Recent events have highlighted the potential risks of using static spreadsheets as a working database. But many businesses still view spreadsheets and databases as the same thing – it’s time to realise they’re not. So what’s the difference? 

Database vs spreadsheet

The basic content in a spreadsheet or a database is pretty similar, but where they vary is how that data is stored and used. Databases allow you to store information in the same way as a spreadsheet, except the interface is typically designed for user-friendly simplicity. Data is stored in fields and records, creating a type of electronic filing cabinet.

Although spreadsheets are most suitable for manipulating numbers and text, databases can easily incorporate other types of data, such as images and document attachments.

Spreadsheets work well for:

  • Data analysis
  • Calculations
  • Statistical comparisons 

Databases are best for:

  • Managing and searching data
  • Teams with multiple users
  • Data reporting


The origins

Excel was a revolutionary tool in its day, and its convenience still serves a purpose for teams needing to make quick calculations, note new ideas, or map out timelines.

When many businesses first start out, they begin with a simple customer list, usually an unstructured Excel or Google sheet with basic info like name, contact details and date of last interaction. It’s simple, but by no means a long-term solution.

However, most spreadsheets only really make sense to the person who created them, and with multiple teams needing access to the same document, there’s little or no control over who can make edits and track the changes made. As time passes, memories fade, employees move on and opportunities are lost.

A proper database provides a stable structure with the ability to control access permissions and user restrictions. One person can make a change that is visible to everybody instantly, increasing efficiency and data consistency. Business owners can be safe in the knowledge that their teams are working from the most up-to-date source of customer information, updated in real time. 


    Putting data to work

    Businesses working from spreadsheets can often miss a trick when it comes to utilising their active accounts. Current customers can be more profitable if their data is put to good use. If they’ve bought from you already, they’re more likely than a new customer to buy from you again. People buy from people – but only those who keep in touch and offer great value.

    Spreadsheets don’t live and breathe alongside your business – instead of simply storing your data you need to put it to work to get the best insights on your customers. The more you know about them and their buying behaviour, the better you can sell to them. Customers are individuals: the one-size-fits all approach no longer works, so if you’re not offering personalised or relevant experiences then you’re going to lose out to a business that will.


    Smarter systems

    Identifying the need for a database is the first step towards a more sophisticated business. The next level is to implement CRM software (Customer Relationship Management) to put that data to work.

    Understandably, many businesses are somewhat wary about such an investment; it’s a whole-of-business change, not just another project for the IT department.

    CRM acts as the beating heart of your business; making your customers the central focus of everything you do. It also plugs directly into your Accounts, Operations, Marketing and Customer Service departments – now what spreadsheet could do that?

    Is your business still running on Excel?

    A system like Microsoft Dynamics 365 gives you real visibility of your company’s interactions with customers and sales leads. Information is no longer siloed in departments or with individuals – it won’t walk out of the door when they leave.

    Learn how we can help move your data to a more functional system and start growing your business