CRM vs. Spreadsheets: The Benefits of Upgrading for General Contractors

CRM vs. Spreadsheets: The Benefits of Upgrading for General Contractors

Is it worth leveling up your customer relationship management process? Let's dive in

August 5, 2022

11 min read



Michael Sullivan

Senior Growth Marketer

As of 2022, business development in construction is considerably splintered. Ask sales team members at ten different general contractors what the first thing they do when they get a new prospect is and you’ll get ten different answers.

Those answers will generally range from a scale of 1-10 of future-looking and preservation-minded with 1 being doing absolutely nothing (“It’s all in my head”) to 10 being entering all relevant prospect data in one's CRM with detailed notes, assigned team members, and to-do’s with projected revenue figures attached.

Somewhere around the bottom third of the spectrum is the popular sweet spot of effort: throwing the prospect into a spreadsheet. It feels right because human-obtained information finally lives somewhere tangible. Whether that data is utilized properly from there is another part of the equation, but we’ll get there.

With more general contractors than ever adopting CRM solutions to secure their business development and sales efforts, we’ll examine the ever-popular (and much written-about) CRM vs. Spreadsheet debate—the pros and cons of both and when (or if) it’s worth migrating.

A Quick Overview of CRM in the Construction Industry

The construction industry’s technological evolution is increasingly fast-paced. Construction businesses have increased by 3.3% since last year, which means competition is more intense than it’s ever been. This is where CRMs can come into play as a strategic advantage verses your competition.

A customer relationship management system helps you collect and maintain customer data, project information, and marketing details all in one platform while automating many administrative tasks. This universality (sometimes referred to, for better or worse, as “single source of truth”) makes it much simpler for you and your entire to keep track of all your operations and easily retrieve and share reports.

In construction, everyone knows that the strength of the relationship between GC and client is crucial to extending repeat business, which is why the customer-juggling-at-scale capabilities of a CRM makes so much sense. A CRM helps you nurture and maintain crucial customer relationships by continually gathering and helping you learn from your client data, ultimately strengthening those relational bonds which equals increasing your ROI.

Tracking CRM adoption in the US construction industry reported in JBKnowledge’s ConTech reports each year, it’s easy to see that CRMs have skyrocketed, especially in the last 3-4 years. Like in every other industry, GCs can opt for either horizontal industry-agnostic solutions like Salesforce or Hubspot that require more customization at the beginning or more industry-specific solutions like Buildr or Cosential that are tailored for the construction workflow right out of the box.

5 Reasons Why CRM > Spreadsheets

The CRM industry is rapidly growing, and by 2027, it will be an industry worth $94.4 billion. So, if you’re still using spreadsheets to manage client communications and store customer data, you’re not only limiting your present and future quality of service provision, but you’re actively betting against a statistical certainty.

Read on for five reasons why you should consider switching to a CRM for your business development processes.

Increased Operational Efficiency

CRMs automate some of the tedious tasks such as the assignment of qualified leads, workflow reminders, and call scheduling. This automation makes it significantly easier for you to generate and track customer and team reports. For example, let’s assume that you currently track sales using spreadsheets. You’ll need to create several separate spreadsheets for the different campaigns and the various initiatives you have running. This is not only time-consuming and tedious but it also subtly silos your team.

One of our clients, a head of business development at a GC building $70 million annually, spoke of their pre-Buildr CRM life of using Excel with careful algorithms that required extremely specific inputs; even a missed space would throw everything out of whack. That situational "dumbness" of a spreadsheet—that strict adherence to a set of predetermined rules that crumble instantly at the slightest human error—was partially why upgrading their sales efforts to a CRM was a no-brainer (that, and Excel doesn't look too great on mobile when you're out in the field).

With a CRM, and ideally a construction CRM, you can track all the most critical business processes on one platform. For instance, you can manage sales projections, revenue forecasting and construction cash flow, and workforce planning all on one dashboard. Having all your operational eggs in one basket not only heightens your quality of administrative functions, but it reduces your chances for errors.

CRM: A Living, Breathing Rolodex of All Your Customers

As a general contractor, the relationships you nurture will either make or break your business. This, of course, is because repeat business is so inherently crucial, with 70-80% of a GC’s business usually coming from the second project or beyond with that same client. For Buildr’s GC clients, that number is closer to 85%-95% of repeat business.

With a CRM, you’ll be able to see a chronological history of your customer relationships with touchpoints as granularly logged as you deem necessary. This is where a spreadsheet’s massive blindspot at capturing historical data reveals itself; once a box is filled, it’s filled, and what led to that box being filled floats off into space. With a CRM, you can track every meeting, email, and call with leads and clients while never letting that floating happen. You no longer have to search for and navigate between multiple spreadsheets to view important customer data.

This capture-centric workflow gives you a clear, holistic view of your customer relationships, allowing you to plan for future scalable relational workflows and run effective marketing campaigns to both your current clients as well as your client-hopefuls.

Accountability & Empowered Team Members

Unlike spreadsheets, CRMs get your entire team engaged by allowing you to meaningfully share events, tasks, between whomever you wish with ease. If you’ve ever group-shared and collaborated on a business development spreadsheet before, you’ve probably gotten that unease that can only come from using a piece of tech meant to make your life easier and wondering if you’d all be better off with something completely manual. In spreadsheet collaboration, there’s too much anonymity, too much room for error/accidental deletion, not enough certainty in evenly spreading the responsibility. It’s like an ominous basketball team where everyone is faceless and numberless (apologies for this nightmarish image).

Spreadsheets are essentially useless when you’re trying to connect performance reviews or when you’re having 1-on-1 meetings within your teams. They’re simply unequipped to give you proper insights into task management. CRMs, on the other hand, allows you to track your team members’ project performance and progress. For example, you’re able to find out whether individual team members are calling leads, completing their follow-ups, and sending timely emails. CRMs also enable you to assign specific leads to particular teams, specific team members to specific tasks, and pull up activity reports.

If you're tired of spreadsheet hell

A construction-specific CRM might be just what the doctor ordered

Any solid CRM will allow you to set user permissions based on the level of collaborations you’d like your team to have. Additionally, your team members can be logged into the platform at the same time, assigning each other contacts and making edits simultaneously without issues. Depending on which CRM you adopt, you can have unlimited seats or a pay-per-seat model. Your CRM will track all your team members’ activities separately—alas, a basketball team with faces and numbers! This feature is especially important for a team putting work into the same client; they can check each other’s notes and schedule internal meetings on the calendar without putting the day on pause to checking each other’s availability via email or Slack.

Ease-of-Integration with Tools and Other Construction Processes

The beauty of CRMs is that they can integrate with countless other business tools you’re already using, thereby enhancing their functionality. The most common business tool, of course, being your preferred email client (Gmail, Outlook, and many others). This way, when you send emails to your prospects and clients, you send them through your official work email and it’s all being automatically tracked for you. It goes without saying that a spreadsheet is an inherently siloed piece of tech that is unequipped to communicate with other tools (besides other spreadsheets).

Obviously, email integration within a CRM is a prerequisite no matter the industry. Where CRM and the construction industry specifically come into play is when integration to alternative construction processes besides customer relationship management comes into play. Workforce planning and revenue forecasting are two major internal integrations that can be managed all within your CRM. Depending on what construction management system you use, you may also want to link it with your CRM. Buildr, for instance, is formatted to send and receive project data from Procore, one of the more popular construction management platforms, so that you can kick data to Procore once a project is in the “won” stage. Spreadsheets, well, have no comment.

Accessibility On-the-go

Spreadsheets tend to get bulky and difficult to traverse, and more-so as your client list grows. With spreadsheets, you’re tasked having to input data manually, sort through endless rows, command+f’ing your way to locating the tiny needle in the haystack you might need (and just imagine how difficult it is when you weren’t the one who initially input the data). Spreadsheets are not mobile-friendly, and you’ll have to wait to get back to the office to retrieve or input the information you need. By then, you’re relying on your memory, unless you’re diligent to use a separate note or app.

A CRM with a good mobile UI eliminates the feeling of being tied to your work computer and allows you to access your data on the go; your customer rolodex in your pocket at all times. Most importantly, any CRM worth its weight will be cloud-based, so it will automatically back up your data.

CRM vs Spreadsheets: The Final Verdict

The perceived effort in the data migration itself can be a major “let’s not change the way we do things” sticking point when choosing to go from spreadsheets to CRM. Knowing this, CRM solutions tend to include migration into their implementation. Remember: the sooner you migrate your data, the sooner your data can be infinitely useful to the future of your business.

There’s more to having a CRM than storing data in one place. Think of all the benefits to your business development system your team has to gain: seamless collaboration on multiple clients and projects with ease, email integration, Procore back-and-forth, workforce planning, revenue forecasting, along with assisting you to better solidify your customer relationships. Spreadsheets, on the other hand, are very restrictive, outdated, time-consuming, and tedious to maintain, becoming unwieldy with every new piece of information added. They also take a lot of time to navigate and review and are difficult to fully comprehend at a glance (that’s where your handy CRM dashboard comes into play).

With the construction industry rapidly evolving, it might be time you looked at investing in your company’s future along with the rest of the construction industry. A platform for customer relationship management can be so much more than a static digital rendering of a whiteboard. We’re here to help.

Buildr is a CRM built specifically for general contractors. It helps you master the project pipeline and turn your projects into long-lasting relationships. See a demo today to see for yourself if we’re a fit.

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