by Rich Edwards Aug 31, 2022

To spreadsheet or not to spreadsheet

The lowly spreadsheet, valuable tool or harbinger of doom?

Everyone has their weapon of choice. Excel, Google Sheets, Numbers if you wear a black turtleneck every day, or Libre Office if you have Linux loaded on your laptop. Spreadsheets have driven a level of productivity in modern business as any other technology. But has the time come to put away the 25 tab models and VLOOKUP formulas?

If you’re fortunate enough to work in an environment with a well-developed business intelligence tooling/infrastructure and overall governance that provides data access and security, then lucky you. You are likely supplied with a well-ordered data catalog of all available information. You also have a team of dedicated data engineers ensuring the data’s availability, quality, and timeliness. Your teams also collaborate across the org using similar data sets and metric definitions, so no one is using/reporting customer lifetime or churn rates different from anyone else.

However, for the rest of us, you’ll likely face a few hurdles and gaps in what’s available. The lowly spreadsheet is a great place to start working out answers to seemingly unanswerable questions. The spreadsheet can help with:

  • Discovery and exploration: What do you have? What are the limits of data (time, depth of customer interaction
  • More formal “BI” analysis: Answering specific questions, developing hypotheses, model creation, and experiment design/validation
  • Reporting: KPIs calculation, dashboarding, performance tracking for specific initiatives, things that are sharable and used to measure overall performance (typically to plan).

Spreadsheets can do all of these. They are great at a lot of things but not scaling. At some point, things get out of hand with versioning, access control, ballooning email attachments, and simple storage/retention.

But if you haven’t gotten to the point of ugly and unwieldy spreadsheets, do you really understand the problem you’re solving? Have you explored all the different ways to look at the problem and clearly described the metric or data view needed for your solution?

So I’ll contend that spreadsheets still play a role, at least during the phase of uncovering the right questions to ask. In the (near?) future, the ability to query data sources with natural language questions and machine learning-driven analysis may put an end to the children of Lotus 123. Today though, with data playing an even more prominent role in driving strategy and competitive advantage, spreadsheets will be a tool of the modern marketer.

And if you find yourself at a crossroads with your data, either ready to get more serious or at an inflection point and need help leveling up, reach out. We’re here to help you overcome the barriers and get the insights you need to stay relevant and get ahead.

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