Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Spreadsheets are one of the most versatile and widely used tools in the business world. They offer an easy way to organize and manipulate data, make calculations and create visual representations of information. However, when used for inappropriate tasks, spreadsheets quickly become a crutch that hinders progress and accuracy. While they undoubtedly have their place in basic budgeting, they are unwieldy and dangerous when used to define process or for complex decision-making. To put it simply, spreadsheets are a great tool for individual tasks, not for tackling jobs that require a large-scale systematic approach.
Have you ever tinkered with the formulas in a company spreadsheet? We’re all guilty of it. Without a centralized guarded process to keep everything in order, data management turns into a waking nightmare. Not only does it waste time and fatigue your staff, but the absence of proper data management is also actively dangerous for businesses. Why? If your data is incorrect, partially missing or out of date, you’ll quickly fall out of touch with the marketplace and won’t be able to conduct effective decision-making for your brand.
What would happen if your organization shut down its ERP or CRM and did everything on spreadsheets? The answer is obvious: It would be the equivalent of a zombie apocalypse.
Marketing departments are particularly susceptible to spreadsheet overload as their business is not controlled within the organization’s ERP or CRM. These teams handle massive amounts of data from multiple sources like endless GTM (Go-To-Market) cycles, operations, dealers, distribution and more. When spreadsheets fail, the marketing team becomes crippled by the immense task of sorting multiple years’ worth of messy and inaccurate data. The consequences of this failure are utterly disastrous and blatantly obvious when conducting reports.
What are some of the harmful consequences of spreadsheet failures? Let’s discuss six of them below:
1. Hinders decision-making
In the GTM cycle, data plays a crucial role in enabling brands to make informed decisions and improve their processes. This data encompasses a wide range of information, such as sales, feedback, product insights, channels and more. Successful brands recognize the importance of using data to tighten and enhance their GTM cycle each time.
A spreadsheet is not designed to define process or naturally capture data on this scale as it struggles to remain current and consistent due to human “tinkering.” Additionally, it only collects basic surface-level information, foregoing the detailed operational data needed to improve the next GTM process. Without a centralized system, brands risk falling behind their competitors due to sub-optimal decision-making that relies on guesswork rather than data-driven insights from past work.
2. Blocks scalability
Spreadsheets are not designed to handle the complexity of marketing data, such as customer interactions across multiple channels, demographic information, and campaign placement and performance. Forcing staff to haphazardly cross-reference thousands of numbers in multiple sheets in order to glean basic insights is simply unsustainable and uneconomical. Sounds obvious, right? But you’d be surprised by the number of companies that still attempt to operate this way.
3. Threatens security
Spreadsheets lack the necessary security features required to protect sensitive data, leaving businesses vulnerable to data breaches. To avoid this, businesses need to adopt a more sophisticated data management system that can handle large amounts of data, provide robust security features and allow for encryption with easy data analysis and reporting. Can the bulk of your marketing numbers be passed around on a thumb drive? If so, you have a huge issue.
4. Lacks efficiency
Using spreadsheets to record marketing data is a colossal waste of time. Creating and updating spreadsheets is time-consuming, unstable and costly (as it must be done manually by humans who are flawed by nature). A more efficient approach to managing marketing data is to use a dedicated marketing automation platform that can handle the entire marketing process. This approach streamlines data collection and provides powerful analytical tools to help businesses optimize their marketing strategies. What would have taken a staff member days to complete can be done in a matter of seconds.
5. Prone to errors
The chance that human error will occur at some point is inevitable. Mistakes are easy to make, and even a bona fide spreadsheet wizard is bound to slip up sooner or later. A single typo or minor miscalculation can lead to recurring inaccuracies in your data. Trying to keep track of information in multiple spreadsheets can also lead to duplication and inconsistencies, making it difficult to get a clear picture of the business’s performance. Using an automated platform will eliminate these errors.
6. Siloed system fatigue
Employees often have to maintain multiple spreadsheets, each with its own set of data, formulas and formatting. This creates silos of information, where data is not shared effectively, leading to inefficient processes and duplication of effort. Moreover, employees may struggle to keep up with changes to the spreadsheets, leading to confusion and errors. Over time, this leads to system fatigue, where employees become frustrated with the complexity of managing data in spreadsheets and may resist using them altogether.
By adopting a more integrated approach with a system that allows for easy collaboration across departments, businesses can streamline their processes, improve data accuracy and reduce the burden on employees.
So, what’s the alternative?
Today, there is a wealth of technology available to organizations. If you’re still using spreadsheets for anything other than simple data entry for small tasks, you are consciously making the decision to slow the process and put your company’s operational fluidity at risk.
Spreadsheets certainly have their place in the business world but should NEVER be used to drive process, collect substantial masses of data or for complex decision-making. Fortunately, platforms like Regulator automatically gather and amalgamate data from multiple sources and present it in an easy-to-use format. Adopting a system like this takes the burden off staff and allows them to focus on making data-driven decisions, rather than struggling with data management.
It’s time to move beyond spreadsheets and embrace the future of data management.