Ever get calls from sales rep trying to peddle things that simply aren’t you? You live in an apartment, and they pitch you lawn care. You announce your new diet on Facebook, and they offer a “Dessert of the Month” subscription. You turn 18, and they insist you need their wrinkle cream.

Pretty annoying, right?

Unfortunately, these kinds of things happen much too often, which is surprising since analysts call this the Age of the Customer. More customer data has been collected in the last two years than at any point in history.

Every day, amazing new tools emerge to help organizations collect, sort, cleanse, enrich and interpret data. Indeed, the opportunity for companies to know and understand their customers has never been greater.

But research shows that companies and sales reps aren’t yet taking full advantage of all the resources at their disposal.

Eight in 10 sales reps fall short of being prepared, feeling in control and creating value for customers, studies suggest. And 75 percent of executives feel sales reps do not come prepared with knowledge of their business, according to Forrester Research.

What Gives?

The fact is that most businesses know good, actionable customer insights can help reps sell smarter and faster while delivering outstanding customer experiences.

But many struggle implementing programs to collect and use customer data. As a result, they often commit some serious data “sins” that cost them time, money and relationships with customers.

Here are the five deadliest data Sins that organizations must avoid to succeed in the Age of the Customer.

1. Having No Data

The biggest sin a rep can commit is to fly by the seat of their pants. The age of cold calling is dead. Customers today expect consistent, high-value experiences from companies they patronize. Reps who don’t understand their customers’ business models, products, competitive challenges and regulatory concerns will be quickly replaced by reps who do.

To avoid the sin of having no data, consider investing in a cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) or similar system. Giving employees access to a rich set of customer data from any location and using any connected device will help them prospect effectively and have richer customer conversations. Ultimately, that means closing more deals. 

2. Settling for Bad Data

You’ve probably heard the phrase “garbage in, garbage out.” It means that the customer insights gleaned from a CRM system are only as good as the data residing in it.

Regrettably, that’s not very good for many organizations. Researchers estimate that incorrect, fraudulent, obsolete or duplicate information costs the U.S. economy more than $3.1 trillion annually.  Yet, businesses continue to overlook the importance of data quality.

In fact, a recent study by 451 Research and Blazent found that less than half (40 percent) of C-level executives and data scientists polled were “very confident” in their organization’s data quality. Nearly all (94 percent) said they recognized the effect that poor data quality could have on business outcomes.

It’s crazy to think it’s possible to run a sales organization today with insufficient or bad data management policies. To avoid the sin of having bad data, consider a cleansing solution that will natively integrate into your CRM. These tools can help better control and maintain high-quality customer data.

3. Keeping Data in Silos

We’ve all had the experience of speaking to someone at a company and being contacted later by someone else who has no knowledge of our prior interaction. And we often think “gee, the left had doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.”

This happens because various parts of organizations often collect and store information about customer engagements differently, using various tools that don’t interact with one another. As a result, many businesses end up with information “silos” that undermine the effectiveness of customer interactions.

To avoid the sin of siloed data, consider investing in tools for integrating and sharing information across systems. That doesn’t have to mean tossing existing solutions and standardizing on one platform. The answer might be as simple as buying products that say they integrate with other key systems and then mixing-and-matching to meet organizational needs.

4. Not Listening to Data

Many organizations spend millions of dollars collecting data with an eye toward building a master record of customers. But once they have all this information, they don’t always go to the next level and analyze it. Try to pull actionable insights from it. Listen to it. So it sits there, idle and useless for most sales reps.

To avoid the sin of not listening to data, organizations might consider one of the handful of emerging cloud analytics platforms that have been designed to help business users easily explore and gather meaningful customer insights – from any mobile and connected device - they can use in sales situations. 

5. Failing to Act on the Data

Sales reps that are the most diligent about aggregating and acting upon customer data tend to be the top performers in organizations. But stay abreast of the flood of information coming their way can be difficult, at best. According to a CSO Insights study, reps often search up to 15 disconnected data sources to find pertinent information on a single prospect or customer.  Similarly, they spend more than 70 percent of their time wading through emails each week. That doesn’t leave room for acting on the data - unless they don’t sleep.

One way to avoid the sin of not acting on data is to automate many time-consumer customer interactions through something called “relationship intelligence.” 

This is technology that generates actionable insights based on relationship data of clients, colleagues and partners. It taps into data from email communications, phone calls, meetings and sources – and offers recommendations on whom reps should contact and when.

Title image "Deadly Spiders" (CC BY 2.0) by darkday