The 9 Worst Alternatives to Buying CRM Software

by Thaddeus Gerber | 10 MIN READ
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Fact: Buying a CRM tool can be a really stressful experience.

If you’re the individual tasked with researching/buying a CRM tool for your business, you may be feeling a bit put upon. However, you shouldn’t feel too badly—you’re far from the first hapless employee to be sent alone into the CRM/SaaS wilderness.

As long as there have been customers, there have been reps trying to find a better way to corral them. CRM software is just the latest attempt in a long line of attempts to manage wily client and sales activities (boosting sales enablement).

Looking back at some of the less-than-ideal attempts, you’ll see that buying CRM software is indeed more productive and less dangerous (and also a key step in aligning marketing and sales).

The items below represent the absolute worst alternatives to purchasing a decent CRM solution. They come highly recommended by inefficient sales and leadership teams the world over.


The very first form of CRM, and still in wide use today. Many businesses still rely on Nothing™, treating each customer interaction like it’s the first. While it doesn’t do much for relationship-building, you do get to meet a lot of new people—again, and again, and…

  • Pros: Nothing™ is portable, affordable, and can be quickly deployed across an entire enterprise. In fact, most of your reps probably already have Nothing™ in their toolbox!
  • Cons: It’s hard to get your big clients to take you seriously when you keep calling them by the wrong name.


Similar to Nothing™, memorization at least includes an attempt to remember relevant customer information. Prerequisites being brain cells and perhaps a cup of coffee.

  • Pros: Lightweight and affordable, memorization is perfect for reps on the go—if they remember where they’re going.
  • Cons: What were we talking about?

Stone Slabs

Brought to us by the maker of rocks and trees, Stone Slab was an early attempt to collect and store data.

  • Pros: Early adopters could literally pick Stone Slabs up for nothing—off the ground. In a pinch, Stone Slabs could also be used to ward off hungry wildlife and competing reps.
  • Cons: Given their weight, even the hardiest rep could only carry data for about three customers at a time. Prior to the iron age, they were also very difficult to edit.

Sticky Notes/Scrap Paper

For the sales rep who fancies a bit of collage-making, sticky notes and scrap paper are simply a dream come true.

  • Pros: Cheap and convenient, sticky notes and scrap paper can be found lying around everywhere. They are easy to use and biodegradable.
  • Cons: Each note holds about a third of the information a rep actually needs—leading to the creation of complex note collages. One stiff breeze or overzealous custodian can destroy decades of record-keeping in mere moments.


A spreadsheet application brought to us by the same company that created the Zune and Windows ME.

  • Pros: Excel works great as a spreadsheet application. Collecting numerical data and performing complex calculations has never been easier! Reps can spend their down time learning to program their own macros!
  • Cons: Reps don’t need to be able to calculate the curve of space—they need to be able to accurately store, and quickly retrieve, customer data. Excel doesn’t excel at those things.

MS Word

A word-processing application brought to us by the makers of Windows Vista and the Surface tablet.

  • Pros: It’s just like a typewriter, except it never runs out of paper and often thinks it knows better than you.
  • Cons: Gives reps the choice of creating a separate document for each client, or creating one giant document with all clients. It’s not great at margins.


Email applications have forever changed the face of business. Reps can instantly share mission-critical information along with pictures of their cats and the occasional inappropriate joke. Oh, and they can kind of store some relevant customer data in their “contacts” file.

  • Pros: Easy to use and affordable, email applications are everywhere. Sales reps can personalize their email addresses to better project professionalism, i.e., “” and “”
  • Cons: Almost all email applications have a “reply all” button—use at your own risk.

Faux CRM

These applications are available from a variety of sources—reputable and otherwise. They sort of, kind of have some of the CRM functions, with some email functions, and maybe some scheduling functions. Actually, they’re pretty much a mishmash of whatever the programmer was thinking about that day.

  • Pros: They’re often free and readily available.
  • Cons: They work just like stuff that you don’t pay for usually works.

Homebrew CRM

Brought to you by your former roommate/cousin/brother in law—whoever you know that can do a little programming on the cheap. Also frequently produced by an out-of-work friend who needs a little extra cash.

  • Pros: Affordable, and completely customized to your exacting specifications.
  • Cons: It’s customized to your exact specifications by somebody who knows a little bit about programming and next to nothing about CRM.

Getting Serious About Buying CRM Software...

All joking aside, if you want to take your sales, customers and general business growth seriously, you absolutely need to purchase a legitimate CRM tool.

More specifically, CRM software that is easy to customize and integrate with any marketing software you're using (like the HubSpot CRM).

Good luck!


Originally published August 24, 2015. Updated March 26, 2018.