Leave Excel Behind: Why Traditional Rebate Management is Broken

Leave Excel Behind: Why Traditional Rebate Management is Broken

At Enable, we eat, sleep and breathe rebates. So, you wouldn’t expect us to say that rebate management is broken, would you? Probably not. But here’s the thing… Not all rebate management is broken – only the traditional version that’s managed inefficiently with spreadsheets.

In this article, we explain why spreadsheets have been a necessary evil but why they aren’t up to managing rebates effectively, how to make Excel a spreadsheet a thing of the past, and what the alternative is.

Why Finance Depends on Spreadsheets

“In many finance departments, Excel is not just surviving; it’s thriving. The application remains popular among finance professionals, including chief financial officers,” writes Bob Violino in a CFO.com article. Why? Because a spreadsheet is a powerful business management tool that makes calculations easy and instant. It’s convenient to share Excel files, easy to manipulate and analyze data, accessible (since it comes with most computers), and simple to use. A spreadsheet is often a ‘lingua franca’ for finance teams who might run different ERPs or CRMs. It is particularly useful during mergers and acquisitions or between organizations. Excel is a jack-of-all-trades. It can deal with multiple datasets at the same time. It’s easy to turn numbers into graphs and charts from raw data. But, mostly, it’s familiar, and it’s cheap.

But its greatest strengths are also its most significant weaknesses. Because it’s commonly used for increasingly large data sets, it can become stable over time. Quoted in the same CFO article Thomas McIlheran says, “Because of its flexibility, Excel can be the glue that binds imperfect systems and processes together.”

Why Spreadsheets Are Not Up to The Job of Managing Rebates

“In a time when organizations are moving away from manual tasks and siloed data,” Robert Bendetti writes on CFO.com, “Excel does not always deliver what finance needs.” Modern-day users expect systems to be seamless and automated. In an ideal world, companies should be able to manage rebates, create, track, accrue, and settle them. It’s even better if users don’t have to be experts in the systems themselves to be able to use them.

That’s why spreadsheets can’t hack it any longer.

We like this quote from CassiniTech, “Managing rebates is a tiresome task, especially when businesses use old-fashioned methods for rebate management using Excel sheets. With the development of technology, rebate management has become easier, efficient, and error-free.”

To be sure, as Alexa Cheater says in a Kinaxis blog post on why Sticking with Excel is the single greatest risk to your supply chain, “spreadsheets have their value,” but, she continues, “they’re lousy at modeling and managing the real-time complexity and dependencies of today’s global supply chains.” She even goes as far as paraphrasing Einstein, saying, “Insanity is managing your supply chain using the same disconnected spreadsheets over and over but expecting better results.”

Spreadsheets Are Dangerous, Here’s Why:

  • Inaccuracies in spreadsheets increase the chances you’ll pay too much or claim too little rebate.
  • The bigger an Excel file gets, the more slowly the program will run.
  • Sooner or later, it becomes impossible to manage extremely complex rebates in Excel. It gets even worse when you’re dealing with hundreds or thousands of customers.
  • It’s dangerous to roll over rebates to the next quarter because rolling it back (in the case of errors) is so difficult.
  • Excel tends to round off very large numbers – risking accuracy and compromising data integrity.
  • Changes made offline (in spreadsheets) do not roll out to connected tools, systems, or assessments.
  • Excel doesn’t integrate nicely with other systems.
  • It has security and version control issues.
  • Even worse, if people change values, formulae, or dependencies, you may be at risk of fraud, especially since there’s no audit trail.
  • If errors creep into spreadsheets and find their way onto the balance sheet, repetitional damage is a real risk.
  • Excel is very hard to fix. When things go wrong, how do you know? Troubleshooting is extremely challenging. It’s time-consuming to trace the relationship between formulae and cells to check for errors. Only the most expert Excel users can do this. And as team members become increasingly used to self-explanatory, user-friendly tools, Excel experts are increasingly rare.
  • Auditors don’t like undocumented processes. They know that Excel doesn’t cut it. That’s why many auditors actually recommend using a tool like rebate management software.
  • There’s a genuine risk that sticking with spreadsheets while your competitors move to rebate management software will mean you get left behind.

If these aren’t sufficient reasons to convince you to leave Excel behind because traditional rebate management is broken, read about these 10 disadvantages of using spreadsheets for rebate accounting or why Excel errors make spreadsheets so dangerous for rebate accounting.

How To Make Excel a Thing of The Past

It’s time to stop relying on traditional ways of managing rebates. As new entrants to the workplace get younger and younger, these outdated methods are not fit for the fast-paced age in which we live.

It’s all very well for a company specializing in rebate management software to say that. You might even be tempted to believe it because of our many customer stories about how rebate management has saved so much time, effort, frustration, and money. But we get it; change isn’t always easy. There’s a fear factor.

Fear can make even the most logical business decision seem risky. There’s a fear of adding a burden to teams who’re already overwhelmed, fear of spending too much money, and perhaps even a fear of failure. But not facing that fear and moving forward can expose your business to far greater risk: Financial inaccuracy, failed audits, the loss of staff who want to use modern technology, and the risk of your competitors using technology to surpass you.

“The world in which we do business has changed dramatically, and things aren’t going back to the way they were. [This] has triggered a renaissance in our industry – a fundamental need to realign the very foundations on which we run our businesses.
To survive, we need to move away from the processes and legacy technology... That complicated mess of spreadsheets many of you are still using to manage your supply chain isn’t going to cut it anymore. And if you’re honest with yourself, you know it.”

– Alexa Cheater, writing for Kinaxis

To help your rebate team move away from Excel, it helps to address their resistance to change. There will be a learning curve when learning to use a new system. But they’ll have to give up their beloved spreadsheets sooner or later. Intuitive rebate management software makes it much easier to transition.  

Sales teams might be resistant to move away from trusted spreadsheets, too. Before proceeding, make sure your team will find rebate management software easy to use by testing it with a free trial.

The Alternative – Rebate Management Software

The good news is that the dark side of using spreadsheets to manage rebates has a shining light at the end. Read the stories from our customers at AD, Grafton Group PLC, United Aqua Group, DCS Group (UK) Ltd, Advance Auto Parts, General Plumbing Supply, Unitas Wholesale, Thos Somerville, and Douglas Dynamics, and you’ll discover how they overcame the fear factor to leave Excel behind.

Then the rest is up to you… If you’re ready to boost financial performance, increase operational efficiency and mitigate business risk, it might be time to invest in rebate management software and fix traditional rebate management once and for all.

Elizabeth Lavelle

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