I’d like to take a moment of silence for those poor sales managers using a spreadsheet as a CRM. These are the square-pegs-in-round hole merchants, manually logging client details as they get them, being held back by the maximum cell limit, and missing valuable data because some bozo colleague hid that column by mistake.

Sure, we can afford them some leeway… given that they’re a small business; they’re just starting out. But eventually there comes a time where you have to start asking yourself questions.

Like, I woke up this morning asking myself whether I should shave. Is the 5 o’clock shadow thing alright, considering I’ve just started a new job? Can I even grow a 5 o’clock shadow… given that I’m Asian?

I ask myself because I care.

If you, sales manager, cared at all about your team... you'd ask yourself whether a spreadsheet is really a suitable replacement for CRM.

In this article, I’ll address this all-important question. I'll give my opinion on the first question if you stick around and the answer to the second one is... unlikely. So let’s dive into how exactly spreadsheet CRM systems can hinder your company’s sales performance.


A short story about duplicate data

I was once contacted by a salesperson from a used car dealership I had visited previously to look at some cars. At the showroom, we chatted for hours about everything from the weather to his aspirations of running for state senate.

Nice guy, he even called back when I got home “Clement? It’s Rudy, remember we talked the other day?”  I was definitely impressed until I got pulled away from the conversation by my other half. I had chores to do.

The next week, while doing my bi-monthly sock washing, I'd completely forgotten about buying a car... until I received another call...

Hey, this is [name redacted] Car Dealership.

Ah! It must be Rudy...” I thought to myself, “... Maybe he has a good deal for me?

Is this Cement?

Cement? As in Ordinary Portland Cement, used to make concrete?

I was shocked; devastated.

Safe to say, I never ended up buying a car from them.


What I’m trying to say is... by using a spreadsheet as your CRM tool, you’re taking a huge risk. Rudy had obviously, accidentally entered my name twice somewhere, once as “Clement’ and another as “Cement”. Otherwise, surely he’d have remembered our nice chat. By the way, who is even named Cement?

One of the most common problems with using spreadsheets as a CRM is that sales reps enter duplicate information. They may type the same name in twice or more - even slightly differently each time without noticing. From there, it all spirals out of control. Different sales managers  contact the same person twice, or mistake a customer for someone else; either way, you look like a clown.  

You’ll lose trust in the spreadsheet, and resort to manually checking every parameter of each customer’s data to make sure they’re unique. It’ll be a complete mess. And this is just one of the many possible scenarios!

I later heard Rudy never made it into the senate. Well, if he didn’t have the sense to use a CRM for his business…

You can’t cross-refer client details

You won’t be able to cross-refer deals, contacts or companies easily within the spreadsheets.

In CRM you can create related records for each of these things. In a company record for example, you’ll have all the people associated with a company, and people you’ve communicated with before. In a deal record, you’ll have all the people related to a particular deal. Everything you need is mapped out for you.

Let’s say you’ve been in correspondence with someone at a potential client, but one day her pet ant died (I’m sorry, I love dogs too much) and took a few days off to recover. You don’t know about what happened, but she’s stopped responding and you need to get a hold of someone at the company.

With a CRM you can simply go straight into the company’s records and look for other contacts you have within the company. Bam, problem solved!

... And you've got customer context

Customer context within CRM means all your client data is tied to their CRM record, accessible at the click of a button. Incoming emails, live chat conversations, LinkedIn data, web form submissions and the rest, gets automatically added to their record for full context. This is particularly useful for support teams to fix issues quickly, for sales teams to know their clients and have informed conversations, and for marketing to understand their audience better.

You’ll have no audit trail for changed data

With a spreadsheet CRM you’ll have no audit trails for changed data. “Last edit was 10 minutes ago by Clement” tells us who, but what was even updated? Perhaps Clement is a disgruntled worker and messed with something. Or he unknowingly wiped out some essential data while watching our YouTube videos. You’ll have a hard time finding out.

With a dedicated CRM platform, you won’t have such a problem. All changes can be tracked. This can even have the added benefit of keeping your salespeople on their toes and entering data more carefully, although we’d still advise that you regularly maintain the accuracy and relevancy of your data.

An audit trail in NetHunt CRM

In this screenshot, you can see how under the “Timeline” tab on the right of this client record there is a history of all changes made - “Last Name”, “Region’, “Activity”, and so on. We can also see who made the changes and when each change was made.

Inability to match leads to their email reactions

While using spreadsheets to organise and store customer data, you'd definitely be using a separate email marketing tool to communicate with your customers, send cold outreach campaigns in bulk, and send promo campaigns to potential customers.

With separate systems like that, it'll be impossible for you to match the reactions of your leads to the email campaigns you send, so as to help you plan out follow-up campaigns, move them down the funnel or otherwise decide on further sales approaches.

You'll need to manually check all of these reactions (whether your emails were opened, clicked on, or replied to) and make notes in your spreadsheets. Embarrassing! Like visiting a club with your mom!

If you use a CRM system that has a solid email marketing functionality, you will see those reactions smack dab in the heart of your CRM records.

Furthermore, you can use common answers or reactions to your email campaigns to segment your contacts, mass update their records with new information, and plan any future communications based on your leads’ behaviour.

Wait, what’s your sales team really up to?

You won’t have visibility into what your sales team is doing. Even if you and your team have set up a nice automated system for your email routines, how many emails were sent out to each customer or potential customer last week? You better start counting now if you’re using a spreadsheet.

Your sales reps have put their all into the sales pitches and given fantastic demos to prospective clients. But how many such demos were done? And to whom exactly? Was it money for nothing? Will we get our chicks for free too?

And of course, you won’t be able to track the win/ loss ratio of each of your sales reps with a spreadsheet. You’ll have a harder time determining who’s meeting their goals and who needs a gentle kick up the backside. Here’s what a team activity report looks like in NetHunt CRM:

Sales activity report in NetHunt CRM

Who wants inaccurate sales reports?

You won’t get reliable sales reporting or accurate sales forecasting. It’ll be nigh on impossible to segment data, for accurate forecasts, based on industries or locations you sell in. Your sales activity report will be all over the place.

Why? Think about it. Spreadsheets weren’t built to do this kind of thing. Maybe you’d be able to squeeze something out of them with practice, maybe you’d even become half-decent at it. I’m sure you could Google it right now and pour over the instructions. Even advanced ones. Yes, we’ve actually told you how to do it so you can experience it for yourself.

But why would you want to become competent at this?

You have a Gmail, Facebook Messenger and LinkedIn-integratable CRM platform waiting to do all this heavy lifting for you. Stay focused on the things that need you and your expertise - updating email content that better resonates with your audience, negotiating deal discounts, or building customer relations, the stuff that brings in value at the end of the day!

CRM reporting is great (fantastic, to be precise) because it's automatic and all-encompassing. You can keep all your business data in such a CRM and auto-generate reports from that data at the click of a button. Perfect for all you sales executives out there.

Let NetHunt CRM Manage your Data

Insecure customer database? Gulp!

Your spreadsheet database is insecure!

It can be copied or downloaded just like that, even if you limit document access to “View Only”. You don’t want to end up chasing the perpetrator all the way into Hong Kong, only for them to pop up 7,136 km away two days later. Trust me.

If Ed ends up at a competitor, he could technically bring your entire database with him!

If you have any private information in one of your folders, let’s say, regarding the value of a certain deal which entry-level sales reps shouldn’t be privy to, you may have to create a separate document for this just to keep it private. Overly-complicated!

It’s the same story with emails. If you have several people in your thread, it’s going to be difficult to keep money-related emails private. With a spreadsheet, you’ll have to create another thread just to discuss budgets, how inconvenient. With a CRM, you can simply exclude certain people from accessing sensitive emails by marking them as “Private”.

With a spreadsheet, you also won’t be able to provide detailed user permissions to your team. With a CRM, you can set specific roles such as “Admin”, “Manager”, “Billing-only”, “Read-only” and whatever you want, each with a tailor-made set of permissions out of a detailed checklist. It won’t be as rudimentary as “View”, “Comment” and “Edit”.

I want to track and automate!

Lastly, it’ll be difficult to track upcoming action items such as follow-ups or tasks that need to be done. How is a spreadsheet going to send you an alert to see your next client? It can, you say? Sure, but you’d need someone like the computer whiz sitting next to me to get the job done. And he’s already come up with something far better for you…

You’ll remember what you have to do next if you have just 20 clients (still may be pushing it). But if you have hundreds and thousands of clients?

With a CRM platform, you can automate your sales process, at scale.

A welcome email sequence in Workflows by NetHunt CRM

What you see above is a “welcome email” sequence. When a lead fills in a web form, they land right in your CRM platform. The workflow creates a new record (“In Contacts” here), then sends a pre-templated email at the same time. After waiting three days, it sends another pre-templated email inviting this contact to a sales conversation. The workflow is finished.

A Guide to Welcome Emails
Indeed, you need to consider lots of things when it comes to creating a perfect welcome email. But it’s one of those things that you master once, and then just harvest the fruits of your hard work.

I’m sorry I had to ask you so many questions. But surely they helped you justify your nagging doubts about continuing with spreadsheet CRMs? Maybe this last one did the trick?

OK, I’ll stop now.

Going back to my original question, I would go with the clean-shaven look myself. Although I’ll update my advice when I’ve rubbed enough whisky into my lower jaws and cheeks to grow a nice beard. Most likely a Jack Daniel’s, so it smells sweet as well.

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