Why my clients use custom spreadsheets over CRM software

I have been asked the question, “Why use your spreadsheets instead of CRM software?”. Now I can go on all day why I use Excel, but I am an Excel fanatic, so it would probably be a biased view. I also have contacts on LinkedIn who sell/create CRM systems, and I don’t want to start an argument. What I will do is give you some of the reasons that my clients have given me, when I asked them why they used my solutions over a standard CRM package.

1. It does exactly what I want

Most CRM packages are made with many people in mind, they are designed to do anything and everything. The idea is that you purchase the package, and then get it assembled as you need it. Either you or a rep will put together your required components, so that you have it set up the way you want it. The problem is that sometimes it is not flexible enough. Let me give you an example. I once had someone ask me for an option to print labels based on items which had arrived for a client. They needed labels with specific data printed, from the data from client of their choice. They also wanted to be able to use half used label sheets, so they wanted to tell it to start printing on label number 5. Now you may have this option on certain CRM systems, but they can’t prepare for ALL requests from the client, so many would not be able to handle this. I was able to create this very solution as part of their CRM system. One client once said that CRM packages are designed to be able to do 1000 tasks, and he needed it to do 11. The problem was that it only did 10 of the 11 things he wanted, and he was paying for a system where he wasn’t using 99% of the product. My solution did the 11 things he wanted, as he wanted, no more no less.

2. Usability and layout

This was a shock when I started doing this professionally. I like new technology and innovative ways of doing things, but many people out there don’t like change. I worked for a company who didn’t have a CRM system, so I created one using Excel, which I used for my clients (I was a sales rep). One day, they decided to buy a very expensive and fancy CRM system, and I was told to transfer all of my clients’ details to that. I duly did this, but kept my original system. The other reps couldn’t even get their clients onto the new system. They kept losing information, or creating duplicates. Eventually the sales manager told us to scrap it, and go back to what we were doing. Now don’t get me wrong, I thought it would work, and it would have been helpful to the company, but people didn’t know how to use it. It was different to what they were used to. It doesn’t matter how good it was, if they didn’t use it properly it was useless to them. Most people at least understand how to use a spreadsheet, even if they don’t know how to get it to do what they want. I do that. My clients just need to complete certain sections. The other advantage of me custom making the solution, is that I can lay the spreadsheet out how my client is expecting. I sit down with the owner/manager and find out their processes, and what system they are currently using. I try and lay the spreadsheet out in the same way that they currently do. If they have any system or forms, I try and keep my solutions with the same layout. If I can’t, I at least lay the spreadsheet out in a way that makes sense to them.

3. Custom reports

It is the same story with reports. The CRM packages will let you choose from various report options, but what if you want a report that is not on the list? What happens if you want it to track something specific, that the creator of the CRM package did not see as relevant? I am constantly being asked to create solutions that I have never even thought of, let alone seen a need for. People have unique businesses, and often they need entirely unique solutions, that have not been allowed for. This is what I can offer them. They know what they want, and if I can get Excel to do it, then we have a solution.

4. Data export

This one was surprising to me, but some people actually have their own spreadsheets, which they like to play around with in order to get insight into their businesses. One complaint was that the CRM packages would not export the data that they needed to a CSV. They wanted specific data to populate their own spreadsheets to make their own reports. I offered to create the report for the client, but he wanted to do it himself. I simply created a page on the spreadsheet, with the data that he required, in the order that he required it. A simple copy and paste (values) would give him the exact data he needed. One happy client.

5. Cost

Some people prefer a lower initial cost and a higher monthly cost, and others like a larger initial cost and no monthly cost. I am part of the second category, and that is what I offer. Sometimes my initial cost is actually not more expensive, but even if it is, I don’t charge monthly costs as most CRM suppliers do. This has been a huge advantage for many of my clients, as they have the budget for the solution now, but they don’t want to be tied into ongoing monthly costs. Also, I am flexible on what I create. This means that I can work to a budget if required, so I can offer the client various options, based on what they require and what they are prepared to spend.

There are some other advantages like the fact that using Excel spreadsheets, you can ‘save as’ and create client job cards in your own, custom made folders. This gives you control over how and where you store your data. I also create ‘dashboards’ where you can link vital data from each client, onto one sheet. This allows you to see an overview of all of your clients in one place. This is ideal when you are tracking deadlines. All the deadlines of all of your clients, in one place, colour coordinated based on urgency. I have clients who look at one sheet in the morning. They do the red tasks first as they are urgent, and then move onto the yellow ones. That is their work for the day. Again, all of this is customisable, and made how the client expects it. I can go on about this for a while, but I hope that you get the idea by now, so I’ll let you get back to your day.

Let me just say this again. I have nothing against CRM packages, but if they don’t work for you, I can offer you a different solution. If you have found the right CRM package that does what you need, then I wish you well. They sometimes have advantages that my spreadsheets don’t, so it is all down to what is best for you.

All the best,


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