Guest Column | April 15, 2014

The Secret To Channel Success: Quit Using Spreadsheets

IT Channel Success Secrets

By Dan Hawtof, VP of Business Solutions, Global Channel, parago

We all know it’s true: A lot of channel programs are still being managed with Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. It’s far more common than you’d expect, even in some of the larger companies. And, honestly, there’s nothing wrong with using spreadsheets if you want to manage a very small program, incentive, or campaign — or even analyze a set of data. But ask for anything complex, and your spreadsheet is probably creating more work than it’s doing. Here are five signs you need an incentive platform, not a spreadsheet.

1. Your manual processes have led to mistakes

Whether information has been entered incorrectly, a formula isn’t quite right or a sloppy sort has disconnected some data, human error can be hard to identify and undo in a spreadsheet — especially if everything is manually inputted and manipulated.

2. You spend more time managing Excel than building engagement

Sure, Excel is a great and flexible tool. But if your channel operations team is dedicating most of its time to managing a complex, multi-tabbed spreadsheet — and not actually developing engagement optimization strategies — then it’s time to find a better way to keep track of your program results.

3. Multiple users need to access your channel data simultaneously

You can share a spreadsheet on a network with a few people. But as your channel team grows, so do the challenges of collaboratively managing data in a spreadsheet. Additional conflicting entries require individual judgment calls. Essential real-time updates simply don’t happen. And, in the end, you’ve created a “database” that’s doesn’t have the power, flexibility, or speed of the real thing.

4. Even medium-size programs require immense scalability

You may not think your channel data needs are going to scale up quickly — but get started in Excel, and you’ll soon have multiple workbooks. Or maybe you’ll have one really, really big workbook that sorts slowly and crashes often. Add bundles, incentive overlays and complex, long-term initiatives, and you’ll definitely need more capacity than spreadsheets offer.

5. You need end-to-end analyses and insights, but only have snapshots

Ultimately, the data in Excel needs to be crunched, analyzed, interpreted and used to evaluate the effectiveness of your channel program. These tasks will all have to be done manually, especially if multiple workbooks need to be data-mined. Even if you can consolidate the required information, you are still merely creating an even larger spreadsheet for behavioral trend reporting that has all the same issues.

If Excel is not the best tool for managing channel programs, why are so many companies still using it? Ask around, and you’ll get plenty of different responses. Some people inherited an existing spreadsheet process. Others wouldn’t know how to begin to find the right channel solution. A few managers are even using Excel to work around internally developed systems that are inflexible.

Plus, some channel directors have had previous problems with clunky “platforms.” It’s no secret that custom platform development has been expensive or that managing multiple, nonintegrated channel providers can be a headache.

Fortunately, today’s channel managers have better options, including cloud-based platforms, and full end-to-end reporting is available, too, so you can understand how to increase the success of your channel program.

Dan Hawtof has been involved in almost every aspect of the channel for over 25 years. He’s been at large enterprises and small startups while wearing many hats, including sales, strategy, product marketing and management and more. He is currently the parago VP of Business Solutions, Global Channel & Employee.