6 Reasons Marketers Need to Move Away From Spreadsheets

Shannon Fitzgerald-Lussier
October 10, 2022

Useful but impractical, handy but unwieldy, and trusty but untrustworthy, spreadsheets can be a polarizing tool for marketing management.

On the one hand, most marketing leaders have always used spreadsheets—it’s understandably what they’re accustomed to using, so why rock the boat? Investing in and learning the nuances of an unfamiliar product can be intimidating, especially when there’s a learning curve. It’s also important to note that spreadsheets can, indeed, get the job done just fine if there aren’t a ton of moving parts within the marketing organization.

However, the reality is that spreadsheets aren’t the most useful tool for every marketing organization—particularly the complex ones. Simply put, it’s tough for marketers to keep track of so much data and not end up frustrated when information either gets lost in the shuffle or takes an inordinate amount of time to load. (Mac users: Does the spinning rainbow “wheel of doom” come to mind?)

Whether you’re an Excel friend investigating potential new ways to go about managing your marketing data or an Excel foe who’s had enough and wants to do away with spreadsheets once and for all, here are six reasons you should consider making the move.

1. Spreadsheets are full of errors.

Sure, errors occur in any kind of software. But in spreadsheets, one tiny error can throw off your entire work.

The internet is chock-full of horror stories of someone making one mistake in a spreadsheet and unintentionally wreaking havoc. This blog tells a tale about a utility in Canada, TransAlta Corp., which was the victim of a copy-and-paste blunder that led to misaligned spreadsheet rows and, ultimately, overpaid contract bids. The company’s president called it “literally a cut-and-paste error that [they] did not detect” before submitting their work.

Of course, this kind of problem is not technically the blame of Excel itself but, rather, human error—which, unfortunately, Excel cannot easily detect and remedy.

Do you ever find yourself in a situation asking yourself, What is causing this incessant ‘#VALUE! error? 

Well… you might actually never know the answer.

marketing spreadsheets

2. Spreadsheets are disconnected silos.

As much as we’re able to stay virtually connected nowadays through real-time messaging, video conferencing and other forms of communication increasingly flourishing in the past year alone, we’re still physically disconnected on separate computers and systems no matter what, whether we’re back in the same office or on different continents.

We recently spoke to a client who gave us a firsthand account of how things used to be during marketing planning season, when the process was based on spreadsheets.

With Excel, regional planning managers would manually enter data and send different versions of their spreadsheets back and forth among teams in 40 countries. However, they found it nearly impossible to bring together all their respective information, which they centrally collated annually for the upcoming year’s planning season.

Calling the “highly manual process” essentially “a nightmare,” the marketing performance manager detailed some of the problems they’d face because of their disconnected silos: data inaccuracies, time delays and out-of-date numbers, preventing clear visibility of plans and how they tied to budgets.

When everyone is working off separate records of data, there’s no central source of truth.

3. Spreadsheets don’t support workflows.

When marketers use spreadsheets as an approval process system, it can become a bit like a game of telephone.

Let’s say you’re using Excel for generating and approving purchasing requests. You add the information to a spreadsheet, which is sent off to the appropriate parties in a chain of approvals, through which everyone must review the spreadsheet, make any changes, approve or deny it, and send it to the next party.

The problem here is that there’s no approval workflow and thus no audit trail. If mistakes get made along the way—e.g., one party doesn’t save the spreadsheet properly or accidentally includes a rogue number in a row—the information will get misconstrued as it moves along the chain, leaving in limbo the poor person who just wants their purchase request fulfilled.

4.Spreadsheets aren’t dynamic.

Traditionally, your marketing planning might look something like this: create your plans once a year during planning season, put them into action and update them as needed. Then, when it comes time for planning season again, you can go back to the drawing board with new plans and repeat the process.

However, this means you have visibility into plans and budgets just once per year, rather than throughout the entire year, when things are shifting and requiring specialized attention through responsive planning.

Your plans are anything but static. But without one central location from which to see your plans at any moment in time during the year, you’re left looking at only one moment in time when you need to check in.

check in

5. Spreadsheets aren’t predictive.

Behind successful marketing plans are revenue models that enable effective forecasting, through which marketers can investigate various “what if” scenarios and determine how and when generated demand might become revenue.

To take ROI predictions a step further, you might also account for waterfall conversion rates and velocities, which add to the overall picture of how marketing’s work will contribute to revenue goals and how exactly to get there.

However, because spreadsheets lack this predictive ability, marketers will often struggle with accurate ROI forecasts and, subsequently, an unclear view into what’s working, what’s not and what should be changed to meet revenue goals.

6. Spreadsheets are fragile.

Basically, spreadsheets bruise like a peach.

If you accidentally try to save your marketing plans in a comma-delimited, rather than Excel file format, you’ll get the “possible data loss” message.

If you delete a tab, you really delete a tab. There’s no going back and seeing why and who did such a thing.

If you’re sharing spreadsheets among your group, everyone must use the same views and can’t tailor the spreadsheet to meet their specific needs without significant manipulation every time someone sends a new version—and that significant manipulation might very well disrupt all of your data if you don’t do it correctly.

The nature of marketing is so inherently complex as it is—why make it more complicated by sticking to a system that is so inherently fragile?


Time to make the switch?

As alluded to earlier, we know that spreadsheets are not the enemy.

They’ve long been a powerful, familiar tool for individuals and businesses across the board, but that doesn’t mean they’re a one-size-fits-all solution to be used indefinitely.

For marketing leaders tasked with managing moving parts across different teams, systems, geographies and business units, do the headaches caused by any of these six reasons outweigh the comfort of sticking to old faithful?

(Or shall we say old unfaithful…)

Uptempo: designed to meet marketing leaders' complex needs

Replacing spreadsheets and other disparate systems, Uptempo's platform provides one central location from which everyone around the world can access your real-time marketing plans, budgets, and performance data.

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