7 reasons Excel stinks for sales planning (and what to do about it)

When it comes to the relationship between sales ops and Excel, well … it’s complicated.

Many of us love our spreadsheets. And we’ve gotten scary good at Excel. As a result, we rely on the equivalent of digital duct tape to squeeze the most out of spreadsheets. Nested if-statements, vlookups, and macros become all too common.

This works OK for many routine tasks or ad hoc requests. Yet when it comes to the increasingly complex world of sales planning, spreadsheets just don’t cut it anymore.

I was reminded of this a while back when a sales ops analyst was wrangling with some Excel files related to the territory sales planning process. After combining the data from multiple sources, he discovered that the files were so massive that his laptop froze just trying to open them. When they did finally open, they’d freeze as soon as he tried to make the simplest of edits. As a workaround, we ended up buying what amounted to a high-powered gaming desktop to allow him to access the files. While this helped him, the business was still left with massive files that couldn’t be shared, and it meant only one person in the company could truly look at the whole data set.

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The experience offers one of the more glaring examples of how Excel poses problems for sales ops and FP&A. A turbocharged computer isn’t the long-term answer. It’s time to give serious thought to migrating to a full cloud solution unless you want to be forever stuck with headaches such as …

1. Static and stale data: Excel data really should have one of those milk carton use-by dates. Because of the complexity of sales planning, you’re usually working off a snapshot of stale data from the end of the third quarter. But if your fourth quarter veers off plan (and when doesn’t it?), that triggers a time-sucking re-plan exercise. You’re mired in the lengthy process of updating data, changing all the underlying assumptions, and generally spreading mass confusion.

2. Limited links to financials: When you’re using spreadsheets to dig deep into something such as capacity planning, you’re likely doing so in a vacuum because the data is not directly linked to your financials. So, for instance, if you’re trying to nail down headcount projections, you either have to work off assumptions from past data or ask your FP&A partner to enter various assumptions into the financial model to see potential scenarios and expenses. This is time-consuming work, and it’s always a moving target.

3. Errors, errors everywhere: Excel is error prone, plain and simple. Entering one wrong number can set off a ripple effect that can screw up the whole works. And the mere fact that Excel is so susceptible to errors means you spend an inordinate amount of time verifying and double-checking numbers and formulas. That’s time that could be better spent on strategic analysis.

4. Shaky security: The most common way to share spreadsheets is via email. And that’s not good. Who hasn’t sent off an email only to realize they directed it to the wrong recipient? Imagine thinking you’re sending a draft sales strategy to Sue the vice president of sales and you mistakenly send it to Sue the account executive whose quota and territory is modeled as changed in the latest version of the plan. And even if you never send to the wrong recipient, the nature of email makes version control a nightmare. There’s nothing worse than realizing that your business partners have been planning based on numbers you sent three versions ago.

5. Limited visibility: With Excel, you can put together some basic charts and graphs and share it in one file at one point in time, but not much more. That’s unlike solutions with dashboards that can create a full range of dynamic, interactive charts and graphics showing current data with the right audiences. Excel just doesn’t scale for this type of visibility.

6. Collaboration killer: Is there any more lethal killer to sparking an engaging sales planning conversation than huddling over a massive spreadsheet of mind-numbing data? I can’t think of one. There’s a reason that spreadsheets are stereotyped as bland and boring. They are. I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit orienting myself (or helping someone else get oriented) to the structure and assumptions made in an Excel file.

7. Un-real time: What’s the point of a plan if you can’t readily see if it’s working? Consistently figuring out how sales is performing against plan can be painful in Excel. And even if you do get an updated snapshot, the game may change, and it’s nearly impossible to drill down into the granularity that reveals what the root of the problem may be.

No doubt, spreadsheets still have their place. But for sales planning that enhances efficiency, accuracy, and collaboration as well as gives you a competitive edge, it’s time for an upgrade.

The bottom line: If you’re patching together workarounds to make Excel work for your sales planning, then clearly there’s got to be a better way. With the new Adaptive Insights for Sales, there is.

Learn more about Adaptive Insights for Sales.

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