Are Your Spreadsheets Leaking Money?

We all use them. They’re the default system for listing and tracking things. And no one (except, maybe for that one weird guy in finance) really likes them. I’m talking about spreadsheets.

Whether it’s Excel or Google Sheets or some other lesser-known variation on the theme, a lot of spreadsheets are created every year.

There are at least 1 billion users of Excel in the world, according to a study by Domo. If each of them creates just one spreadsheet, my rudimentary math skills tell me that’s a lot of spreadsheets.

Eighty-eight percent of those spreadsheets had errors, the same study also revealed. They’re not usually integrated, they’re often hard to search, and they present data in a manner only an accountant could love.

Even so, they’re insanely common as the systems of record for CRM data. Often, especially at the midmarket level, CRM vendors find their most formidable sales opponent is Excel.

At a major IBM event, I spoke to a sales leader from a US$360 million company who used a host of applications to run his business, but who had no CRM application.

That has got to end. If you’re still weighing whether to evolve to an application designed to help sales and marketing, consider the following four areas where spreadsheets frequently are used — and where they are holding back businesses and costing them money.

In Place of CRM

Spreadsheets are not CRM. CRM automatically associates activities; it aggregates data about customers from service, sales and marketing, and usually comes with a way to incorporate social media activity with the customer record to provide a complete and up-to-date picture of the customer’s interactions with the business.

Spreadsheets can’t do that, except with lots of human intervention. Also, we have a tendency to spread data around on spreadsheets, so you never can be sure if the main sheet has the same data on it as the ones sales reps or support personnel are using. Version control becomes a headache, and data can age out on one sheet without the owners of other sheets knowing about it.

CRM gives you a single repository of information for everyone who interacts or needs to understand the customer. The administrative overhead you’d need to manage spreadsheets is gone, as is the risk of duplication errors, and the right information is stored and shared because of the interfaces used to prompt users to input data.

To Organize Activities

Spreadsheets don’t come with an alerting function. Sales reps may include notes about the proper times to call prospects or follow up with upsell offers, but unless they look at those fields in their spreadsheets every day, they’re not going to work those activities into their schedules.

CRM allows sales reps to get reminders automatically — alerts that tell them what needs to be on their radar — and it does it proactively.

Excel is not going to ping you when a customer reaches a threshold on a lead-scoring system, or when it’s time for your every-other-week check-in with a valuable customer. If you use it to keep lists of activities, you’re going to miss things you should be doing, and you’ll end up costing your business money.

To Understand Territories

As sales managers divvy up territories, they need to understand those territories’ values, changes in those values, and the best way to cater to those territories with sales talent. The best way to do it is with a territory and quota application — and those applications need data to function.

That data could come from CRM, in which case it usually will integrate with the T&Q application, or it could come from a spreadsheet, which means some poor sap will be stuck with a manual data migration task. That sap also may end up blamed when the inevitable error takes place.

Clearly, CRM makes life much easier when you’re sharing data — with T&Q or with any other application, provided that you have your integrations locked down. Trying to manage territories on spreadsheets is an advanced version of an educated guess: You may have a little more data to work with than if you had simply sat down with a blank piece of paper — but not much more.

To Monitor Contracts

This is an area where spreadsheets are especially dangerous, and where the business environment is quickly making them obsolete. With the advent of the subscription economy, businesses are dealing with more numerous and more complex contracts all the time.

Managing them in a manual way, like using a spreadsheet, is guaranteed suicide: You’ll miss renewal dates and lose customers. Since retention is critical to profitability, using spreadsheets in this way could be a direct factor in a business’ failure.

There’s no reason to use spreadsheets for this task anymore. The optimal tool is contract lifecycle management, which is designed to alert the appropriate people automatically when contract terms are nearing an end, or when one or the other party needs to deliver on a stipulation of a contract.

The next best bet is CRM and the inclusion of dates and activities in the customer record, so sales reps and others can see important dates when they look at it.

Spreadsheets are not bad things; they’re just the wrong tools for a lot of the jobs they’re expected to do. Before you decide that it’s cheaper using spreadsheets in ways they aren’t designed for than to invest in new software, consider the money you’re losing by entrusting critical sales and marketing processes to them.

The money that leaks out of your spreadsheets is probably greater than the amount you’d spend investing in CRM.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz is content marketing manager for CallidusCloud and a speaker, writer and consultant on topics surrounding buyer-seller relationships. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years, focusing on CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.

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