Using a spreadsheet CRM

Best Practices

Is a spreadsheet CRM is a good solution for your small business?

I was recently at a trade show for micro-businesses, start-ups, and small businesses. In short, it was great. The energy in the room was palpable. There were so many innovative ideas in the room and people with hustle going after them. 

I was there to work at a booth for Insightly CRM, so when people approached our booth, my first question would typically be, “where do you store all of your contacts for your business?” 

The responses were, well, interesting:

  • “In my head.”
  • “In my phone.”
  • “On a pad of paper in my car.”
  • “In a list on my computer.”

All of these methods are obviously concerning. With no back-ups in place, this information can easily be lost. While a loss of this data would not necessarily be a death sentence to your small business, it would, at a minimum, cause multiple delays. If it came at an inopportune time, like when you are delivering goods or services on a deadline, a financial hit could result.

Why risk it? There are several low cost and free ways to record and safeguard your company’s data, no matter the size of your business. The way businesses of all sizes manage customer data is called a customer relationship management system or CRM. Using a spreadsheet (like Google Sheets on Google Drive or Microsoft Excel with or without pivot tables), using financial software, or using a basic CRM system are all inexpensive options, with spreadsheet CRMs being the most popular. Let’s review the options for a CRM in this blog post.

Can spreadsheet software be a CRM?

Magnifying glass with a spreadsheet.

The short answer is yes, you can use a simple spreadsheet as a CRM tool to manage and organize customer information. While spreadsheets may not offer the same level of functionality and automation as dedicated CRM software, they can still be somewhat effective as a CRM for micro businesses, small businesses, or individuals who have a limited number of contacts and simple CRM requirements

Here are a few ways you can use a spreadsheet CRM with just a basic spreadsheet template:

  • Contact Management: A spreadsheet can be a simple contact list or a sheet for contacts. You can create columns for customer names, phone numbers, email addresses, physical addresses, and any other relevant contact details. This allows you to keep track of your customer information in a structured manner. If you have a sales team, you could also have a tab per sales rep to stay organized.
  • Communication History: Spreadsheets allow you to record and track communication with your customers, such as phone calls, emails, meetings, or any other interactions. You can include columns for dates, communication type, and notes about the conversation.
  • Sales Tracking: If you’re using the spreadsheet as a CRM for sales purposes, you can include columns to track deals, opportunities, or sales stages/pipeline stages in your sales cycle. This could involve recording information such as sales opportunities, sales amounts, deal status, expected closing dates, and any additional relevant sales data. This would be your sales pipeline template.
  • Task and Follow-up Management: Spreadsheets can be used to track tasks and follow-ups with your customers. You can create columns for due dates, task descriptions, assigned team members, and completion status. This helps ensure that you don’t miss any important actions or deadlines.
  • Segmentation and Filtering: Spreadsheets allow you to filter and sort data easily. You can use this functionality to segment your customer list based on different criteria, such as location, industry, or buying preferences. Filtering can help you target specific groups for marketing campaigns or personalized outreach.

While using spreadsheets as a CRM may be a more manual and less automated solution compared to dedicated CRM software, it can still provide a basic framework for managing customer information and interactions. However, as your business grows and your CRM needs become more complex, it may be beneficial to consider using specialized CRM software that offers advanced features and integrations to streamline your customer management processes.

Can Excel be a CRM?

Microsoft Excel is a spreadsheet program from Microsoft and a component of its Office 365 product group for business applications. Microsoft Excel enables users to format, organize and calculate data in a spreadsheet. It is available as an installed program and as a web-based program. Excel was one of the first spreadsheet applications available on the market and is easily the most popular. 

Since it is a spreadsheet program, the answer in the previous section applies. Yes, Excel can be used as a rudimentary spreadsheet CRM in that you can record information about contacts, communication history, track sales, set some tasks and check them off, and sort and group your data. 

Can Google Sheets be a CRM? 

Google Sheets is an online spreadsheet app that lets you create and format spreadsheets. Since it is exclusively web-based, it is especially effective when used for collaboration with other people. Google Sheets is also popular since it can be used for free. 

Since it is a spreadsheet program, the answer in the previous section applies. Yes, Google Sheets can be used as a basic spreadsheet CRM in that you can keep track of data in regards to your business contacts, record communication history, keep a list of sales, create tasks and track their completion, and sort and group the data you record. A Google Sheets CRM has limited functionality, but it can be effective. 

Spreadsheet CRM template

If you are looking for a CRM spreadsheet template in Excel or a CRM template for Google Sheets, the safest thing to do is to make one. It can be dangerous to download a CRM template because downloading files to your computer can be a security risk. Don’t look for an Excel CRM template download or a Google Sheets CRM template download…you don’t need one. Good news – it’s’ fairly easy to create it yourself. It’s heavily dependent on your business and your sales process and sales funnel, but here are some ideas for columns you may want to include. These are the best CRM template fields to start with:

  • Company name
  • Contact name
  • Today’s date
  • Lead/contact owner
  • Product(s)/Service(s) of interest
  • Status – you can make this a pull down with values such as: new, contacted, etc.
  • Stage – also a pull-down with values such as open, closed won, closed lost, etc.
  • Amount or dollar value
  • Company website
  • Physical address (optional, depending on your business)
  • Secondary contact
  • Contact’s email address
  • Contact’s phone number (mobile)
  • Contact’s phone number (office)
  • LinkedIn profile
  • Notes

Can QuickBooks be a CRM?

While I was talking to people at this trade show, some were already in a place where they were using accounting software. QuickBooks, the #1 most popular accounting software in the world, is a powerful tool and was the brand name I heard most often. Many of them said they were also using QuickBooks as their CRM in that it was the only platform that was in use in their business. While QuickBooks  is primarily designed as accounting software, it does offer some basic customer management features that can be used as a simple CRM solution for micro and small businesses. It can track current customers, but is not designed to track potential customers as they move through the marketing process. It will also not track communications with customers that are unrelated to invoicing/billing. Even though it may not provide the same level of functionality as dedicated CRM software, you can still utilize QuickBooks as a software solution for basic CRM tasks such as managing customer information, tracking interactions, and generating reports.

Here are some ways you can use QuickBooks as a CRM:

  • Customer Information: QuickBooks allows you to create customer profiles and store their contact details, including names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses. You can also track additional information like customer type, payment terms, and credit limits.
  • Sales Tracking: You can use QuickBooks to create estimates, invoices, and sales receipts for your customers. This allows you to track sales transactions, record payment history, and monitor outstanding balances.
  • Communication History: QuickBooks enables you to add notes and memos to customer profiles, providing a place to record important information or details about customer interactions. While it may not have advanced communication tracking features, you can manually add notes about phone calls, emails, or meetings with customers.
  • Reporting: QuickBooks offers various reporting options that can provide insights into your customer relationships. You can generate reports to view customer sales history, outstanding balances, and other financial metrics. These reports can help you analyze customer behavior and make informed business decisions.
  • Integration with Email and Contacts: QuickBooks integrates with email platforms such as Microsoft Outlook or Gmail, allowing you to synchronize your customer contacts and send emails directly from QuickBooks. This can help streamline communication and ensure that customer interactions are logged.

It’s important to note that while QuickBooks can serve as a basic CRM solution, it may lack certain advanced CRM features such as lead management, automation of repetitive tasks, management of sales goals, the ability to add additional fields, marketing automation, or complex sales pipelines. If your business requires more robust CRM functionality, you may need to consider integrating QuickBooks with a dedicated CRM software or exploring CRM solutions that are specifically designed for comprehensive customer management.

Why choose a CRM over spreadsheets?

A series of doors representing choices for a spreadsheet CRM.

A quick analogy: you can use a sink to wash your clothing, but when you get an actual washing machine, you’ll enjoy the benefits of using a tool that was built for the job at hand. 

This is the same idea when it comes to using a real CRM. While all of these spreadsheet CRMs and accounting applications can function as a CRM, they were not built for that purpose. 

How do you know if it’s time to leave those spreadsheet CRMs behind for a true CRM? Here are some indicators:

  1. You’re on the go. As your business grows and you get busier, you may notice that you want to access information on the go. Spreadsheets are great on a desktop or laptop, but they aren’t designed well for a mobile experience. CRMs typically have a companion mobile app for you to be able to see data on the go and make updates and additions easily with pull down menus and buttons made for the mobile experience. 
  2. Sales are growing. This is the best problem to have, but it is till a problem when you start to lose track of deals. B2B sales leads are gold. If you are having trouble keeping track of who is in which deal, when the deliverables are due, and what the dollar amounts are, you are ready for the convenience of an interface designed for sales leaders.
  3. You’re staffing up. When you get to the point where you are adding more than one sales person, spreadsheets start to get dicey. CRMs tell you who updated what and when, while spreadsheets may not have that type of information. If multiple people are working in a spreadsheet at once, it’s easy for errors to pop up. Plus, you may not want all salespeople to have access to all deals. With roles and permissions, your CRM handles this.
  4. You want to predict the future (or at least a couple of months.) Knowing what is closing this week, this month, and this quarter is the key to being able to sleep at night. When you want to start forecasting your revenue, a CRM is a great tool. With real time dashboards and reports, you’ll have insights into your business that you can’t get from just sorting columns. You’ll be able to focus on the key metrics that matter.
  5. Your sales pipeline is getting longer and more complex. Upsell, cross-sell, add-ons, and more. Your business processes are getting intense. Your prospects may need to involve more people in the buying decision. Whatever the reason, there may be more complexity in your pipeline and this makes it harder to track with just a spreadsheet. Deal status and deal stage can be helpful fields in a CRM – especially when you can create reports and dashboards about them. 
  6. Notes are vital. This one may seem simple, but it’s a big spreadsheet headache. If you want an easy way to enter notes, a CRM can accommodate it. With ample space for notes, your CRM becomes the single source of truth for your business and allows your reps to fully describe the customer’s situation. Noting simple things like a pet’s name, coffee order or social profile can help personalize the experience for your prospect. 
  7. Security becomes important. If you have a handful of customers who are your friends, you know they trust you. When you begin selling to larger and larger circles of people, you’ll have a ton more data. You’ll be asked about how you store and protect data at some point, so using a secure CRM is a great way to head that off. Look for a CRM that is SOC2 and HIPAA compliant right out of the box so you won’t need to back pedal when the time comes to show your documentation.
  8. You’re add more software. Communicating via Slack? Or MS Teams? Using QuickBooks? Signing contracts with Docusign? Your CRM can integrate with these applications, saving time and repetitive, error-prone tasks. 

So, perhaps it’s time to invest in a CRM. Well, that’s the best part about Insightly CRM. You don’t have to ‘invest’ in it…it’s free! Yes, the free CRM plan from Insightly allows you to have up to 2 users on the CRM with up to 2,500 records. This is not a trial…it’s free forever. 

Here are some things you get with the Insightly Free CRM plan:

  • 2 custom fields to set up fields that are unique to your business
  • 5 email templates to save time by formatting the emails you send most often
  • 10 mass emails per day to connect with your customers and/or prospects
  • Custom page layouts to set up pages that work for you
  • Up to 2 users
  • Up to 2500 contacts
  • Step-by-step in-platform guides to help you

Not sure if you need a CRM? You can consider running Insightly and your spreadsheets in tandem for a while and see which one performs better. 

To access the Insightly Free plan, start a free trial. The trial instance contains dummy data for you to play around with while you get acquainted with the platform. Delete that dummy data when you are ready to start populating your data. When your 14-day trial expires, you’ll be moved to a Free plan automatically. For a tour of the platform, try an on-demand demo. Welcome to Insightly CRM!