The Pros & Cons of using Notion as a CRM

I had written a much longer version of this blog post but to reduce the length, I’ve focused on the key considerations for managers rather than Notion administrators. If you’re the latter, hopefully you’ll still find much of this post relevant but you can also check out my comparison table for a list of the other considerations. I discussed them in more depth during this webinar.


Reasons to be nervous for business app developers

I predict that just as a16z say that “software’s eating the world”, Notion will ‘eat’ many software services. Its modular design will enable Notion to be adapted to recreate complex systems which cost businesses hundreds or thousands of dollars in fees a year.

For small teams, that prediction’s already a reality. Notion can be used to create powerful systems like; CRMs, project management tools, HR management and of course, wikis.

In fact I’ve created several templates which replicate the structure, although not all of the functionality, of some of those systems already.

For larger teams it won’t take long to run into shortcomings which prevent the systems that you create from working at scale, for example, managing an entire company’s tasks in a single database becomes impractical. Whereas custom software is able to provide dedicated functionality in order to make specific workflows, like checking for duplicate records, much easier.

So in order for my prediction to be fully realised, Notion’s functionality will have to continue to evolve, without becoming clunky and inflexible. The company’s rapid growth and backing from investors mean it’s well placed to attract very good engineers and product managers, so hopefully they will.

My background and what’s included in this post

One of the most common uses for Notion in a business context is creating a CRM. I’ve worked over 3 years as a Salesforce Administrator, initially for a small team and then rolling out the system to other parts of the business. I used that knowledge to create a version of Salesforce in Notion, which has been one of my most popular templates, the Advanced CRM template.

Seeing clients adopt that template and using it to run my own business has shown me the strengths and shortcomings of using Notion as a relational CRM. I’ll highlight those and compare Notion with some alternatives in this post to help you decide whether or not Notion is the right tool for this purpose, for your business.


Notion have their own set of terminology which they use to refer to features in the app. I’ll use the more standard terminology throughout this blog post to save you from translating the terms.


One of Notion’s most powerful features — relations

The piece of functionality that really sets Notion apart from spreadsheets and enables users to replicate the structure of Salesforce is relations.

These are one of the more advanced features and probably not one that you’ll discover when you first start using Notion. If you’re not familiar with them then this guide from Notion will give you a good overview of how they work.

Like Salesforce’s relation fields, they’re a little bit clunky to use. But the small amount of extra effort is worth it because they make your system far more flexible, your data easier to work with and can speed up your workflow, once you get the hang of them.

Recording information in a spreadsheet means that you end up creating multiple copies of the same information in different places for easy reference. This causes several problems:

  • It’s a waste of time
  • You’ll end up with conflicting data because you’ll forget to update the information in every location
  • It’s harder to keep track of who ‘owns’ which prospects / clients

Relations are the solution to these problems, they enable you to link every record (company, sales, support), throughout your workspace to a single contact record. This has several benefits:

  • Whenever you update a record, that change is reflected everywhere in your workspace
  • It gives you a 360° view of every interaction that you’ve had with each client
  • You’re more likely to spot duplicate records, since you only have one table to check

On top of those benefits, it’s easy to link to the contact whenever you create a new type of record, to manage a new type of process — there’s no second guessing whether duplicating the information is a good idea, just add a relation. This makes handing relationships over to different teams much easier. Not only can they view the complete history of your interactions with the person / company in the past. But they can also add their own databases to use to manage the processes, which are related to that person / company, that they’ll be responsible for going forwards.

Dedicated software like Salesforce has a similar relational structure but also has more powerful tools for managing duplicates.


One of the most valuable outputs of a good CRM system is a collection of reports, which summarise team’s activity in a way that can be understood by the rest of the business.

Spreadsheets enable you to create reports of course but it’s usually a very manual process and one that’s prone to human error as a result.

Notion has a couple of powerful features in particular which make reporting easier and more flexible — linked databases with filtered views and rollup columns.

Linked databases enable you to transform the data in your tables into different formats. For example the board view lets you summarise information based on different groups, like the account owner or the status of a sale, like this:

Screenshot from my Advanced CRM template

Or this:

Screenshot from my Client Tasks & Communication Manager template

Since formulas don’t work in the same way as spreadsheets in Notion, doing calculations sometimes requires some creativity but ultimately there is a way to summarise most data. Rollups are key to creating reports as they let you aggregate information from related databases and also use that data in formulas. They’re explained in Notion’s help guide here.

You can use multiple linked databases to create dashboards, which display filtered data from the same database in your dashboard page.

This view functionality does exist in spreadsheets but it’s a lot more hidden, doesn’t allow you to display data in different formats and it’s also harder to use.

The main limitation of Notion, when it comes to reporting, is the lack of support for charts. Spreadsheets let you create charts of course but you need to keep the ranges, for data that should be included in the reports, up to date. Software like Salesforce has the same advantages as Notion in terms of reporting but also makes visualising your data with charts straightforward.


Aside from the limitations that I’ve mentioned already, Notion has some pretty significant shortcomings for use as a CRM. You’re likely to run into these as you increase the complexity of the processes that you manage in Notion and/or when you scale your team.

Lack of automation

Notion does include some basic automation features like reminders and the ability to send notifications via email or Slack when changes are made to pages. But the notifications feature is limited, as it’s all or nothing, for each page. It’s not possible to specify that you want to be notified when a change is made to a particular column, for example.

There’s also no ability to automate updates to one column when another column is changed, except though formulas. So if you want to record the date and time when a task was marked as complete, for example, then there isn’t a 100% reliable way to do that in Notion at the moment.

I’m anticipating this improving a lot when the API is developed further — the technical term for the functionality that’s missing at the moment is webhooks—and it’s on their roadmap. Fingers crossed.

Risk of data deletion, limited support for backups, imports and sharing permissions

I won’t go into these in detail about these in this post but bear in mind that Notion is relatively weak in each of these areas. If any of them are a major concern for you or you need to import data into your CRM regularly, then you may need to use dedicated CRM software instead.

Additional considerations

Consolidating your applications

Along with the direct benefits, there’s another big benefit to adopting Notion for your business, which I touched on in the section about relations. It enables you to reduce the number of different software services you use.

If you start off by only using Notion as your CRM, there’s a good chance that you’ll soon find that members of the team start using it for other purposes too, like organising tasks or writing meeting notes. If you start to roll the CRM out to other teams too, for example the account managers who’ll take care of your customers once they’ve signed up for your services, you’ll see a similar pattern.

Eventually, as long as the workspace is well managed and doesn’t become a mess, you’ll see several benefits:

  • There will be better visibility of what’s going on throughout the business
  • Easier collaboration, as everyone is working in the same place
  • Teams can link their databases together, to monitor and build on what other teams are working on
  • You’ll pay for less software services

This is one big advantage that Notion has over both spreadsheets and dedicated CRM software — it’s flexible design enables it to be used for a wide range of applications.


Using Google Sheets is free of course and enables real time collaboration too. This is the pricing for Notion and Salesforce’s Sales Cloud service at the moment:

Screenshot from here
Screenshot from here

Quite a difference!


To sum up, Notion’s a far more powerful and customisable alternative than spreadsheets. There’s definitely a learning curve involved in getting to grips with the software initially. But once you have, if you’re running a small business, then it will significantly improve your team’s productivity and reporting. When you combine those benefits with the fact that it enables you to consolidate much of your company’s knowledge and activity management into one place, rather than using a range of disconnected tools, it’s even more compelling. But for larger businesses or those with specific workflows which aren’t well supported, dedicated CRM software may be the only feasible solution. Hopefully we’ll see Notion continue to build on the platform’s functionality to close that gap even further in the future.

I’ve also made a comparison table, listing the pros and cons of spreadsheets, Notion and Salesforce here.

If you work for a company that’s using Notion to recreate other software services at scale, then please do get in touch on Twitter or Instagram, I’d love to hear about your experience!

You can see a preview of my Advanced CRM template and download it here.

I also offer consultancy services for anyone who’s looking to adopt Notion as their CRM or anything else Notion related, more details here.

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