How bad data in your CRM may be exposing you to a competitive ambush

Shaun H. Ruff


B2B markets are more competitive and faster changing than ever before. Purely relying on gut instinct and experience doesn’t cut it anymore. 

To beat the competition, B2B sales and marketing leaders are capturing, analysing, and applying data about their buyers and markets to answer key questions:

  • Which companies are we really competing against in our sales opportunities?
  • What is our win rate against each of these competitors?
  • How is our competitors’ field presence changing? Which competitors are we facing more often in our deals? Which competitors are we facing less often?
  • Is our win rate against key competitors changing, as they evolve their product and GTM strategy? Have we won more or less often against them over the past year?
  • Where is our offering stronger than competing ones? Are we winning more deals because of those strengths? 
  • Where are we falling short of buyer expectations for our solution or in the sales experience?
  • How are buyer expectations for our products changing?

That’s a lot of data to capture and analyse. But without these insights, there’s an increased risk of attack by a stronger, savvier competitor.

The CRM’s accuracy and completeness issues

Reading the questions I asked above, you, reader, may have thought: “I can answer most of these with my CRM. No problem.”

After all, your sellers are emailing and meeting with your buyers about many of these data points every day. You may be using a conversation analysis tool like Gong or Chorus to automatically capture this data.

Unfortunately, your CRM is the ‘fall guy’ in this story. It’s not the CRM’s fault. It’s just that neither buyers or sellers are motivated to provide accurate data about opportunity competitors and win/loss reasons. Buyers can’t be expected to tell your sellers the whole truth in a high stakes sales context. And, even if they did, sellers aren’t incentivised to record it consistently or accurately. Quotas are paid for closing deals—not recording their details in the CRM.

I recently cross-checked the data in a Growth Velocity client’s CRM against data collected through buyer interviews. What did we find? When it came to correctly identifying the primary competitor for won deals, sales reps got it right only 25% of the time. Surprisingly, they did better on lost deals. Lost deals were correct 67% of the time, but that still leaves 33% of the time when the competitor fields in the CRM were incorrect. 

In my discussions with sales and marketing leaders, I’m finding this situation is more pervasive than one might think. Many B2B sales and marketing leaders are discovering that their CRMs do not provide accurate or complete data about which competitors they’re facing in the field, how often they’re winning against them, and why. 

Here are a few short quotes to illustrate the issues:

  • “We want to know what’s really going on in our deals. How and why we’re losing deals. The patterns. We need to understand the issues..and do something about it.”
  • “We have the sales guy’s response to why it was closed in our CRM but it’s not complete…”
  • “We have a lot of theories but want to know what’s really going on…”
  • “We’re unsure about our quarterly win-loss numbers. It’s directionally useful, but not exact because data is missing. Reps don’t enter it. So we don’t have good insight into competition, incumbent platform, key product features influencing decision, industry verticals, etc.” 

Start inward, look outward 

So, what’s the answer to overcoming bad CRM data and extracting competitive insights to move your business forward? 

Here are a few good places to start:

Call some recent buyers

With a few calls to recent buyers in won and lost deals you can cross-check the data in your CRM. This is an essential first step to quantify gaps in your CRM’s accuracy, completeness, or both.

Revisit your CRM’s configuration

Review your CRM configuration to make sure you’re getting basic competitive intelligence recorded while the deal is active, not afterwards.

If you’re using Salesforce, validation rules can be used to prevent saving an update to the sales opportunity until the rep has added key information about the deal such as:

  • Competitors in the deal.
  • Reason why the deal was won or lost (select values from a picklist).
  • Detailed reasons for a loss (free text).

This is also a good time to revisit the competitor and lost reason picklists in your CRM. Check that they are useful and reflect the current buying landscape. Use the buyer calls I suggested above to compare your picklists to buyer decision making in real life.

Get sellers on-board with a carrots and sticks approach

Cutting back on bad data in your CRM requires rep training and ongoing enforcement by sales management. 

You can make this easier with some internal marketing. Sell your sellers on the sales enablement, product roadmap, and go-to-market benefits of improved competitor and buyer data. 

As a side benefit, there’ll be fewer laggards for sales leadership to handle.

Supplement with external data

Your CRM should be a primary source of competitive intelligence, but it should not be your only source. 

Survey and interview buyers to supplement the CRM with input directly from the buyer. You can do this in-house or through a third party.

Win-loss surveys will tell you who you’re really competing against in your deals, and how often you’re winning against them. Because they’re so efficient, win-loss surveys are well suited to continuously gathering data from a large proportion of your deals. Use data collected over time to track trends. Use the larger sample to segment win-loss reasons by competitor, market segment, and industry vertical. 

Win-loss interviews will provide you with a deep dive into how and why your buyers are making their selection decisions. That is, the criteria they’re using and how they assess you and your competitors on those criteria.

Beat your competition with better data

Bad data in your CRM is leaving you vulnerable to attack by a stronger, savvier competitor.

B2B sales and marketing leaders are improving their CRM data quality and supplementing it with data sourced directly from their buyers. With these insights, they’re making better informed decisions about how to improve sales enablement, product roadmap, and GTM.

The continuous learning this data supports is how market leaders out-market, out-deliver, and out-sell their competitors.


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