When Excel Stops Excelling: Why the Sales Spreadsheet Should be Put out of Its Misery

Last revised October 15, 2013

Selectica develops software that the world’s most successful companies rely on to improve their sales and contracting processes.

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Poor, poor spreadsheet.

When your company started using Excel to manage your sales rules and product catalog, the spreadsheet was on top of the world. Needed to find the right promotional product price for an overseas customer? The spreadsheet spat one out at you. Wanted to keep track of your inventory? The spreadsheet was all over it. Wanted to get your office plants watered perfectly every time? The spreadsheet…looked a little confused but would try its darndest to help.

But then your company grew. Now you produce thousands of products and services in a number of locations, which means your complexity has also grown. Astronomically. Suddenly, your trusty sales spreadsheet started under-performing. It became overwhelmed. Your exhausted spreadsheet is trying to deal with complexity it will never be able to handle properly or efficiently.

Excel has proven to be an indispensable tool…in some ways

As “the” financial tool: Excel is renowned for its ability to crunch numbers in a way that is so user-friendly that even those who proclaim themselves to be “math-challenged” can populate spreadsheets with formulas, create budgets, and generate graphs and charts that illustrate their data.

As an administrative tool: Excel is an ideal tool for administrative activities such as mail merges to produce hundreds of labels for mass mailings, creating agendas and schedules, and keeping track of deadlines and deliverables in event planning.

As a data analysis tool: Nearly every department in an organization benefits from being able to capture and analyze the data they collect in Excel using its grouping, consolidating, and filtering tools.

All of the functions of Excel listed above are important to sales organizations as well, but as far as managing leads, forecasting, and keeping track of how to sell products and services, more powerful tools are necessary to handle the complexity of a growing company or a company consistently dealing with product and pricing changes. Sales teams need to be able to use the information housed in spreadsheets faster and more effectively to keep deals moving through their pipelines and to keep their customers happy.

The sales process of a large organization introduces unique challenges

You could use an ax or a chain saw to chop down a tree. No matter what, the tree will come down. But the time and effort to accomplish the task with the less efficient tool doesn’t scale if you want to run a burgeoning logging business.

Similarly, if your business has used spreadsheets to manage sales processes in the past, as your company (and its product lines) expand, you too will encounter unique sales challenges that can’t be properly managed through the use of our friend, the spreadsheet—a very efficient tool, but the wrong one to do the job most effectively.

Common challenges to companies that fit this bill?

  • Rogue discounting: Controlling what salespeople are offering to customers while protecting your margins is nearly impossible.
  • The problem of “too many cooks in the kitchen”: The deal process slows down with the inclusion of multiple spreadsheets, the need for multiple approvals, and the necessity to involve members of other departments (IT, legal, etc.).
  • Rule updates: Keeping up with new pricing, promotions, bundling, and discounting often requires the bandwidth of someone from IT to update the rules in the system that governs those changes.
  • Creating well constructed offers: Sales reps can’t create optimal deals if they don’t have a firm grip on what is and is not feasible to offer to customers.
  • The deal desk: Getting offers analyzed and approved by legal, finance, sales ops, etc . can take a tremendous amount of time and clog the sales machine.
  • Consistency across channels: Getting accurate and up-to-the-minute information to sales channels doesn’t work when you’re trying to pass sales spreadsheets with rules to them.
  • Broadcasting information: Continuously distributing spreadsheet and product catalog updates introduces even more opportunity for errors and confusion.

Why you need to send your spreadsheet packing when it comes to managing your sales processes

It’s not the sharpest tool in the shed

No offense to the spreadsheet, but, well, other tools are just smarter. During the sales process, Excel can’t give salespeople “smart” messages that alert them to what products need to be combined with certain services, show where there are up-sell or cross-sell opportunities, and instantly notify sales reps when there are discrepancies between what manufacturing can produce and what your customer wants to order.

It’s blind to up-sell and cross-sell opportunities

When you’re working with multiple spreadsheets, up-sell and cross-sell opportunities aren’t readily apparent, and therefore generally fall by the wayside. Excel isn’t trying to make you lose out on money, but without the ability to consolidate spreadsheet information in a single system, your company ultimately can miss out on revenue.

It’s the tortoise, not the hare

For companies that experience frequent product churn, pricing adjustments, and promotional changes, Excel can’t keep up with the job. Ultimately it could get the job done, but it takes a time commitment—days, weeks, or even months—to alter the rules within a spreadsheet and get it in a usable state. For some companies, keeping up with this type of complexity requires additional headcount or IT intervention to complete the job. By ditching the spreadsheet method of maintaining this information and introducing a system that could easily update sales process rules on the back end, efficiency would greatly improve, and sales would flow more freely.

It’s accident-prone

In trying to keep track of such a significant amount of data in Excel, errors can and will occur. Somehow, a number of companies now just assume that there is a margin of error in using spreadsheets, but continue to use them anyway, thereby institutionalizing errors. The negative ripple effect of ignoring errors in Excel? According to a study in the Journal of Organizational and End User Computing, “Errors in the data, formulas or manipulation of spreadsheets could be costly, even devastating” and “sometimes these errors cost the organizations that use them millions of dollars.”1 Rather than spending time bandaging Excel’s “ouchies,” losing money in the meantime, why not prevent them altogether?

It’s breakable

If spreadsheets aren’t updated regularly by the proper person with the most current data, other reps could be working off of older versions, relying on inaccurate data, and elongating the sales process by offering products and services at the wrong prices, through the wrong channels, or in the wrong combinations. Furthermore, when unlocked spreadsheets are sent out, deletions and additions—whether purposeful or accidental—can hurt the integrity of the document, but even locked spreadsheets introduce problems, such as inadvertently blocking out users who actually need certain pieces of information.

It can’t handle the cloud

Excel is an individual productivity tool with very little potential to operate as an effective collaboration tool—particularly across geographies. Even Excel in the cloud provides, at the end of the day, files that are passed and can be corrupted or manipulated. Microsoft product expert John Taylor relayed an anecdote of a company that built 3 different Excel order forms in an attempt to make life easier for sales. “Creating forms the company intended to make life easier ultimately made things harder,” he said. “The company spent hours building forms, doing calculations, and figuring how to lock the spreadsheets down so users couldn’t change pricing or break the form. The form itself was reaching its 4-5 megabyte maximum file size, so sending it over email became harder and harder, and required users to develop fancy tricks to extract and consolidate data so it would be share-able.” In that scenario, the setup was not worth the potential ultimate failure of the spreadsheet as a collaborative tool. Plain and simple, Excel doesn’t translate well to cloud computing which is all about easy access, collaboration, and fast turnarounds.

Taylor explains the sales spreadsheet’s plight most succinctly: “It’s the most over-utilized, non-enterprise tool out there.” In other words, a large number of companies are attempting to use the spreadsheet as a chain saw when it’s really an ax. And it’s wiped out.

Check out how Selectica can help you write sales rules, get information to sales teams, and guide reps to the best deals—all in one system. Your exhausted sales spreadsheet will thank you!

Selectica provides software that accelerates sales cycles and streamlines the contract process to help growing companies sell complex deals with ease.
Selectica Guided Selling simplifies the management and dissemination of complex product configuration and pricing information with fewer touches and less overhead. With Selectica Guided Selling, sales teams can share and manage up-to-the-minute information, construct deals through a step-by-step interface that only shows what they are approved to offer, and receive “smart” messages that help guide them through the deal process. Delivered in the cloud, Selectica Guided Selling makes it easy to update and share product, packaging, and pricing information, ensuring that all direct and indirect channels are always selling the right products at the right prices.

To learn more, call 1.877.712.9560 or visit www.selectica.com.