For many sales persons and managers, reporting is one of the least enjoyed tasks and carries a high potential for conflict and frustration. I never met anybody who loves reporting, but for most of us it is inevitable.
Sales people regard reporting as a waste of time because it is time which they could better devote to their customers. They often call it unnecessary bureaucracy. Managers are frustrated, because they don’t get reports on time, so that they have to send reminders. Or they have to interpret long written reports in which the essential information is hidden behind long stories with a lot of irrelevant facts and opinions.
Nobody is really happy with reporting, but everybody has to do it. Almost all companies have some kind of reporting system installed. Why don’t they just drop it and stop wasting time on it? Simply because some reporting is necessary.
Reports are needed for both the managers and the sales people. In designing a good reporting system, one has to ask the purpose it has to fulfill for both of them. Managers have to take decisions for the whole business under their jurisdiction. This may be for an entire company or a sales department. It concerns daily business operations as well as long term strategic planning. Reports have to provide managers with the right information required to fulfill their tasks.
The most important information for the operative management is found in the forecast. Is the business on track and will the budget be met? What will be the cash flow? Are corrective actions required? What do we have to put on stock and where will we have to allocate resources? Most of these questions can be answered by looking at the forecasted numbers, but other decisions require additional background information. This concerns the sales and marketing activities.
In order to decide about actions, one has to know why the numbers are what they are. If, for example, the forecast decreases for certain products, this might be due to declining demand but it may also be an indicator for an increasing competitive pressure. A lack of understanding of this background, and hence the reasons for the numbers, can lead to vastly wrong decisions which may even make things worse.
Coaching their people is another responsibility managers have to fulfill. In order to do that, they have to understand what happens in the field and need the possibility to drill down from the aggregated report to the situation in a salesperson’s territory, and even down to the individual opportunity.
But reports are not only prepared for the management. Reporting – done right – can help the individual sales person as well. It is impossible to keep everything about ones opportunities in mind without recording the essential information somewhere. If one has 30, 50 or even 100 sales opportunities to manage, there is no way to do this effectively without keeping some records of interactions and the development of the numbers. How would one know what to do next and when? How would one plan and prioritize the own activities?
A common problem with much of reporting – and this applies to all business reporting – is that it is not well thought through and full of unnecessary ballast. Instead of being designed, reporting systems often evolve over a long time. Information which was needed at a particular time for getting control over a special situation is not removed, but will still be asked for years later. No one notices it, but it’s still produced, month over month. Since many people have been involved over time, the reports get longer and longer and increasingly lack consistency and usefulness which leads to frustration.
Another problem in some cases is micro management. Some managers believe that they should know every detail of every sales situation in order to stay in control. This causes a huge amount of extra work for the sales people. It also makes it impossible for the managers to see the essentials behind the massive amount of information and prevents them from taking the right fundamental decisions. It does not mean that a manager should not be able to see the details, but only when he needs them.
A good reporting system has to fulfill three main criteria. It has to be:
Win-Win is important because otherwise sales people will see reporting as an unnecessary burden, a bureaucratic activity which is a waste of valuable selling time and is just there to monitor them because the management has no trust in their work.
Meaningfulness is important in order to make sure that decisions based on the reports are successful and do not harm the business. Meaningfulness also is the prime motivator to writing and using reports.
And last but not least, a reporting system has to be lean. This means that it has to be free of ballast and should be limited to the essential information.
Ideally, information that is recorded by the sales persons for their own purposes is automatically aggregated for the management without the need of extra reporting. Forecasts, probabilities, interactions, and side information that are recorded in an opportunity management system like ASPEC serve both the sales people and the management in a meaningful way without creating extra work.
Being meaningful and lean makes it a useful tool for everybody and is not seen like a bureaucratic burden. Everybody is getting what´s needed without anybody having to waste his or her time.
Keep it lean!