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Show Don’t Tell: Making the Shift From Spreadsheets to a CRM Solution

Highland takes the initiative to show clients the various possibilities in a modern CRM platform like Creatio.

Desktop, tablet, laptop, + mobile views of Creatio's CRM business process management. Creatio is a global software company.

Examples of Creatio’s Business Process Management.

Did you ever have a teacher direct you to “show don’t tell” in your writingMaybe you’ve heard the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” or “paint a picture for your audience”? These sayings point to the fact that humans are visual thinkers. At Highland, we’ve taken this directive one step further with our CRM implementations.

Users who are new to CRM implementation are typically accustomed to thinking in rows and columns, but now they’ve licensed a platform that represents their data in three or even four dimensions — including time! How can you lead a new client through the thought process to take their spreadsheet-based Pipeline management into a cloud platform?


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We’ve heard these stories: Sales managers collect spreadsheets from their team on a monthly basis, spend hours copying and pasting into a master sheet, set up pivot tables to compare monthly actuals with forecast targets. It’s time-consuming, error-prone, and fragmented.

With a cloud-based CRM Solution like Creatio, organizations can centralize and streamline this process.

Instead of waiting to review progress to forecast once per month, Sales Managers can check progress weekly or even daily.

If you’re the professional services firm assisting with the CRM implementation, how can you guide your client through this evolution?


Image of an example CRM workflow for a custom fabrication client | Provided by Elizabeth Mankowski

An example of a CRM workflow we developed in advance of a kick-off meeting for a custom fabrication client | Provided by Elizabeth Mankowski

1. Use pictures.

At Highland, we usually conduct our project kick-off and Discovery sessions in person. In a conference room with our clients, we’ve used whiteboards, paper flip-charts, and even the back of a napkin to illustrate concepts, workflows, and data relationships. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve been conducting these meetings via Zoom video conferencing. In advance, we prepare process flows based on industry norms or details from our sales cycle, using tools such as LucidChart and Whimsical. We use these visual representations during Discovery to drive conversations and uncover the nuanced requirements of our client.


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Flow diagram on a whiteboard (Photo: Elizabeth Mankowski)

Flow diagram on a whiteboard | Image by Elizabeth Mankowski

2. Create a straw dog and evoke reactions.

We don’t expect our process flow to be 100% correct on the first pass. Instead, we want to drive reactions and discussions. Eliciting engagement from the client is a necessary component of a successful Discovery session. This can be more challenging on a video call than it is in person. When you’re in the same room, you might notice someone scrolling—on Zoom people might turn off their camera and disengage, and you wouldn’t know it. Sometimes intentionally skewing a concept is the best way to grab the client’s attention and get them talking about their “right way.” Taking a SWAG, asking questions, and listening to the answers is one way we live out Highland’s core value of Curiosity.

An Opportunity Workflow with columns labeled Qualification, Presentation, Proposal, Contracting, Closed Won OR Closed Lost

Opportunity Workflow | Graphic by Elizabeth Mankowski

3. Iterate.

We’ve taken a new approach with our latest Creatio client: Proof of concept (also known as Prototyping, which UXDworld.com claims is worth 1,000 meetings). We’ve built out several key Sections, shown them to the client, taken feedback, and revised them. Next week, we’ll show these revisions, with the addition of the client’s own sample data, plus two more Sections we’ll demo for the first time. In this iterative fashion, we are spiraling in on the exact configuration that will drive ease of use and efficiency for the client.

Numbered line from 1–4 ending with a star with various loops and bubbles between the two end points showing change over time

Graphic by Elizabeth Mankowski

4. Be agile.

Sure, iteration is part of an agile development approach. But so is flexibility. Working with a client who has been used to spreadsheets often means they aren’t sure yet what’s even possible in the Creatio platform. The more we show them, the more ideas occur to them. They begin to expand their thinking and desire for capabilities. This collaboration leads us in new directions. Because we re-visit our joint priorities often, we can pivot to tackle that new important idea that just came up.

Surreal illustration of a desktop, with three miniature people lifting a graphic off of the screen using a pulley and hook.

Always be ready to pivot | Graphic by @Highland


A glass and neon display of the outline of a person, repeated with a brain between the outlines. Reads

Photo by Bret Kavanaugh on Unsplash

Remember: humans are visual thinkers.

So the next time you’re working with a client who’s been buried in the rows and columns of spreadsheets for years, show them what a modern, low-code CRM like Creatio can do!

Use visual workflows, proof of concept, and any other images you can create, to trigger their imaginations.

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