We all spend a lot of time reporting. Someone higher on the food chain is always looking for data. So we do what we have to do, wondering why are we wasting our time, how are they going to use it (the big brother issue), or if they even look at it.

Fortunately, a lot of the CRM and related tools, if we use them, minimize the amount of time we spend reporting. If we keep them updated, they can provide most anything management would ever want.

Frankly, I think we waste a lot of time on reports and reporting. Mostly, it’s because we are using them wrong or we don’t even know how to look at them. We don’t leverage them for deep understanding and problem solving, we don’t use them for effective decision-making.

We tend to use reports as the end, not as a starting point.

Probably the most “looked at” reports, from a sales management point of view are pipeline and forecast reports. Managers obsess over them. “Do we have the right coverage? Are our pipelines robust enough? Are we going to make the numbers?” Forecasts are similar, “How do I know we will really make the number?”

All of this can be useful–if the base information is accurate or if we “see” the detail, not just the aggregate or summary numbers.

Aha, here’s the first big “Gotcha!”

Virtually everyone I meet, accepts the report and the data as gospel. They look at overall indicators, totals, summaries, but don’t drill into the details.

There could be glaring problems in a pipeline report that if they could reach out of the report would hit a knock out punch–but we are blind to them. Deals still in the pipeline that are way past their expiration date, deals that have target close dates of last year, last quarter, last month, target date/sales cycle anomalies, and so forth.

These are glaring problems shown by the report itself, but because we focus on the aggregate, not the line by line, cell by cell detail, we completely miss them. I don’t know how many times I’ve looked at a pipeline report with an executive and they say, “We’re in OK shape…..” Then I ask, “What about this, and this, and this, and ….?” Pretty soon we start seeing a lot of issues that impact the aggregate or summary data.

Or we do deal reviews, they’ve checked the right boxes in the sales process, they’ve filled out the right stuff in the CRM system, but we don’t drill down into a few pieces of detail or ask, “How do you know?” So we focus on the wrong things.

Or we look at activity reports, see the numbers are right, but don’t drill down into the quality of the numbers. Activities are the easiest things for sales people to game, but if we don’t pay attention to the detail we accomplish nothing.

The devil is always in the details! But if we don’t take the time to drill down and understand the details, we may make some tragic errors. We may miss huge opportunities.

Reports aren’t the end–they’re the starting point. They give us clues (if we can only see them) about where the problems or the opportunities are. But these clues are seldom in the summaries or consolidations, but in the detail of the report itself.

The second big “Gotcha,” is, while managers might ask for reports, they don’t use the reports. I don’t know how many times I see an organization drowning in reporting. Yet, managers aren’t paying attention to the reports. One of my favorite stories is working with a very large client, we saw lots of reporting. We wondered, what’s really necessary? Can we reduce the number of reports, saving lots of time and resource, simplifying the business. We surveyed managers—“No we need all of these, in fact we’d also like to see…….” Still convinced there was a lot of wasted effort, we decided to do something else. We took the “most important” report, we left the first couple of pages the same, then we dropped major sections of the report then waited for the complaints. This report was used by several hundred managers and was considered critical. How many complaints did we get? One–only one person was looking at the report closely enough to tell most of the report was missing. Needless to say, that started us to reducing huge numbers of reports.

For some reason we seem to have a sense of security in data–yet we don’t use it or exploit it, so consequently they really have no value.

So use them or stop them, stop wasting everyone’s time.

Third, we don’t use them correctly. Reports should provide insight and lead to action. The data helps us understand what’s happening, where we are performing well, where we can improve, where we may be missing opportunities. So if we aren’t leveraging reports to take action, then we aren’t getting as much as we can from the data.