Why Spreadsheets Still Aren't Great for Marketing Management

Written by: Betsy Lillian on 7/23/20 10:10 AM
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Frustrated young business man have stress problems. Sitting alone at office meeting room  and working on laptop compute.It’s been nearly five years since we posted a blog denouncing the use of spreadsheets for complex marketing performance management.

Just Say No to Spreadsheets,” published back in September 2015, underscores a simple question: Why are marketing leaders still using disparate, often out-of-sync spreadsheets?

Fast-forward to July 2020, as marketing leaders likely begin their 2021 fiscal planning process, and we’re compelled to ask this question again: Why are they still using disparate, often out-of-sync spreadsheets?

Adding a 2020 twist, we’ve pulled out a few points from the blog to look back on that still ring true today, showing that it’s not too late to make the transition away from the nightmare of spreadsheet overload.

“Since your marketing department likely consists of more people than just you, using a spreadsheet just isn’t practical in light of all of the automated marketing tools available,” we wrote in 2015.

Have you seen Scott Brinker’s latest marketing technology landscape? In 2015, it included 1,876 vendors. Today, that total is up to 8,000.

If spreadsheets were impractical for complex marketing operations back then, they’re now more than just impractical — they’re simply archaic, considering the growing spread of advanced technology at marketing leaders’ fingertips.

Five years ago, we touched on the familiarity of spreadsheets, recommending that marketing departments should “step out of their comfort zone of spreadsheets and embrace marketing performance management solutions.”

Most marketing leaders have always used spreadsheets – it’s what they’re used to. Investing in and learning the nuances of an unfamiliar product can be intimidating, especially when there’s a learning curve.

However, as we all know, 2020 brought about dramatic changes we never could have anticipated: canceled events, full-time remote working, shifting budgets and priorities, layoffs, hiring freezes — the list goes on.

When it comes to a remote environment and shifting budgets in particular, spreadsheets aren’t the most useful tool for organization; it’s easy for data to get lost in the shuffle. Instead, marketing leaders need one single source of truth, containing plans, finances and results — enabling not only marketing, but also finance and sales, to work from one place, no matter where they are in the world.

What’s more, spreadsheets won’t let you run “what if” scenarios, a tool especially useful during a year of uncertainty surrounding planning. Further, if you're sharing spreadsheets, 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. 

Disclaimer: It would be remiss of us to say that spreadsheets are simply the enemy. Developed to manipulate numbers, they’re a powerful, effective tool for individuals and smaller businesses that don’t have a ton of moving parts to keep track of.

Here’s a fun throwback: In a May 1996 press release, Microsoft, touting more than 30 million global Excel users since its September 1985 inception, called the program “the most popular spreadsheet of all time.” Nowadays, the number is estimated to be a whopping 800 million — demonstrating, of course, that spreadsheets continue to prove their value for myriad users. 

However, as we discussed in our 2015 blog, the nature of marketing is “inherently complex,” comprising a multitude of nuanced campaigns running at once, each with different data to keep track of, whether that’s budget, time frame, audience or metrics.

“Using a spreadsheet to manage all of these moving parts not only adds countless hours," we wrote, "but puts the organization at risk for using bad or old data and wasting a lot of time."

This year, a customer of ours, a marketing manager at a large U.S. technology company, put it this way: “We used to live in lots of separate spreadsheets. Now, we all live in the same system with the same view. It's really simplified our workflow as a marketing team.”

Complex marketing operations call for a simple solution, which, in this case, just isn’t spreadsheets.

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Topics: Marketing Analytics, Demand generation, Data silos, Marketing Budgeting, Marketers, marketing measurement, marketing data, collaboration