Sergey Nivens - Fotolia

FullFunnel taps self-service analytics tools, ousts Excel

Excel is still one of the most widely used BI tools, but marketing services firm FullFunnel found it limiting and switched to self-service analytics tools.

Online sales and marketing services company FullFunnel LLC has been operating for about a year, and over that time its business has expanded. But one thing stood in the way of even stronger growth: Microsoft Excel.

The San Francisco company takes a data-driven approach to its core activities of inbound marketing, paid search and conversion optimization. A big part of its services strategy involves reporting to clients on the success of marketing campaigns and using the analytics results to shape future efforts. But at the beginning, most of the analysis work was done in Excel spreadsheets, with reports then set up as PowerPoint presentations to send to clients.

Excel remains one of the most popular data analysis technologies in use today, even as deployments of more functional and manageable self-service analytics tools have proliferated in organizations. While Excel does have some pretty intensive analysis functions, it can be difficult to implement them in a systematic, enterprise-wide manner. End users and business intelligence managers alike often complain of siloed data, inconsistent information and ad hoc, uncoordinated analytics projects.

We really struggled to pull data from different channels. It was a terrible process.
Stephen BaroneCOO, FullFunnel

FullFunnel struggled with many of those issues, and others. For example, COO Stephen Barone said that getting data from marketing and sales systems such as HubSpot and Salesforce into Excel was a big challenge. "We really struggled to pull data from different channels," he said. "It was a terrible process."

Too much time wasted in Excel

FullFunnel employees had to copy and paste charts from Excel into PowerPoint to create the reports for clients. The manual procedures got the job done, but Barone said the account teams were spending too much of their time on inefficient tasks such as these instead of productive data analysis activities.

To put a stop to the Excel busywork, FullFunnel implemented a set of cloud-based reporting tools from BI software startup DataHero Inc. in August. DataHero's namesake software connects to some of the most common data sources used by marketers and sales teams, including Google Analytics, Salesforce and HubSpot. Most of the technical aspects of the implementation were automated, so Barone didn't have to hire any new programmers or engineers. And the self-service cloud BI tools let users create Web-based reports for internal use or to share information with clients.

Account directors are the primary users of the DataHero tool at FullFunnel. They work with clients to define key performance indicators and then structure reports to track the metrics. Barone said the account directors rarely have specialized statistical or technical training. But, he added, some basic training sessions on using the software were sufficient to familiarize them with its functions.

More speed needed on data analytics

Barone said speeding up the process of building reports was urgent because FullFunnel's goal in this relatively early stage is to scale up operations as quickly as possible and take on as many new clients as it can. Now that reporting is simplified with Excel out of the picture, he noted, account teams can spend more of their time on their core marketing responsibilities.

And now that the teams are using more modern self-service analytics tools, they can truly act in data-driven ways, according to Barone.

"We believe that there's an equation behind everything," he said. "And if you can figure out the data pieces that fall into that equation, you can figure out how to scale things and tell a story and have the facts behind it to back it up."

Ed Burns is site editor of SearchBusinessAnalytics. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter: @EdBurnsTT.

Next Steps

Self-service analytics users need to be wary of the risks

Business users can get more productive with self-service analytics tools

Boosting self-service software adoption is all about focusing on the users

Dig Deeper on Self-service and collaborative business intelligence