There’s been a lot of buzz about real-time data being one of the most valuable evolutions within the CRM software market and with good reason.
CRM’s were designed upon the premise that we could use data to drive decision making and strategy, and we have seen that bear out first with how it informed sales, and increasingly with how it can inform program and organizational direction.
My boss actually refers to our CRM as a “decision making support tool,” with the idea that any decision we make should be driven by our data, not just our gut.
I say “just,” because there will always be an important place for subjectivity and the vision of leaders that carry with them the experience of being in the field and on the personal front lines of a particular cause.
That said though, there’s nothing more elegant than when our egos can yield to include the objectivity of our data in the pursuit of realizing the most of our missions. After all, and we often forget this, data is just a way of aggregating and organizing a human response.
In this way, there is lifeblood in our analytics and having the right tools to use this powerful information to make decisions that optimize our systems will always be far from mechanistic.
What feels mechanistic to us, however, is how clunky our CRM technology has felt to use when pulling together these responses.
In the past CRM’s did not invite human interaction mainly because their very design was a bit sterile and machine-like.
As a result, they dampened the passion of users seeking to engage them as support tools to further very human pursuits.
As technology (from AI to apps) has become more user-friendly though, we are becoming more interactive than ever with our tools and design has come a long way.
We can still be left feeling disconnected and out of touch though as we gather a piece of information from one tool or other, but continue to lack a way to bring all of this information together in an integrated, real-time way, which is when information becomes it’s most valuable and gives us the most human insights.
So when we talk about real-time data, what do we mean? Let’s take an example.
Perhaps your organization has an app that tracks students who are suspended, the reasons for the suspension, and duration of absence.
No doubt knowing this information instantly is critical, but leveraging that information to make decisions depends on how integrated that app is within your larger technology landscape and that of other stakeholders.
For example, perhaps when this information is logged it sends out a notification to all teachers alerting them to the student’s change in status and asking them for follow up actions such as posting homework assignments for that student for the days missed in advance of the absence.
If your app is integrated with your CRM, you can have that incident information flow directly into your larger data pool to allow you to use reporting to track overall suspension rates week to week or year to year so you can track triggering event trends by types for example.
Perhaps you find there is an uptick in kids suspended for bullying, or perhaps more drug-related activity starts to become apparent.
This informs what interventions or changes the school might take to address suspensions overall in real-time, and if this report is automatically emailed quarterly to other community agencies it can serve to inform their perspective and potential responses.
So even in this simple example, leveraging real-time data can have both short-term and longer-term impacts within multiple areas of your organization’s sphere of influence.
We were recently working with a community foundation and had the chance to see another example of how real-time data was bringing valuable returns.
They were able not only to be on top of what their own data was telling them in real-time (thanks to their CRM and a few other well-integrated tools working together), but could compare data across their grant partners, constituents and staff, as well as across different areas of funding so that their whole community benefitted from relevant, timely reporting about what might be working or not working to achieve common goals and outcomes.
They were also able to share that data with funders as programs were being implemented allowing their stakeholders to feel connected and relevant to the work they are supporting.
This kind of active reporting encouraged continued involvement with the foundation and engaged their board members and committees in a similar way with up to date dashboards offering simple, but compelling visual presentations of current data.
Even something as a simple as a dashboard posted on your website that shows the up to the minute status of a campaign or event goal can be a significant motivator for action.
Executive teams, boards, and program directors are shifting from waiting until the budget season to look at last year’s numbers (both financial and programmatic) and coming to expect timely updates so they can make decisions and adjustments throughout the year.
Your CRM should accommodate this evolution by allowing you to set up simple automation triggers to pull and send reports or post updated dashboards on various areas of organizational activity.
For example, if it turns out a particular public health speaking engagement had low turnout for the first three times it was offered in Q1, and the feedback from event surveys suggest the need for more relevant content, or perhaps an alternative preference for program delivery medium (perhaps a webinar is easier for those with severe RA since getting to an event in person might be subject to how a participant is feeling on that particular day for example), these changes can be made as soon as the data reveals the necessary course correction.
Bottom line – if decision makers are automatically getting reports and results with real-time data, decisions can be made in a far more timely and informed fashion.
To achieve all of this, of course, you need the right tools, connected in the right ways.
Basic things like your CRM having easy to use automation and web forms that connect to your website and a survey tool that can pull data directly from or about an event or program and have it flow right into your CRM are some of the things you should consider when looking to incorporate real-time data.
Also, consider whether your financials are flowing into CRM so you can generate reports that can, for example, cross-reference program cost with program participation and send an automatic report to program directors and appropriate committee members or executive team members.
To make real-time data work for you, it has to function within an integrated experience where your CRM, website, financial software, and other mission-critical operational tools are all sharing their data.
And that experience should have flexible tools within it so you can you easily (meaning without an IT person) customize and add modules and fields to your CRM, or create a webform that captures information unique to your organization.
Of course, you should also be able to access all your tools on a mobile device so that your staff can input or pull data anywhere, anytime, and do things like engaging with someone on social as soon as a post, comment or like comes in to keep these conversations fresh, timely and authentic.
So it is good to ask whether your organization has the right technology landscape to support the valuable contributions of real-time data, and if not it’s a great guiding question to help you start to analyze what you might need or need to adjust within your technology infrastructure to make real-time data a reality.
It also means ensuring that this landscape is well-traveled among your staff, and investing the time and resources necessary to have all your staff trained on all your tools (not just having someone specialized in one or the other.)
With your tools and your people working in concert, you will start to feel how the harmony of engaged data starts to inform every decision your organization makes in support of your common vision.
So don’t let the opportunities of real-time data slip through your fingers – now is the time!