Software Converts Data into Visual Maps

The theory goes that each side of the brain controls a distinct mode of thinking: holistic and synthesizing on the right and logical and sequential on the left. Many people believe that they lean to one side or the other in their approach to learning and doing.

Now help is on the way for right-brained thinkers who must make sense of CRM systems — software that creates visual maps from numerical information in a database.

Beyond Statistics

“People have different learning styles,” said John Fleming, senior strategic consultant and global practice leader for customer engagement at The Gallup Organization. “Some prefer text, others visual information. … Mapping software fulfills a critical need for visual presentation of complex data which allows some people to do a better job of interpreting it.”

Mapping software has been increasing in popularity for about 10 years, Fleming told CRM Buyer. SPSS, SAS and competing statistics packages offer some version of mapping software, he said, though it tends to focus on geographic links between parcels of information.

The “mind maps” coming to the fore now, “when paired with marketing data, CRM data or census data, can provide a powerful visual tool for seeing patterns that other media can’t provide,” Fleming said.

Digital White Board

Salesforce.com uses an add-in by Mindjet, a software developer in Larkspur, Calif., to graphically display the relationships among items in the Salesforce CRM solution. MindManager Accelerator not only draws links between different contacts entered into the CRM system, for example, but captures and stores informal relationships in a way Salesforce alone cannot.

“Salespeople like the way it brings customer info to life to bring value to their CRM” and save them time in figuring the appropriate approach to close a sale, Chris Holmes, vice president of business solutions at Mindjet, told CRM Buyer. He said salespeople can reduce their prep time by days. “We have one customer who reduced the time for account review meetings by 50 percent,” he said.

“You can easily see who needs to be seen prior to closing the deal,” he continued. “Sales are all about people. Knowing how people relate beyond the standard reporting structure is vital to closing a deal.”

Sales Management

“Mapping customer relationships visually has been something that Siebel, PeopleSoft, Oracle and others have done for some time,” said Erin Kinikin, a vice president with Forrester Research.

“Essentially, mapping the customer relationships solves the seven degrees of separation problem,” she added. “Who knows someone who can influence someone I’m trying to sell to? If you can figure out that Joe over in accounting, who likes your product, knows Gina in sales operations, you’ve found another door to influence the sale. It’s hard to see complex relationships without a graphical view.”

But mind mapping likely won’t appeal to everyone, she said: “The bottom line is that salespeople are going to live in their SFA system, not stop to visualize their data every five minutes.”

In fact, mind mapping may benefit sales management and marketing most, Kinikin told CRM Buyer. “Mindjet has the potential to create a visual view of whether sales is actually doing what the sales process asks them to do and to brainstorm new actions to restart a stalled sale,” she said. “You only save time and improve results if you actually follow the process.”

A Thousand Words?

“The majority of people are really helped by seeing a big picture perspective of information before delving into the details,” said added Mindjet’s Holmes. “Visualizing customer info speeds the understanding of account status and helps determine the path to closure.”

But Kinikin had a slightly different take. “Most sales people just aren’t navel gazers. They don’t spend a lot of time thinking about process improvement,” she said. “Mindjet can make a good sales process better but probably isn’t going to do much for a process-averse sales rep who just wants to play golf.”

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