At a previous company, I hosted “voluntary” sales meetings / pizza parties at my house in the evenings. I bought pizza for the team and we sat around my dining room table prospecting.
We found prospects on LinkedIn, entered their data into a Google Sheet, and one employee built variations of their email address until we got a hit from the Rapportive API. (RIP Rapportive API.) Not the best pizza parties, but the data we sourced turned into sales conversations over the next few days.
In part because that process was so painful — yet so effective — we later started a software company to turn the spreadsheet-driven process into a product.
But that doesn’t mean that we’ve abandoned spreadsheets altogether at RevBoss. On the contrary, it has been a painful, ongoing process to eliminate spreadsheets from our process.
How It Starts
Spreadsheets creep into the sales development process for a variety of reasons:
- Sales and marketing teams don’t have technical resources. Unless you’re one of the lucky ones with an engineer focused on growth or the very rare sales / engineer combo, spreadsheets are simply a necessary evil.
- The source data that you use to feed your sales development process originates as a .csv…or at least needs to be a spreadsheet at some point in the process. You might have downloaded the data from a third party or have an intern building a spreadsheet or have exported the list from another system.
- Your manual clean-up process requires it. You need to make sure that all of the prospects meet your criteria, that all company names are clean (eg GloboCorp, not GloboCorp International, Inc.), and that you’ve scrubbed out all existing customers and oppys. If you’re really good, you probably want to make sure that all prospects have personalized content to merge into your CRM / email drip. Lots of people need to touch the work and a spreadsheet is the best way to get it done.
Your mileage may vary, but this is exactly how it happened for us at RevBoss. Before we knew it — and before we got serious about building software — we were swimming in spreadsheets.
How to Quantify the Cost
It was hard to admit that we had a problem…but we eventually did, particularly as we considered the costs:
- Much of the work we did disappeared into the ether — instead of storing everything in a central repository, our data lived in spreadsheet silos. As a result, I’m certain that we repeated numerous tasks that we otherwise would have only needed to complete once — e.g. corrected Coca-Cola International Global Worldwide to Coca-Cola way, way, way more times than we should have.
- Because we had data all over the place, we never knew where anything was — which mean lots of wasted time and energy finding data and re-finding data that we already had. I don’t even want to think about the number of unique times my team sourced a list of Fortune 5000 companies or CPG brands or domains that use Taleo.
- We wasted lots of time re-re-inventing the wheel. Case in point — someone on our team had built an automated scraper to source data from a certain domain. Someone else on our team wanted similar data from the same site…and built a completely new way to source the data. Part of this was poor internal communication, but the poor communication was a function of the effing spreadsheet disaster.
How We Fixed It
We addressed (and continue to address) the spreadsheet problem in a few ways.
First, we did a better job of running our process through our customers’ CRM. This was back in the old RevBoss consulting days, but it does point to the importance of running all of your sales prospecting data through a single database of record.
Next, we did a better job of organizing our data internally using Google Drive and Basecamp. We used Drive to create a storage system data sheets that we might need again down the road — for example a list of companies that use XYZ software. We used Basecamp to store the data for each customer / project / segment. We were still fighting the spreadsheet problem, but at least we were better organized and the left hand knew what the right hand was doing.
Lastly — and most importantly — we got serious about building a product to solve the sales development spreadsheet problem…and many, many other related problems! Case in point, we’ve already turned the following spreadsheet-driven processes into automated, consolidated process in RevBoss, our sales development software platform:
- Sources your prospects based on your search criteria.
- Cleans company names and validates capitalization.
- Ensures that you email one prospect per domain at a time.
- Augments prospects with personalized content — e.g. “I read your blog post about…”
- Suppresses existing customers, prospects from your sales outreach.
- Receives bounces and re-tries them automatically.
…all of which were spreadsheets that we managed internally at one point.
We still have more spreadsheets open at RevBoss than we should, but we’re light years beyond where we were. And we’ve got our sites set on destroying more sales development spreadsheets as we go!