Image Alt Text

How to transition your small business from spreadsheets to CRM

Post-it Notes. A spiral-bound address book. Excel. A mental Rolodex.

For many small business owners, these tools are the backbones of their operations. It’s how those business owners manage inventory, handle payroll, and keep track of customer data. The setup is familiar, easy to use, and inexpensive.

But every small business owner will reach a point when spreadsheets become an inefficient way to manage customer service, marketing, and sales. “Spreadsheets are a cheap and easy way to run your company in the early stages,” Piotr Poźniak notes for The Beaverhead. After those early stages, though, better data management becomes a pain point. “… when a business grows, there comes a natural point at which spreadsheets stop being enough.”

As a small business owner, you know the value of your customers. Customer relationship management (CRM) platforms are built with that value in mind. Adopting CRM is an important step in a small business’s growth from its early stages. There are many platforms out there, and it’s important to try them out (our partners at Salesforce offer their CRM made for small businesses free for two weeks) to see if it works for you.

Let’s explore the various ways spreadsheets could be holding you back, and how simple it is to upgrade your spreadsheets to CRM.

What is CRM?

Customer relationship management is something your small business already does. It’s knowing your customers, understanding their needs, delivering a product or service to match that need, and helping nurture that relationship over time.

A CRM platform helps you organize, access, understand, and take action on customer data. It’s software that gives you the ability to:

  • Manage and organize customer data in real time.
  • Manage sales and leads.
  • Target specific audiences and even automate that marketing.
  • Track marketing and sales KPIs.
  • Track and respond to support requests.

Where spreadsheets fall short

Like many small business owners, you probably collect a lot of information about your customers and your leads. This data can come from many sources: in-person conversations, sales processes, website visits. This information is among your most valuable assets. It’s what you act on to grow your business.

At a certain point in your company’s growth, spreadsheets become too cumbersome for handling and analyzing that data for four specific reasons:

#1: They are difficult and time consuming

What may have begun as a single customer database can quickly spread across several spreadsheets and tabs, saved or modified on different devices, or split among salespeople.

If your teams are working from collaborative files such as Google Sheets, this is just inconvenient. If they’re working from locally stored Excel files, however, then it’s nearly impossible to pull insights from across different spreadsheets.

The more your teams add to these disparate sheets, the more difficult it is to find any of the information you’re looking for.

  • How CRM can help: CRM makes it easy to add or look up customers, and to run custom reports without any manual formulas. You only see the data you want, when you want to. With a mobile CRM solution, it’s easy to access and update customer data in every sales, marketing, or customer service situation.

#2: Collaborating within them is complicated

Even in collaborative spreadsheets, it’s difficult for individual users to track changes or communicate with others regarding a specific data point.

Think about tracking your team’s follow-ups for each prospect: The spreadsheet has to account for who followed up, when, which attempt this was, and what happened during that interaction. And if one sales person needs to check in with another about a particular interaction, an in-doc comment can get lost. Two-dimensional spreadsheets simply aren’t designed to represent these kinds of interactions.

Still, teams do create these kinds of workflows for collaborative spreadsheets. And when they hire new team members, they have to train those people on their Byzantine processes. This ultimately takes valuable time away from your teams.

  • How CRM can help: CRM can be accessed concurrently by many users, giving each person real-time data on customers. No one has to check document version histories to see what’s been updated, and by whom. Having one central source for all customer data, accessible by all, makes it easier for teams to collectively respond to things like sales opportunities or customer questions.

#3: They don’t provide a real-time view of your business

Customer engagement is a real-time activity. People make purchases, engage with your social media profiles, and ask for help around the clock. If you do not have a way to keep track of what customers are doing or asking for in real time, it’s easy to overlook opportunities or drop the ball on support.

What’s more, that data can serve as an up-to-the-minute check-in on how your business is doing. You have to run macros or manually crunch data to get anything resembling that view in a spreadsheet.

  • How CRM can help: As entrepreneur Skip Prichard notes, successful businesses are “finding opportunities to distinguish themselves by envisioning, crafting and providing a superior customer experience.” To do so, you need to be able to learn about and respond to your customer in real time. CRM tracks marketing, sales, help desk, and project activities and tasks in real time so you can see the status of each customer account and the overall health of your sales cycles.

#4: They introduce security risks

Spreadsheets can introduce privacy and security concerns around the access to, sharing, and transmission of private customer data. Today, the protection of customer data is governed by strict regulations such as the CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) and GDPR (General Data Protection Requirement).

  • How CRM can help: By leveraging CRM to store your data and manage your outgoing communications, you are able to improve the privacy and security you offer your customers, which Shena Seneca Tharnish at Comcast Business notes could be a competitive advantage for small businesses.

Importing your spreadsheet data into CRM

Businesses that make the move from spreadsheets to CRM can easily import their existing customer data. In Salesforce, you can prepare your data in four steps:

  1. Create an export file. You can do this in your spreadsheet software.
  2. Clean up the file. Remove duplicates, delete unnecessary information, and check to make sure there are no errors.
  3. Align your data fields. Compare the data fields in the file you will import to the data fields in Salesforce. Make adjustments in your file as necessary. This way, each column of data will import to the place it needs to be.
  4. Customize Salesforce as needed. You might need to create new custom fields in Salesforce for the import to go smoothly. This way, each column of spreadsheet data will have a home in Salesforce.

There are a pair of tools that facilitate the import itself. The Data Import Wizard, available via the Setup menu, supports imports of fewer than 50,000 records. For larger imports, or when the Data Import Wizard does not support the objects you need to import, the Data Loader is the tool to use.

For more information, have a look at the Salesforce Trailhead unit on importing data.

Lay a foundation for your business’ next phase of growth

Small business owners invest in CRM platforms to simplify, automate, and grow their businesses.

Consider the case of Common , which helps its customers find co-living opportunities and private apartments in cities across the U.S. That’s a sales motion with many steps and many moving parts because ultimately Common is playing the role of match-maker.

In the early days, the sales team could handle those sales motions with manual processes. At scale, however, Common’s team found it was too time-consuming to manually follow up with every single person who had an inquiry about a property.

In 2018, Common adopted Salesforce to help automate some of that work. With CRM, its teams can program automated follow-ups and lead-nurturing messages. This gives reps the freedom to focus their personal energies on top-priority leads.

Then, when a lead becomes a customer, Common’s member experience team has a 360-degree view of that person and their needs. “The baton passes from the sales team to the member experience team, and they’re not starting from scratch,” Common Vice President of Operations Eric Rodriguez says. “They know who the member is and they can cater to that person’s experience because of Salesforce.”

Spreadsheets can be useful for tracking, monitoring, and analyzing data, but only up to a point. When businesses need their data to reveal deeper customer insights, or when they need multiple teams to collaborate with that data, that’s when they should begin thinking about moving beyond spreadsheets. CRM helps facilitate that next stage of growth so small business owners can take their businesses to the next level.

Related Articles

Mail icon
Get the latest to your inbox
No Thanks

Get the latest to your inbox

Relevant resources to help start, run, and grow your business.

By clicking “Submit,” you agree to permit Intuit to contact you regarding QuickBooks and have read and acknowledge our Privacy Statement.

Thanks for subscribing.

Fresh business resources are headed your way!

Looking for something else?


From big jobs to small tasks, we've got your business covered.

Firm of the Future

Topical articles and news from top pros and Intuit product experts.

QuickBooks Support

Get help with QuickBooks. Find articles, video tutorials, and more.