Using Excel to run your business ?

Using Excel to run your business ?

One thing we see a lot of is companies using Excel to run their business.  This post is going to talk about the appropriate use of Microsoft Excel in business, which really I can summarise in two points:

What is Excel good at?
Financial calculations, and viewing CSV files.

What should you never, ever use Excel for?
Everything else.

We’ve seen companies using Excel to manage invoices, timesheets, list of leads, opportunities, quoting, billing, scheduling – you name it, we’ve seen it – and while the people doing this may be really smart, they’re using Excel when they should be using another tool – a database.  Once they’ve been shown another way, the response is always the same: This is so much easier!

Now this broad sort of analysis is likely to have some Excel experts in tears.  “But, but, youcan make Excel do lots of stuff if you know what you’re doing with it” – you can also use a kazoo to make music 🙂

Let’s talk about Excel and Databases

A lot of people manage lists of data in Excel; For example, all of the “January” sales are in a spreadsheet called “JanuarySales2008.xls”, and so on with “February2008″ and thru to the end of the year.

Invoices to a customer might be in a spreadsheet called “Invoices” and quotes or timesheets all in separate documents. By the time it’s February 2011, you’ve a lot of data in a lot of spreadsheets.

On the surface, this looks great. There are some limitations though;  the data is not stored flexibly,  so it’s hard to use it for the purpose other than which you initially intended – and only one user can update that spreadsheet at a time.

If you’re not quite sure what a database is, the simplest way to visualise it is a collection of Excel worksheets.  One contains customers. One contains invoices. One contains quotes – except all of them are cross-referenced (so you never type the customer details twice) and the other benefit is – a database is immediately and flexibly searchable.

That means you can ask your database  “Show me all of the invoices for January 2007” and you’ll see them.  Or, “show me all of the invoices issued by Tall Emu, between 2006 and 2011 that were created by Mike Nash” – and you will have them in a second.

If we compare back to our Excel solution above, consider when you need to do a report of the same nature.  How do you do it?    In Excel, you have 12 spreadsheets to review and work with.  In a database, you’d have one place to look and filter to get this information out.  There’s an immediacy of access to data, versus a lot of copy and paste.

How does this apply to CRM?

Any CRM is built on at least two parts.  The first is a database – this is just a big bucket of facts.  This customer has this postal address. This invoice was issued on 1st January 2011. This product currently costs $100.

The second part is the user interface; the program that you actually use to create, update and report on facts.   The more flexible and powerful the user interface, the easier it is to store, centralise and manage and your data.

The CRM system could be said to provide at it’s simplest level a pre-made database that allows you to store all of this information in a sensible way, to share it, to to work with, update, process and report on it.

To continue with the example above, if I wanted a report of “All of the invoices issued by Tall Emu, between 2006 and 2011 that were created by Mike Nash” – I’d search for this in CRM (a few clicks), and then right-click export it to Excel to work on the analysis of it.

Of course, TE CRM does much more than this – it interacts with marketing systems, accounting systems like MYOB interface and  Quickbooks interface are supported – but hopefully, this gives you an idea that there is a better way than Excel.