate.io to connect your tools so that your data can still flow to the right places.
Zapier and Automate.io make sure that your data monster stays tamed by keeping your data consolidated into one place, and they can also do data validation and checks to make sure that the data is correct when its entered by your clients or staff.
Tip #6: Don’t Settle, Stay Motivated, and Don’t Let Them Get Wet
Taming your data monster requires constant work, but the hardest part is sticking with your processes and not deviating from them. Whenever you start to enter data into a spreadsheet, an alarm bell should go off. Should I really be inputting the data like this? Make it common for people to ask about data. Reinforce with your team how important it is, and always kindly correct yourself and others when deviations from your data processes occur.
Your data monster wants to love you. S/he really does. You just have to love it back, keep it on a leash, and of course, don’t let it get wet.