How do you actually mechanize a contact-only approach to CRM? Ideally, it’s from the start on the first day you activate your CRM. Most of us, all right, pretty much 99.8% of us, don’t have an opportunity to set up a new CRM from scratch without legacy data. This post brings you through my experiences and thinking on how to transition to a contact-only approach to CRM. And before you read this post, if you haven’t read “Don’t Use Leads (Only Use Contacts) in Your CRM” and “Challenges in Not Using Leads in Your CRM: Data and Process,” read them first. They will put this post in context. Is this post everything you should be thinking about? Likely no. But, it will give you quite a bit to think about, and likely more than you already have.

Data management when taking a contacts-only approach to CRM

Data management, governance, and policy directly impacts a company’s ability to successfully take a contacts-only approach to CRM. The key items to focus on in this area are:

Account creation

Companies are formed every day of every week and as a result it’s likely that companies with a robust number of accounts will be missing a few. Even if your company has a pure target account strategy, new accounts will need to be created in your CRM– that’s a certainty. The challenge is that duplicate accounts get created along with malformed accounts and that causes problems with contact routing and association, as well as reporting. You might, like some companies, consider barring reps from creating accounts in the CRM and having all new account creation go through a limited number of people. That’s a mistake. It creates a bottleneck and leads more reps to manage their book of business outside of the CRM. Rather, when an account is created, a process should exist where the new accounts are reviewed, at least at a cursory level, by the operations team to ensure it A) is not a duplicate and B) conforms to standards. For standards, outside of key things like a web address and address, make sure your standards clearly denote how and when account hierarchies are used (and specifically how they are not allowed to be used), and make sure this agreement is CONSISTENTLY applied to the entire sales organization

This review may take place once a week, or every other week, but at least once per month. This review process will be enabled by a new account creation report which outlines the new accounts recently created (e.g. the last 35 days) and excludes accounts created by operations.

Contact governance

We’re not just concerned about account creation, we also need to look at contact placement. Create a report that looks at “outlier contacts;” contacts that look like they are in the right account, such as a contact whose root email address (excluding personal emails) doesn’t match with those of the other contacts under the account. Also, create a second report that identifies newly created and recently moved contacts. Ensure that Operations scans through these reports once a week to ensure contacts are being accurately placed under the right accounts.

Findability and sortability

Not all contacts are equal. Some are very important and account management speaks with them on a weekly/monthly basis. Others are contacts that are related to the account but are of less strategic importance. Don’t treat all contacts the same in CRM views and in reporting. Surface the contacts that are most important to account management and sales to the top; don’t bury them. Create a “contact type field” that denotes if a contact is a primary contact, administrator, etc. and use this field to update account contact views.

People no longer at the company

People retire, people die, and people move to new organizations every day. This is going to happen regardless of whether your company is using leads or standardizing on a contacts-only approach to CRM. When standardizing on contacts, though, it tends to jam up your CRM’s views and usability more than if you’re using leads. So, be sure you have a way to identify leads that are no longer at the company and a way for reps (and marketers) to easily exclude these contacts from views and reports.

Riff raff

In my post “Challenges in Not Using Leads in Your CRM: Data and Process,” I spoke a lot about people without a company clearly related to them or those that your company will never sell to EVER. Marketing and sales operations teams need to jointly agree how to process and manage these contacts. Start here on the five main types of riff raff and our thoughts on what to do with each group.

  • No idea of the company: Keep them in the leads object until the company can be identified either via progressive profiling, inside sales qualification, or use of inferred IP.
  • When pigs fly we will sell to them: Marketing and sales may wish to call out specific industries, countries, or company sizes (e.g. under $5m in revenue) which by default stay in the leads object.

For individuals and individual accounts that pass this hurdle and are still likely not buyers I prefer to create accounts for these companies with associated contacts. It gives marketing and sales better clarity on the types of companies it’s attracting. It also opens the doorway for marketing or sales in the future to realize they were wrong and it is a viable target.

  • The ones that just give you pause:This is an area in the grey. I tend to keep these as leads with guidance for operations to review them once a quarter.
  • Spam: Obviously erroneous, fake people should be purged from your CRM.
  • Competitors: I often see companies deleting “leads” from competitors. Don’t do this. It gives marketing insight on content they are consuming, pages they are visiting, and the like. Also, it gives you the ability to segment them out of marketing emails or (better yet) the ability to personalize your website to them if you have website personalization technology (e.g. a big we are hiring advertisement).

Account stagnation

This process should already exist, but it becomes more imperative for companies that heavily make use of contacts and accounts. Ensure there is a process by which all the accounts that exist in your CRM (and I mean all of them) are evaluated at the end of the year. Specifically, you want to ensure you address those that were acquired, merged, or went out of business.

Data management ownership

It’s a lot of data management/stewardship. Don’t just say marketing OR sales ops is going to share responsibility and leave it at that. For each necessary data management or data governance process to successfully mechanize a shift over to a contacts-only approach to CRM, you need to bring it down to the individual. Specify WHO is responsible for reviewing the governance report each month and taking action and who is responsible for making sure lead routing and conversion is accurate. When it’s abstracted out to a group or even a function, that’s when accountability wanes and issues start to emerge.

Lead conversion when taking a contacts-only approach to CRM

Yep, the construct of leads is still in play, unless you have a scenario like I outlined right at the beginning of this post. If your system still forces you to create leads, here are things you’ll need to think through. Even if you have the luxury of being able to technically bypass the leads object you’ll benefit by thinking through their related areas, especially, “Documented Agreement on Contact Placement.”

Lead management approach

There are three main approaches that organizations use for their lead management method. When standardizing on a contacts-only approach to CRM, you’re insane (and should immediately be expelled from your role) if you don’t use unique lead management. If you just joined the company and are advocating to switch to unique lead management that’s okay, too.

Agreed upon lead to contact conversion point

An important, critical decision that every B2B SaaS company needs to make is at what point a lead needs to be converted into a contact associated to an account. This significantly impacts marketing and sales reporting, segmentation, personalization, and the like. It’s also something that the vast majority of B2B companies have no internal agreement on. At the same company, some reps convert the bare minimum of leads into contacts, some reps convert everything, and there is a whole grey space in between. When you take a contact-only approach to CRM, you really want to move everything out of leads as soon as possible. With this in mind, here are three conversion points to put in place as a starting point.

  • Lead engagement: A lead is to be converted to a contact when a rep receives active engagement from the lead via phone or email correspondence.
  • Existing customer/prospect accounts: New “leads” from existing customers and prospect accounts are to be converted to a contact. Operations is to manage this conversion process (not sales).
  • New account creation: When new accounts are created, leads related to the new account are to be converted once operations approves the account creation. Operations is to review all newly created accounts and convert their leads to contacts within five business days, though operations is expected to review newly created accounts daily.

Documented agreement on contact placement

Clear and agreed upon guidance on what drives contact placement under accounts needs to exist. In the case of massive organizations and organizations with subsidiaries [e.g. Microsoft, IBM, and GE] if it is not clear under what account a contact should be placed, where does it go and who does it get assigned to? Typically, a good rule of thumb is the parent account for the company in question.

Auto conversion and assignment

Converting a lead into a contact and associating it to the right account doesn’t take that much time, maybe 15 seconds, 30 seconds? When you convert one or two contacts it doesn’t take that much time. When an inside sales rep is converting 28 leads a day on average and it takes 20 seconds each that’s an entire week of wasted time converting leads to contacts each year. Multiply that number by the number of inside sales reps. That’s a lot of wasted time, not to mention lapses in processes followed, incorrect assignments, and so on. The point I’m driving at is that when you take a contacts-only approach to CRM you really need to invest in automatic lead conversion (so called lead to account matching) like Lean Data, Full Circle Insights, and CRM Fusion (though it’s more batch oriented).

Boil one pot at a time

Don’t attempt to shift over to a contacts-only approach to CRM all at once. That creates a lot of upheaval and disruption. Take a phased approach, which will roll out the change over a period of several weeks or months depending on the size of your organization. Start with strategic accounts and global account managers (GAMs). There, you will find a relatively small number of account managers (AMs) who typically (from my experience) use contacts heavily. Go to existing customers next and then target accounts. Once these are addressed and stabilized (reps comfortable deemphasizing the use of leads, routing and conversion functioning properly, reports transitioned, etc.) then deal with everyone else.

All right, congratulations for making it to the end of this post! I know it was overly wordy and though we covered a number of areas, there are also lots of areas skimmed over or acknowledged, but without detail. I hope to spend time in future posts covering them. In case I don’t, before you start switching over to contacts and accounts (and minimizing the use of leads) leave a comment for what you’re interested in OR, better yet, send me a note on LinkedIn.