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Information allows managers to act; data doesn’t. That’s why effective salesforce reports present information in a way that is quick and easy to assimilate. They draw attention to the essential facts. They allows managers to act, not analyse. So here’s our 5 tip guide to creating effective, action-oriented salesforce reports.

  1. Draw the eye to the key information.
  2. Present information in a structured way.
  3. Remove clutter that distracts from the main message.
  4. Group data into meaningful time periods.
  5. Be consistent in the way colour is used in report charts.

We explain what each tip means and how to achieve it in salesforce. We’ve even included videos to show exactly how to apply each tip to salesforce reports.

1. Draw the eye to key information in salesforce reports

Let’s start by answering the question I’m most often asked about salesforce reports. “How do you use colour highlighting to focus attention on the key data?” Here’s an example of what we mean.

Salesforce report with conditional highlighting so that the eye catches the important information.

The report shows the pipeline opportunities for each Account. We can see the account names on the left, and the opportunity close dates across the top. It’s a report that contains a lot of zeros. The important information is any figure greater than zero. That tells us the Account has opportunities that are due to close in that month. Look at Athena Home Products in the top row. The green highlighting immediately shows that this customer has opportunities in two months – February and July.  United Oil & Gas (third row from the bottom) has open Opportunities in months February though to August. The colour shading is done using the ‘conditional highlighting’ feature. Here’s what the same report looks like without conditional highlighting.

Salesforce report without conditional highlighting makes it much more difficult to see essential information.

The viewer has to work much harder to find the important information. In contrast, conditional highlighting means managers can quickly run an eye over the report. They immediately get to see which accounts are contributing to the pipeline, and when. This video shows how easy it is to set up conditional highlighting on a salesforce report.

Catch the eye: how to use conditional highlighting in salesforce reports

Incidentally, this report allows managers to challenge their existing account management and business development strategy. It’s key information for funnel reviews so we’ve created a dedicated blog post that explains how to create and apply the Accounts with Open Opportunities salesforce report.

2. Present information in a structured way

The way data is presented makes all the difference. Structure it well and managers can access the information quickly and easily. Present it badly and they’re left to dig the information out for themselves. And that means, nine times out of ten, salesforce reports should be presented in a matrix format. We’ve published many blog posts that explain how to use dashboards to gain visibility of the sales pipeline. In virtually every case, the underlying information is displayed in a Matrix Report format. The ‘Accounts with Open Opportunities’ report in the conditional highlighting tip is an example of what we mean. In this case the matrix has account names down the left, close dates across the top. The information is accessible in a way that allows managers to absorb it quickly and make decisions on how to act. But here’s an alternative way to present the very same information. This time it’s using the Summary report format.

Summary report makes it much more difficult to understand the data compared to a matrix report.

The report is showing exactly the same data. But the Summary format presents the information in a much less usable and accessible way. In fact the resulting report is so unwieldly we had to truncate the screenshot just to display it in this article. So unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise, insist that your salesforce reports are created in Matrix, rather than Summary format. This video shows you exactly how to create a Matrix report.

How and why to use matrix reports in salesforce

3. Remove clutter that distracts from the main message

When it comes to sales performance reports, very often less really is more. For most sales managers time is short. So salesforce reports need to present the information clearly and concisely. But very often salesforce reports contain distracting clutter. And chief amongst the clutter is the Record Count. That’s the number of records in the system that make up a total dollar figure. Think about the Accounts with Open Opportunities report. Only the essential information – the value of deals due to close each month – is visible in the report. Here’s an alternative version of the same report. This time it includes the Record Count.

Including the record count in a salesforce report often adds unnecessary clutter.

Does the Record Count add compelling value to the report? Well, it tells us that for American Banking Corporation, the £136,000 that is due to close in March, is made up of two opportunities not one. But the sacrifice we have to make for this piece of information is a lot more data in the body of the report. Plus it almost doubles the overall length of the report, meaning the viewer has to scroll much further down to see the full report. It event means we have to truncate the screen shot to fit it into our blog post! So unless the Record Count adds meaningful value in your salesforce report, remove it. Here’s another example of clutter. Again the same report. But could you manage effectively using this report?

If details are shown in the salesforce report it is much harder to access management information.

What’s happened here is that the report is set to run with ‘Show Details’. In other words, when the viewer runs the report it immediately presents the full underlying information. But effective managers will look at the summary information first. If they need more detail – in this case information on the specific opportunities that make up the report – they can get it by expanding the report. But in the first case, unless a piece of data adds compelling value to the report, remove it. And that process usually begins with the Record Count and setting the report to run with Hide Details. Watch the video on matrix reports to see how to remove the Record Count and set the report to run with details hidden.

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4. Group data into meaningful time periods

Most salesforce reports that provide information on the sales pipeline or won revenue summarise the data by date.

For example, managers want to see the value of deals due to close each month. That’s what our Open Opportunities by Account report tells us.

But managers need the information in meaningful time periods. For many of our clients, the sales cycle is typically three to five months. So salesforce reports need to present the value of opportunities due to close for each calendar month.

Conversely Taylor Woodrow operate in the construction industry. There the sales cycle is often three to five years. So salesforce pipeline reports present the information in calendar quarters. For managers in Taylor Woodrow, that’s a meaningful period of time.

In either case, it’s not relevant to present the pipeline in daily segments.

But look at what happens when you first apply a date to a salesforce report. Here’s our Accounts with Open Opportunities report again.

By default salesforce groups by individual dates on reports.

The Close Dates across the top automatically group by individual dates.

That’s a severe case of not being able to see the wood for the trees.

Fortunately it’s easy to fix (we show it in the video on tip #2), it’s just not always done!

5. Be consistent in the use of colour in salesforce report charts

A picture paints a thousand words. That’s why every great salesforce report has a chart.

Everyone can assimilate information quickly from a chart. But doing it efficiently means having consistency across charts in different reports. Particularly in the use of colours.

And unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Have a look at the two salesforce report charts below, taken from the same salesforce environment.  Both charts show the sales pipeline by close date, grouped by opportunity stage.

Use consistent colors across report charts showing the same data.

The size of the pipeline in both cases is the same. But there’s a major difference.

Different colours have been assigned to the opportunity stages in each chart. On the left hand chart, for example, opportunities in the Prospecting Stage are in blue. On the right hand chart, they’re in brown.

And that’s confusing.

Even more so if you have these two charts alongside each other on the same dashboard.

It happens because salesforce dynamically assigns colours to charts. Ask your administrator to use the feature, “Assign Fixed Colors to Picklist Values” in the configuration area.

So use these tips to increase the impact of the salesforce reports in your business. Make it easy for viewers to quickly access the information they need. Present the information effectively. Remove clutter.

The result will be information, not data. Information that drives the sales pipeline and sales performance.

Good luck.

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