Your Product vs the Mighty Spreadsheet: How to Claim Your Space in the Market

In so many situations, software businesses have a common competitor – the mighty spreadsheet. And yet many of those businesses fail to recognise this, and even more don’t proactively position their solutions against them which I believe is doing a disservice to those using them inappropriately.

Whether it’s CRM systems, contact management, time tracking, sales forcecasting or data analysis – spreadsheets are the default, ubiquitous, inexpensive and often ‘good enough’ solution that can be difficult to compete against. And my examples are really just the tip of the iceberg.

Spreadsheets have become the bedrock of business operations worldwide, and for good reasons. They’re flexible, widely available, and universally understood. They offer a familiar interface for data analysis, budgeting, and planning, making them the go-to tool for countless tasks across various industries. However, as businesses evolve, the complexity and demands of modern workflows often outpace the capabilities of spreadsheets.

For marketing leaders trying to get their heads around this challenge, here’s some quick tips around how we can frame the process to develop our positioning against the mighty spreadsheet:

  1. Understand and Respect the Spreadsheet’s Place: Before anything, it’s crucial to recognize why spreadsheets became so integral. Their ease of use, flexibility, and immediate availability have made them indispensable. Acknowledge these strengths while introducing your software solution.
  2. Highlight the Benefits of Specialisation: While spreadsheets serve as a jack-of-all-trades, specialised software excels in specific functionalities. Emphasise how your product offers in-depth analysis, automation, and tailored insights that spreadsheets simply can’t match.
  3. Educate on Scalability and Integration: As businesses grow, the limitations of spreadsheets become more apparent. Highlight how your software not only scales with ease but also integrates seamlessly with other business tools, enhancing overall productivity and reducing the margin for error.
  4. Share Success Stories of Transition: Real-world examples of businesses that have successfully transitioned from spreadsheets to specialised tools can be incredibly persuasive. Share these stories to illustrate the tangible benefits of making the switch, including efficiency gains, enhanced collaboration, and improved data integrity.
  5. Ease Transition Concerns: For many, the thought of moving away from spreadsheets is daunting. Offer clear, user-friendly pathways for transition, including data migration support, training resources, and robust customer service, to make the switch as smooth as possible.
  6. Offer a Test Drive: Encourage potential customers to experience the advantages of your software firsthand through free trials and demos. Direct comparisons with their current spreadsheet-based processes can be a powerful motivator for change.
  7. Customise Your Communication: Different sectors rely on spreadsheets for various reasons. Tailor your messaging to address the specific challenges and needs of your target audience, demonstrating a deep understanding of their unique workflows and how your solution can improve them.

Bridging the Gap: Positioning against spreadsheets isn’t about convincing your customers to discard a familiar tool but about helping them evolve with business needs. By acknowledging the foundational role of spreadsheets and clearly communicating the advantages of specialised software, we can guide businesses toward more efficient, scalable, and collaborative solutions.

The key competencies of a CMO

I was recently asked by a startup founder for my thoughts on the key competencies of a CMO. Here’s what I shared in no particular order.

Relationship Building – A CMO’s role needs to intersect with Sales, Sales Strategy, the CFO, Product. Building strong connections with these leads, building joint plans, overcoming differences of opinion to build a partnership of equals in a role that can sometimes be under appreciated or seen as ‘wishy washy’ is not easy but yet is critical for the success of the business.

A maniacal focus on the customer – If a business is to be successful in positioning its offerings to potential buyers, everything needs to start with that customer. A CMO needs to spend lots of time with customers, understanding their pain points, translating this into messaging and content, learning about the channels they use, the sources of influence they trust, building a community and so much more. To the previous point, they then need to help other leaders in the business understand and buy into this.

A Data Driven Mindset – Marketing is more and more a data driven function. The CMO needs to define, measure, analyse, and drive action from a core set of KPI’s which are tied to the overall business metrics and get everyone behind them on this. Their success will depend on it.
Innovation & Learning – At the same time, creativity is key. The field of marketing is constantly evolving with new channels, new generations of buyers to appeal to, an influx of marketing technology to integrate, and that’s all to say nothing about the impact of AI on the field. A CMO should always be learning, experimenting and innovating in how they go to market.

People skills – Goes without saying but I’ll state it anyway. Your CMO will need to attract, retain, and develop the talent on their team – up levelling people as they go to give them more headspace. In any startup they’ll have quite limited resources, so they’ll have to do this by being very effective in how they lead. They’ll need to develop a clear successor, they’ll need to be able to manage out people who run out of runway, those who they mis-hire etc. They need to be excellent people managers that build trust and loyalty.

Communication – Last but by no means least, being able to define a Vision for not just marketing, but also contribute to the vision for the company, and then communicate that convincingly both internally and externally is also critical.