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How To Optimize The Sales Reporting Process: A Guide For Busy Executives

Conner Burt

June 27th, 2017

sales reporting process

The quarter to quarter whirlwind of sales can be overwhelming. Without a surefire sales reporting strategy and a clear understanding of where your organization stands—it’s easy to feel lost in the woods.

Lessonly’s Chief Sales Officer, Justin Fite, likes to use an old hiking adage to describe the sales landscape that I’ve found very useful as we plan for the upcoming year.

In short, the advice says:

If a hiker gets lost in the woods, they shouldn’t start running around in a panic. 

Great executive sales reports should orient us to the reality of where we stand as a sales organization and where we need to go.

Leadership teams need concise and effective sales reporting that give an accurate snapshot of the business, but it’s worthless if we don’t know where we stand.

Sales Reporting Should Accomplish 3 Key Objectives

At the very core, effective sales reporting should answer the following questions:

How are we doing on sales so far?

Where are we going to finish?

What will our next quarter look like?

Recently, the Lessonly leadership team learned a few lessons that have changed how we answer these questions through our sales reporting.

Takeaway #1 – Pacing Is Essential

create urgency sales hacker

To continue Justin’s metaphor from earlier: after realizing that you’re lost in the woods, the first step is to stop and gather yourself.

For us at Lessonly, this gathering was the implementation of pacing goals throughout the company.

We can avoid the stressful end-of-the-quarter scramble to close sales with a focus on hitting measurable goals throughout the quarter.

Pro Tip: Divide your quarter into both months and weeks, setting goals for smaller periods of time.

Every sales and forecast report we look at shows our pacing line.

When you’re lost in the middle of the woods, all the variable options and next steps can get pretty overwhelming. However, if you break them down into more manageable decisions, it starts to seem a little less terrifying.

Similarly at Lessonly, rather than trying to reach a massive sales goal by the end of the quarter, we’re concentrated on our week-by-week, and month-by-month performance. This keeps us focused.

Pro Tip: Recognize that some metrics will have linear growth, while others will have curved growth. 

When considering pacing, recognize that many goals will have linear growth, such as total leads in the pipeline.

This number should be growing steadily throughout the quarter. Other pacing strategies will have curved lines, with greater emphasis later in the quarter such as ARR on closed deals.

Recognize that, because of attrition, many of the straight growth lines prime the pump for the curved line growth later in the quarter.

Optimizing Sales reporting 1

These pacing lines allow us to quickly and visually understand where we are and where we should be. This orientation is crucial to optimizing sales reporting for the quarter, just as orientation is crucial in the wilderness.

Key Takeaways Recap:

  • Emphasize pacing, pacing, pacing
  • Over-communicate with your team about pacing. 
  • Set goals for smaller time frames.
  • Review goals regularly with your team.
  • Address shortfalls early in the quarter: don’t wait for the last week.

Final Thought On Pacing: Never look at a sales report without a pace line—These pacing lines are not only the map for our sales process, but an aspirational goal. We can’t understand the bigger picture of our quarter without them.  

Takeaway #2 – Data Integrity Is Found Through Simplicity

sales forecasting metrics

Accuracy in sales reporting relies immensely on individual sales reps inputting and updating data.

Too often, we ask our reps to input so much data into opportunities and end up forgetting what’s important. 

4 Primary Sales Metrics To Include

  1. The Deal SizeWhat’s the opportunity (in dollars) of this contract?
  2. The StageWhat stage is this client at in the sales process?
  3. The Close DateWhen do we expect to close?
  4. The Forecast CategoryHow likely are we to close this deal?

These four sales metrics can inform 90% of the reports our leadership team needs.

Of course, more metrics can add valuable insights to a sales report, but we don’t want to overcomplicate itwe need a clear picture of the path ahead of us.

Choose only a few metrics that best capture your sales strategy, because using too many metrics can often be worse than no metrics at all.

By focusing on just four critical sales metrics, we also limit the number of fields we need our people to keep up-to-date on an ongoing basis.

We use tools like Pattern to make this process easy for our reps. This simplicity allows for more precise reporting at any given time. More accurate information, updated more easily is a win for everyone, right?

Key Takeaways Recap:

  • Get foundational data inputs right.
  • Pick your top 3-5 metrics that will provide the most clarity for your decision-making.
  • Hone in on those numbers, and use them month to month to improve your team.
  • It can be tempting to want to track everything under the sun, but simplicity is crucial.

Takeaway #3 – Solidify Your Sales Reporting Process BEFORE Investing 

losing money sales hacker

Now that you’re looking at the right data inputs, you have all the info you need to get out of the woods. Let’s put it together into a usable map.

Start by assembling a predictable, data-driven forecast and executive reports manually. Don’t throw this data at software just yet. Pull your data together in spreadsheets, and assemble it into a slide deck for regular review.  

It’s important at first to do this without automation in order to gain confidence and understanding of your sales process and cycle. Every week, evaluate your reporting. Are you getting the information you need to make effective decisions? Do you need to see the data differently?

After you build confidence in your sales reporting process, then you can invest in dashboards, tools, and automation to compliment everything.

This investment can take a lot of different forms, from software solutions like TopOPPS or InsightsSquared, to a dedicated Sales Ops team. But understanding our business has paid dividends in motivation, improved decision-making, and a higher level of focus.

Yes, it may seem like an unjustifiable expense when you’re first starting out, but it’s necessary for growth. The value added from productivity and better understanding of your sales cycle can take your business to the next level. Investing in your sales operations is worth itjust make sure you have the right process first.

Key Takeaways Recap:

  • Don’t expect software to solve your problem.
  • Start by assembling sales reporting manually to flesh out your process.
  • After you’ve perfected the data you need, then begin to invest in the process with software or a dedicated Sales Ops team member who can help you improve your sales reporting.

Takeaway Summary

As your team grows, it will become increasingly challenging to accurately measure, report, and forecast your sales. At some point, you will be lost in the woods, but don’t caught running in the wrong direction.

Optimizing your sales reporting process is absolutely essential for growth. 

  • Emphasize pacing, pacing, pacing.
  • Never look at a sales report without a pace line.
  • Get foundational data inputs right.
  • Don’t expect software to solve your problem.

About the author

Conner Burt

Conner Burt is the Chief Operating Officer of Lessonly, the leader in modern team learning software. He oversees sales, partnerships, and client experience. Conner lives in Indianapolis with the love of his life, Lena, and a placid dog named Titan.

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