No offense to Microsoft, but if you’re still keeping your business mailing and prospect list in Excel, you are certainly in a special place called “Excel Hell.” This is a horrible place filled with lists and worksheets and workbooks and mysterious missing or misaligned columns that will slowly drive you insane. Worst case scenario, your precious customer database could be irretrievably lost. What you need is a CRM (customer relationship management) system.

Excel horror stories fill the internet. Everyone has had the experience of mis-sorting columns so the mailing list is a nightmare to recreate. In fear of data loss, you save eight versions of the list in various folders and struggled to find the most recent. Worse yet, if your data is not saved on the cloud and your computer fails, you probably won’t be sending out Christmas cards this year.

The stories go on and on. Don’t feel bad, even the 2012 Olympics oversold 10,000 tickets to a swimming event due to a spreadsheet error. It can happen to anyone and it can ruin your business. Just Google “spreadsheet horror stories” if you aren’t convinced.

What’s CRM? It is a Customer Relationship Management system or tool that helps you with contact management. Widely used in sales, CRM systems (especially those stored on the cloud) are ways to keep track of customer demographics, conversations with clients/potential clients and maintain profiles with notes. Such systems are now more accessible and affordable for all types of businesses. Technology experts are suggesting that CRM systems are going to be one of the primary places that businesses will put most of their technology investments in the next five years.

What can CRM do for you? Like many of your on-site platforms (website, etc.) your CRM can have a dashboard that allows you to see all your customer data and link your email communication and social media profiles to the account. It could even pull in data from other public sources. In addition, a cloud-based system allows you to work from any computer or phone from any location. Organized well, it can connect to other professional applications, so you can sign documents, gather photos, send bills and track projects, all in one place.

So, how do you find a CRM system that is best for you? First, find out what your industry colleagues are using. Choosing something that is designed for your industry and widely used by those in your field is a good place to start. Check with your professional association or do a quick internet search. 

Why wait? You may feel that there isn’t time to research, implement and learn a new database system. Don’t let this mindset hold you back. Waiting will cost you and while your competitors are forging ahead with a lightning-fast system, you may be left behind sorting through note cards, searching Excel and hanging out in Myspace.


Mary Louise VanNatta, APR, CAE is the CEO of VanNatta Public Relations a PR, Event Planning and Strategic Communications firm located in Salem, Oregon., @PRSalem.

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