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Ten Data Import Challenges in CRM


It has now been quite a while since I last talked about importing data and so I thought this may be an opportune time to revisit this perennial subject, which impacts pretty much every CRM project to a greater or less extent.

CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems are designed to help businesses manage their interactions with prospects and clients (and sometimes suppliers). One of the most important considerations in setting up any new CRM system is in importing data, such as contact, company details, opportunities or other core information from your old system or from new lists.

Top 10 Data import Challenges

However, importing data into any CRM system can be challenging, and there are a number of these you are likely to encounter. So, in no particular order, these are my top ten challenges with some examples:

1. Data duplication: A major challenge is that data may be duplicated when it is imported into a CRM system. This can happen if the data contains duplicate records, or if the data is imported multiple times without being properly cleansed or de-duplicated. With every project we undertake, we always stress to the client at the outset to allow ample time and resources to review their planned imported data. This is an ideal time to check and cleanse this data, of which more later.

2. Data format incompatibility: Another common challenge when importing data into a CRM system is that your importing data may not be in a format that is incompatible with the new system. For example, the data may be in an older file format that is no longer supported, or it may be in a format that the new CRM system is not able to read, or it may need to be changed. Good examples of this include Date and Telephone number formats which may need to be carefully considered on export and re-import.

3. Data validation: Ensuring that the data is accurate complete and up to date is a critical step in the data import process. This can be challenging because data validation checks should be done before the data is imported. So, for example, making sure addresses, websites etc are up to date. Taking the opportunity to verify email addresses is a key task here since inevitably you will have old email or invalid email addresses and is usually quite cheap to do.

4. Data mapping: This is the process of aligning the data fields from the source file to the fields in the new Target CRM system. This can be a tough task when data fields have different naming conventions, or when data fields are missing or incomplete. So, many system need exact matches on the dropdowns for instance before you bring in data. My advice here is to always have a clear Data Mapping document created which is reviewed carefully, especially if some fields are being transposed or re-mapped to new options, this document must always be signed-off and approved.

5. Privacy and Security: With the rise of data privacy laws like GDPR in UK/EU, businesses must ensure that the data that is actually imported, is in compliance with the regulations. So, make sure you are clear on data that has been opted-in and you are compliant with your importing policies, especially when dealing with B2C and older data sets, where there may be time limits on importing this data. Also, ensure if you need to send data to external parties, say for cleansing, then again this is removed and not held on local PC’s for example. If in doubt always check with your GDPR advisor here on your policies on data retention and ensure they are aware of this project and involved from the outset.

6. Data Cleansing: Data Cleansing is the process of removing or modifying data that is incorrect, incomplete, irrelevant or duplicated. This is a critical step before importing data into a CRM system. This is probably the biggest challenge for many companies. As mentioned in some of the challenges above, time spent on this exercise is time well spent. Don’t underestimate the amount of time needed or leave it too late. My view is this should be started as early as possible. Again, this comes back to the importance of a clear Data Mapping document. Doing a test export early to review core data can help here in planning.

7. Activities importing. For many clients there is often a desire to import numerous activity data, such as tasks, calls and emails, whether these are historic or just the ‘open’ items for the future. This can be a danger zone and considerably increase the cost and complexity of any data import project, so needs to be deeply thought through. For example, taking from an existing system, you are likely to need to import old or left Users of the system, or to re-map their activities to an new generic user, (many CRM licences are based on per User) which can then create more issues. If there are ‘open’ activities or tasks, then quite often this may include again a lot of activities which were created, but may never have been closed, or even mass created at some time. Just from these few examples, you can see how this can become a bit of a minefield. Generally, as discussed above, the cleaner the data, the better and activities can often include dirty or poor-quality data, so as far as possible, try to avoid this, unless it is deemed to be critical to the success of your project. Within this, also consider again the impact on storage of importing large volumes of activity data. My view here is that if it is not adding value, then it is possibly adding cost and using up your database space, so just think carefully about this and if you truly need all these activities. If not look at alternative options such as a back-up of old CRM for x months or running just a single licence in reserve for a cross-over transition period.

8. Testing. This is a very simple one, but do allow time for some Test imports. Invariably issues may crop up here, so as before, the earlier you consider this the better.

9. Scalability: I reference this earlier, but as time moves goes by, so does the database grow. Your CRM system should be able to scale to handle the increasing data volume. With data now getting more expensive, you will need to check this on a regular basis. Most cloud CRM systems have an in-built data storage limit built in, over this limit you may have to pay for more storage per Gb. Be aware of these potential costs, plus how you can manage them and what is the impact of your data retention policies.

And finally, don't forget about...

10. Training and Support: You need to be able to train your employees on how to use the new CRM system and have access to support if they run into any issues. This is all about User Adoption, and having good clean and accurate data can help tremendously in getting your Users to embrace a system fast. Nothing is worse for a User than seeing poorly imported or aligned or missing data on their ‘shiny new CRM’.

Final Thoughts

Remember, you can never start too early in giving deep thought to the challenges you may face, and this list above may serve as a useful reference point. Too many times over the last twenty years, I’ve seen clients only start to embark on reviewing their data late in the process and not allowing sufficient time for diligent data cleansing and reviewing.

Don’t underestimate the time needed for dealing with these Data Import challenges. Really, you should begin reviewing as soon as you can, since oftentimes, issues can be spotted in the likely quality of data even in simple test exports into Excel. At the very least, these test exports can give you a flavour of the size of the task ahead and help you with your planning.

With proper planning and attention to detail, businesses can overcome these challenges and reap the benefits of having a well-maintained and well-adopted CRM system. As always, in my posts, I would recommend working with an experienced consultancy such as ours who are involved in these projects every day. Working with experienced practitioners can help save you stress and many wasted hours as these are not always simple projects and data migration is just one aspect of a CRM project that does need to be carefully managed.

30th March 2023