The Secret to Channel Success: Quit Excel

Dan Hawtof

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. There’s nothing wrong with using spreadsheets for managing a small program, incentive or campaign — or even analyzing a set of data. But ask for anything complex, and your spreadsheet is probably creating more work than it’s doing. 

Five signs you need an incentive platform, not a spreadsheet
Is it time for your channel program to move on to a more flexible platform that offers segmentation, incentives and reporting? If you can relate to any one (or more!) of these pain points, it is.

  1. Your manual processes have lead 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 input and manipulated.
  2. You spend more time managing Excel than building engagement– 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 – Sure, 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.

New and improved channel management options
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. A handful of channel providers now offer cloud-based platforms that deftly handle complex grouping and tiering. Plus, these platforms can seamlessly connect to a variety of engagement modules, such as incentives, eLearning, campaign on demand and more. Best of all? Full end-to-end reporting is available, too, so you can understand how to increase the success of your channel program.

What are you waiting for? It’s time to simplify your channel management.

Dan Hawtof has been involved in almost every aspect of the channel for over 25 years while wearing many hats, including sales, strategy, product marketing and management and more. He is currently vice president of Business Solutions, Global Channel & Employee, at Parago, a provider of incentive and engagement solutions.