Logos for Excel, Notion, and Google Sheets, representing a spreadsheet CRM.
How To Use a Spreadsheet as a CRM Platform
Logos for Excel, Notion, and Google Sheets, representing a spreadsheet CRM.

How To Use a Spreadsheet as a CRM Platform

Scrawling phone numbers on napkins and tying ribbons around your finger might work when you only have a few clients, but it’s not really scalable. And because the Rolodex went the way of the dodo, you might not have a solid way to track all your customers — current or potential — or the conversations you’ve had with them. That’s when CRM tools comes in handy and, shockingly, you don’t need anything more than a spreadsheet tool to have your own custom CRM platform. No expensive software necessary.

But hold on, what’s a CRM platform anyway? And why should you turn a spreadsheet into one of all things? Let’s find out.

What is a CRM Platform?

CRM stands for “customer relationship management,” and it’s used to refer to technology that manages your interactions with customers. Software platforms like HubSpot, Salesforce, and Pipedrive are commonly used by businesses to automate processes that once relied on the good old Rolodex and a landline. They hold a customer’s contact information, track every interaction your team has had with them, and can even crunch that data into something useful, like a deal pipeline that can motivate your sales team.

But just because this software exists doesn’t mean you absolutely need it to benefit from smoother sales and customer support processes. In fact, you can get a similar result with just a spreadsheet.

Why use a spreadsheet for CRM?

CRM software can get really pricey. HubSpot’s Sales Hub starts at $45 a month for two users, while Salesforce starts at $25 per user. Depending on the size of your business, that bill can grow pretty quickly. Not only that, but this kind of software can have a bit of a learning curve, meaning it can take some time before you even see its benefits.

That’s where the spreadsheet has the advantage.

Everyone in your organization has at least a basic understanding of how spreadsheets work. They might not be able to crunch formulas or create beautiful data visualizations, but they can find their way around. And if you have something already built for them, they’ll be able to catch on pretty quickly.

Even better, the two most popular spreadsheet tools — Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets — have free online versions, meaning you can get started without the hefty price tag of dedicated software. Usually, you only have to pay for storage, which is a cost that’s shared with other tools, like Google Docs or Microsoft Powerpoint.

How to use a spreadsheet as a CRM platform

Convinced? Time to get started. Whether you pick old-school spreadsheet tools like Excel and Google Sheets or you want something a bit fancier — like Notion and Airtable — the overall process will be essentially the same.

Step 1: identify your needs

How many customers do you currently have? How many leads are you dealing with monthly? Do you have external vendors you need to collaborate with frequently? What about any compliance or legal requirements in your industry?

Having the answer to these questions on hand will help guide you through the rest of this process. For example, if you work at a massive corporation that works within strict government regulations, you might not even be able to use a spreadsheet tool like Google Sheets as a CRM platform, and might be better served with industry-specific tools.

Figure out what you need from your CRM tool, and then you’re ready to proceed.

Step 2: pick the right tool

There are a lot of spreadsheet tools out there now. The easiest way to pick one is to go with something your team is already using, since that’ll make it easier to get them onboard. But if you’re starting from scratch, here are a few options you can choose from:

  • Airtable: It’s a databasing tool, an app-builder, and a project management platform all in one package. That can make it a natural choice for building a custom CRM tool.
  • Google Sheets: Currently the top player in the spreadsheet game, you probably already have access to it if your organization uses Google Workspace.
  • Notion: This tool’s goal of replacing the rest of your tool stack could make it an appealing option. It’s databasing features are strong enough to build all sorts of spreadsheets, including a custom CRM.
  • Microsoft Excel: The original spreadsheet tool is still around for a reason. If you’re already using Microsoft Office, this is a natural choice.

No matter which tool you pick, try to choose something with some staying power. Test the tool out with your team first, make sure they like using it, and check that it fits with your overall tech stack. The last thing you want is to spend time building a CRM tool you’ll have to ditch later.

Step 3: find a template

One of the best parts of using a spreadsheet as a CRM platform is that you don’t have to start from scratch. There are huge communities out there dedicated to building templates, plug-ins, and extensions for these tools. You’ll often find completely new ways of using your tools, and they’ll be pre-built for you.

So when you want to use a spreadsheet as a CRM platform, do a bit of research to find a template that works for you. Here’s a good place to start:

  • Airtable: You’ll find a ton of templates for Airtable here for a variety of use cases, including CRM.
  • Google Sheets: While Google Sheets doesn’t have a built-in template library, you can still find some great examples of CRM templates on the web, like this one built by Unito.
  • Notion: The team at Notion has a pretty extensive template gallery for just about any use case. There, you’ll find this CRM template Unito built for Notion.
  • Microsoft Excel: While Microsoft does have a template gallery as well, it can be a bit tough to navigate. A Google search can help you find some strong options here, including this one we’ve created for Unito users.

The template you choose should make your life easier, not harder. If it’s taking too long to set up, throw it out and start with a different one. You also shouldn’t pay for one right away; try a free option first.

Step 4: customize the template to your needs

These templates are often meant to be one-size-fits-all, but that doesn’t mean they’ll work for you. Before you start putting your data into any of these templates, have a look around. Does it look like it’ll do the job? Are there important fields you might be missing or data points that could help you get more out of your CRM? Compare the template you chose to others, and see if there are some things another template does better. You could find a way to combine the two, building something more suited to your needs.

You shouldn’t take too much time doing this. Find any glaring flaws in the template, fix them if you can, then move on to the next step of making your spreadsheet into a CRM.

Step 5: add your contacts

You’ve picked your tool and your template. Now it’s time to use it. How do you start?

Well, this is the tough part. You know all those contacts that are spread out throughout all your tools right now? You have to centralize them in your spreadsheet.

A lot of the time, that means a lot of manual work on your plate. Sometimes, you’ll be lucky enough to find tools that have built-in integrations, which will allow you to export some of your contacts and add them to your sheet.

But what do you do when that’s not possible? Besides copying and pasting hundreds of contacts?

Populate a spreadsheet as a CRM platform with Unito

Unito is a no-code workflow management solution with the deepest two-way integrations for some of the most popular tools on the market, including spreadsheet tools like Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel, as well as contact management platforms such as Google Contacts or Outlook. With a Unito flow, you can automatically export your contacts to your spreadsheet CRM and automatically keep everything updated in all your tools.

If you need help, you can start with this guide to connect Trello and Google Sheets with Unito or this generic guide to building your first Unito flow.

With a single flow, you can avoid hours of mind-numbing data entry. Here’s how.

  1. First, connect your spreadsheet and contact management tools to Unito.

  2. Want to sync all your contacts or just a limited selection? Use rules to filter out contacts you don’t want in your spreadsheet.

  3. Next, map the fields between each tool, so your contacts’ information lands in the right place.

And that’s it! Now just launch your flow and watch as contacts automatically get synced over to your spreadsheet.

Ready to try this for yourself?

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