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How to improve bad sales and marketing reports

Why is it that sales and marketing professionals have an issue with reporting, being it in PowerPoint, e-mail or SFA? We found that both the quality of the reports and the review process, if any, are to blame. Here are a few tips to improve, increase performance and motivate employees along the way. 

No one will deny that communication is crucial in any business, being it informal or formal, written or verbally.  In fact, most business decisions rely on formally written sources. Yet, a common ‘feature’ of sales and marketing professionals is that they dislike reporting.  You could argue that this is just the nature of this field of work, but observing new and experienced employees, we found that bad reports and badly conducted reviews are largely to blame for this.

The bad experience

Reporting can help a sales person to grow the business: it helps to create visibility internally, to rethink the business case, to escalate and address important issues and to mobilize support.  A belief that ‘new to the job’ sales employees, from other fields of work or just graduated, shared. Most of the more experienced employees however, found reporting a burden and when asked, their typical criticism was:
  • Reporting is a policing and control activity rather than something that helps with the business.
  • It is a no win situation: you are challenged and interrogated independent of what or how good you write.
  • Little or nothing is actually done with the reports. That is, until things go wrong.
  • It is just to satisfy the internal need for useless information.
  • It is a waste of time and effort and I update my boss already on a daily base.

The business review process

The previous paragraph refers mainly to experiences employees had with the processes around the reporting, typically called business reviews, and that these processes despite positive intentions can lead to a negative experience and demotivate even your top performers.  It might be good therefore to look at each report in your front line and ask the following questions:
  • Is it sufficient clear what the report is trying to address, what is done with the information and how it benefits the business? If not, do so.
  • Does anyone read or review the reports? If not, then stop the report, change the frequency or implement changes to the content.
  • Does anyone respond on the reports?  Respond to the writer with a short remark or question, even better, a positive note or recognition based on the content of the report.
  • Does someone act on the reports? Make sure someone addresses the highlighted issues, if not rethink usefulness of the report.

Bad or low quality reports

The review process though is only partly to blame. A good report cost effort and energy, effort that sadly not every sales or marketing person is willing to spend. The results are bad reports that are not only annoying to read, they also do not give reasons to respond or act in a positive manner.

There are however a few simple guidelines (Hi-Five) that can improve most sales and marketing reports independent whether they are in PowerPoint, Excel, Word format, plain e-mail or use online sales force automation or reporting systems:
  • Headlines: Use a headline style of reporting, keeping it brief and summarize the key points in one sentence. Rule of thumb: stay within 10 words to highlight the issue (bold) and explain verbally, in (indented) sub-paragraphs or in an appendix the details.
  • Impact: Mention only matters that have a business impact. Minimize statements that describe the mechanics of an action (e.g. had a good/bad meeting with the customer), instead describe the impact that action had.
  • Facts: Stick to facts and avoid personal opinions or assumptions unless they are critical to explain an action, e.g. you do not have the facts, you assume this and in your opinion, you should do that to get the facts.
  • Informative: Minimize old information and provide as much as possible only new Information. Assume that people know the old information and hate to read information twice.
  • Variations: Always explain (especial financial) differences with previous report. E.g., explain variations between the forecast of last month and the actual results.
  • Exclusions: Remove anything that did not follow the above 5 points. Particularly avoid sentences that describe the mechanics of your job e.g. went to the customer to have a meeting.
The general rule is the shorter the better, yet without forgetting important matters. Have the diligence and discipline to keep a journal. It costs a few minutes every day, but will make the task of writing the report a lot easier.

Final words

For those who think after reading this article, that we are in favour of a ‘reporting culture’, let us correct that: this is not the case. Our belief is that quality reporting, in combination with good review processes, help to improve internal communication, put attention on the right issues and can drive actions that truly support the growth of the business. And… if properly executed, it helps to motivate people. Hi-five.
© 2012 EnFeat 

Subpages (1): Not all reports are bad