It’s all the rage today in marketing circles: mapping the customer journey. It’s the way we understand how our customers are moving toward a decision – either to buy from us or to buy from someone else. “Mapping” is probably the wrong word, since it suggests we have more control over the direction of these journeys than we actually do. “Tracking” the customer journey is perhaps more accurate.

But there is not a multi-million dollar industry built around “tracking.” There is one around “mapping.” There are numerous methodologies, many philosophies, and a tremendously large number of tactics being used to better understand the movement of buyers toward purchasing decisions based on their behaviors – and, specifically, the data generated by their behaviors.

All this mapping and tracking would be impossible if businesses weren’t able to detect it, and to do so automatically. After all, if an enormous amount (a third to 80 percent, depending on the research) of the customer journey takes place before a buyer contacts a seller, you need an automated way to detect this behavior. And so, data collected in an automated fashion makes up well more than half of the information used to track customers on their buying journeys.

But, at the same time that the customer is moving toward a decision, and as data is being collected about that movement, this data is on a journey of its own. Ideally, it’s moving between marketing, sales ops, lead scoring systems, and other parts of the organization that need it to improve sales performance. But in an era where SaaS has made it very easy to deploy software to address specific problems, organizations frequently employ disconnected solutions. The “data journey” can be interrupted, and while that may not discombobulate your collection of data on the customer journey, it can certainly make it hard to develop and capitalize on a complete understanding of that journey.

Here’s the most obvious example of this: In organizations with separate sales and marketing solutions, marketing develops and qualifies leads, then throws them over the proverbial wall to sales. Sales gets them but has very little context about how the leads were generated and the criteria that qualified them. At that point, the data journey for marketing goes dark – as sales works the leads, marketing may lose visibility into the readiness of the leads to buy, into how well the leads were qualified in sales’ eyes and why, and even whether they resulted in closed deals. It becomes very difficult for marketing to establish patterns or refine personas that lead to successful sales because the data journey has become opaque as a result of disconnected systems.

In our 2016 Sales and Marketing Sentiment Study, only 29.8 percent of sales and marketing pros said their companies shared data fully between sales and marketing. About half (53.3 percent) said there was some sharing of reports, while about 17 percent said data was effectively siloed between sales and marketing. Only about 28 percent of respondents said they were using a unified sales and marketing solution; about the same percentage had one or both departments still depending on manual processes or spreadsheets.

In situations where systems are disconnected, the exercise of mapping the flow of data can be tough. When manual processes are in play, it’s nearly impossible because, again, without an automated way of detecting prospect behaviors, the data on those behaviors is simply not detectable.

But when automation is in place, you have a chance to get it right. A key part of aligning sales and marketing is determining the journey that the data needs to take through the organization as it’s discovered or detected. If sales and marketing leadership can define the critical data points and envision the journey this data must take through the organization, they can then look for the spots where the journey has breaks and can fix them – or at least enlist help in fixing them.

One of the big selling points in cloud software has long been, “… and you can do it without involving the IT Department!” However, as you realize that insights to improving sales performance depend on the use of various data sets from different systems, IT can become very helpful. Mapping the practical routes data needs to take through your organization is a business task, and it’s up to IT to ensure that those routes are connected. Think of it this way: Sales and Marketing can decide the route the railroad takes, but IT knows how to build the bridges and lay the tracks. Don’t bypass them.

Ideally, your system should result in customer data snowballing in depth and detail as it moves through the organization, from sales to marketing and even into ERP and finance solutions when deals close (and, of course, into CRM). It isn’t enough to develop a “360-degree view” of the customer – if you want that view to be truly complete, you need to understand where the data’s coming from. Failing to do that leaves you with unrecognized blind spots that can keep you from achieving your organization’s true potential.