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Keys to Good Reporting

Reporting is one of those areas where everyone needs to see something different. Top-level executives love the idea of a dashboard to let them know how each business unit is performing; Sales managers need to see how their people are performing and what the pipeline looks like; Sales reps want to know how they are doing against their quota, or who they should call upon next.  Yet, with all these differences, everyone seems to always say the same thing: “I can’t find what I need!”

Salesforce’s out of the box reporting engine may lack the functionality of some other major analytics players, or even its new analytics engine, but plenty of good reports can be created if you follow some general guidelines. Here are three that we cover with customers on a regular basis:

Identify the question you want answered

In earlier versions of Salesforce’s reporting engine, the description field used to be labeled “What question does this report answer?” I loved this label because it stressed a simple truth about reports — they answer questions. A good report should answer a straight-forward question.

  • “How many accounts in the Midwest division own product ‘X’?”
  • “Which sales reps have opportunities over 10K closing in the next 3 months?”
  • “What is the status of non-closed cases submitted via our website?”

As a result, coming up with the right question is the first step in building a good report.

Know where the data resides

Once you know what question you want answered, you need to go get the data. And to do that you need to know where the information is stored. While this concept may seem self-evident, this seemingly simple task can be a challenge. Maybe fields are excluded from page layouts for simplicity purposes, so the user requesting the report doesn’t know where to find the information. Perhaps the data doesn’t exist and a field needs to be created so that information can be captured. Often the data exists in numerous child records, such as activities, and so the report needs to be based on an object different than originally expected, i.e. Tasks rather than Accounts. Or maybe a roll-up field may need to be added to give the summary level needed.

Enter data consistently

The old cliché “Garbage in, Garbage out” may sound silly, but it’s still true. Reports are only as good as the data they retrieve, and capturing good data depends on a nicely structured Salesforce system. “Nicely structured” means more than just creating the right fields to capture information. It also means ensuring the right data gets into those fields at the right time. Picklists are a great place to start because they inherently force consistently entered data. In addition, validation rules requiring data in certain situations go a long way to creating clean data. Workflow rules to populate other fields when certain condition are met are another way to ensure consistency. Bottom line, if you want to report on it, make sure your system is organized in a way that either forces the user to enter the data the way you want it, or build routines that do it automatically.

Reporting can certainly cause even the data gurus of the world to pull their hair out trying to represent the right data to the right people in the right way. But keep these guidelines in mind, and you might be able to retain your hairline a little while longer.

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