How to manage sales leads in spreadsheets

When you’re looking to prepare or organize mass amounts of data, calculate variables across dozens of rows and columns, build lists for cataloging information, or even importing data into a program for further processing or sharing, then, hands-down, spreadsheets are the uncontested go-to solution. However, when it comes to managing data that is a constant moving target, like a sales pipeline, for instance, nothing can do a better job than a good CRM. If you’ve ever used a CRM to manage your sales activity then you know exactly what I’m talking about. However, if for whatever reason you prefer to resist being better organized, having quick access to your data at any time, integrating data with popular sales tools like calendars, email, and mobile devices, then at least do yourself a favor and use sticky notes. A poor man’s KAN-BAN board is a lot more functional than keeping your sales pipeline current in a spreadsheet.

Other than the fact that people are resistant to change, there isn’t any single true reason why someone would prefer to manage their sales activity (or their team’s) in a spreadsheet instead of a CRM. What’s even worse is when companies choose to use spreadsheets to manage other areas of operations, where individuals are required to constantly update spreadsheets with up-to-date information. If that’s your company and you’re wondering why you’re having problems keeping up with operations, servicing customers better or having to key-in the same data in too many places, I would start by replacing your spreadsheet dependency with a technology that eliminates as many manual methods as possible. Otherwise, you’ll always be a slave to your processes. In order to be successful, you need to be in control of whatever you do.

If you’re still a non-believer in departing from spreadsheets to make your life easier (and business more profitable) then consider this: Name a company that downgraded its automated, centralized processes to more cumbersome, manual methods and achieved better results internally and for their customers. I never understood how people resist improving their process by implementing more efficient methods because they don’t have the time to, but they’re perfectly fine with wasting dozens of hours a week taking the long way because they think not investing in improving their process is the easier of both scenarios.

Spreadsheets will always have an important role in every business, but when it comes to managing constantly changing data, where accuracy is critical, then spreadsheets as a solution are a slow death to your processes and will undoubtedly cripple the growth of your company.

Following are a few obvious problems with using spreadsheets to manage your sales data, but these can also apply to other areas of your workflow where you may be depending on spreadsheets to be updated.

Spreadsheets Lie

Other than providing a listing of activity limited to presumably the most recent updates recorded, spreadsheets are one dimensional and offer little substance, and often produce more questions than answers. Most sales managers struggle to get the reports submitted on time, so as a compromise require the very basic information which often provides no value toward closing the deal. If you translated the process of submitting a spreadsheet to your sales manager into an actual conversation, it would essentially be, “what’cha got goin’ on?”. If the purpose of the spreadsheet is just that, to make sure your reps have a pipeline, then chances are that the information in the spreadsheet being submitted isn’t entirely accurate or in some cases even truthful, especially as opportunities appear and disappear as more updates are submitted. This is common among under-performing reps, and the lack of real-time visibility into their daily sales activity can be an expensive cost to your company.

Spreadsheets are Disconnected from Everything

The benefit of having a CRM is the accessibility and real-time connectivity into potentially everything you depend on in your workflow. Depending on your CRM, your access to account history and to many critical types of data could prove useful in the sales process, including notes from other users, customer service records, purchase history and so on. At the very least, your CRM should integrate with your calendars and email service so you can easily create follow-up activities and tie email conversations to sales activities.

Spreadsheets Make Reporting Impossible

Imagine you’re a Sales Manager keeping track of 4 sales reps over a 12-month period. Each submits a pipeline report to you every Friday. That equals over 200 spreadsheets a year to work through. Because many of them may contain the same data, good luck trying to extract any relevant data that you could use to better serve you in the sales process, such as market segments or lead sources that provide the greatest degree of success or percentage of deals closed per period. Applying hours of manual processes to clean data for reporting is time wasted, especially when a CRM can do it for you in seconds.

Collaboration Keeps Data Current

Spreadsheet data is generally compiled and updated by a single person. While that might sound fine to some, that type of activity excludes contributing input from others in the company who may have interactions with the same account, which could possibly have an influence on closing a deal. Mid-market CRMs typically provide an excellent platform that keeps everyone in-sync with their accounts. The more people connected to an account, the richer the data, providing you with better opportunities at keeping accounts and deal-related information current.

CRM Users Keep Data Clean and Relevant

CRM users are more likely to enter updates sooner if not immediately because they are dependent on the data within their own workflow; for example setting follow-ups, creating calendar reminders, and adding new contacts and prospects to drip campaigns during the sales process. Spreadsheets are updated when time permits and therefore, as more time passes, critical details are missed. Because the spreadsheet serves little value in the sales process, updating it is rarely a priority and seen more like an inconvenience.

CRM’s Offer Real-time Advantages

It’s hard to argue that there aren’t any advantages to reviewing real-time data, especially if you’re in an industry that has shorter sales cycles. Real-time advantages aren’t just for sales managers to project and forecast revenue, as sales reps will also have access to their customers’ current activity within the sale and buying history. This is particularly advantageous if your CRM is connected to or part of your order system or ERP.

Sales reps who use a CRM are contributing to real-time data that benefits them as well as their company. Submitting a spreadsheet weekly is a huge disadvantage when it comes to getting any valuable insights that can help drive critical decisions.

Spreadsheet Data is Immediately Obsolete

As soon as a sales rep submits their pipeline activity to their sales manager the data is already obsolete. Where’s the new and updated data that was created between report submission and right now? Any updates to the activity will (hopefully) be reported in the next report.

Spreadsheets Blur History

To complicate matters further, if you think reviewing multiple spreadsheets is a challenge, try comparing current pipeline reports for the same rep to their past reports, plus keeping track of the changes and important updates.

 

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