What gets measured gets managed.
It’s an old adage that perhaps goes a long way to explaining why data reports have become such a staple of modern business.
But in reality, data reports have developed a reputation as tiresome affairs capable of inspiring little more than the urge to fall asleep.
Indeed, the very term conjures forth images of marathon PowerPoint sessions and endless documents that can be such a chore to get through that few ever use them to their full potential.
What’s more, those reports often leave little scope for real-time financials or up-to-date data, typically relying on months-old numbers which in today’s rapidly-moving, ever-changing business climate may not be the most accurate reflection of the current status quo.
It’s a problem, sure, but not one that can’t be overcome.
In this guide, we’ll look at six of the best ways to breathe new life into your data reports so that they can help you make faster, smarter decisions about how to grow your company.
What is a Data Report?
In the most basic sense, a data report can be any tool that presents various forms of key business data. The idea is that decision-makers can use this data to inform their next steps in terms of managing, maintaining, and growing their business at both an operational and strategic level.
For example, it could be that a data report pulls in important insights from your customer data platform about how visitors are using your website, or how effective your call-to-actions are. Combined with other insights into your performance and marketing statistics, this could inform the goals and targets you set for your online division, or at the very least help you assess whether what you’re doing is currently working or not.
Or it could be a report on productivity levels, the factors influencing an increase or decrease in that productivity, and what, if anything, needs to be done about it.
Either way, it used to be the case that these documents were fairly dull, static documents based on past data. Not only did that make them uninspiring to read, but it also meant that reports didn’t o really capture what was going on with the business in the here and now.
Since then, the popularity of dashboard reporting has redefined the possibilities of data reporting, empowering businesses to access and make use of more up-to-date (if not completely real-time) data, and present it in a compelling visualized format which makes it easier to digest, analyze, and make sense of.
Still, investing in a new Business Intelligence (BI) dashboard alone is no guarantee that your data reports are going to make the kind of impact you want them to make.
That’s why we’ve put together the following six quick tips to help you make sure your reports are the true gamers you want them to be.
Tips to Optimize your Data Reports
Identify your essential data
Make no mistake about it, we live in a data-driven age in which just about every aspect of your operation could potentially be measured in some way.
Yet as the old saying goes, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
If you simply cram your reports full of every data source available to your business, the result is going to be a cluttered, cumbersome document which makes it increasingly difficult to pick out those game-changing insights.
As such, you’ll benefit from giving some thought about what you want to achieve with your reports, which data is essential for achieving that goal, and which data is likely to get in the way.
If you’re currently faced with a challenge around customer conversion and brand loyalty, for example, then the data sources you focus on may be different than they would be if you were aiming to acquire new customers or improve operational efficiency.
Decide in advance what data is going to be most meaningful and relevant and ignore anything which, though it may be interesting to read, has no real bearing on any practical actions that may be taken as a result of your report.
Be clear about your type of data report
Not all data reports are made equal, so along with defining which data is essential and which isn’t, you’ll also find it useful to determine exactly which type of report you want to come up with.
A pure fact-finding mission, for example, will require little more than a basic informational report which can be invaluable for taking stock without offering any kind of analysis of the data on display.
Other types of reports you may want to think about include:
Recommendations and justifications
Useful for recommending changes and/or improvements as well as providing evidence to justify decisions made after-the-fact.
Risk assessments and feasibility reports
Helpful for determining whether a proposed plan of action will work, the risks involved, and the best course to mitigate those risks.
Research and idea generation
Research studies can be incredibly helpful for presenting potential new solutions to ongoing challenges and helping your business to learn, grow, and evolve.
Compliance reports and studies may be required for legal purposes (such as ensuring you’re on top of your data protection obligations) or proving accountability either to external governing bodies or senior management.
We’ll talk more about KPIs later, but needless to say, a good KPI report can prove invaluable for measuring and benchmarking progress.
Know your target audience
We’re all familiar with the concept of understanding our audience in terms of marketing to customers, but don’t underestimate what a difference it can make in terms of presenting your data report.
If you’re presenting to a third party to win their business, then the kind of data you present, and the way you present it, may be the deciding factor when it comes to creating a winning proposal, and the approach you take for that purpose would be different than if you were pitching an idea to upper management about upgrading software.
Knowing exactly who you’re presenting to and why will help ensure your data reports are clear, focused, and effective.
Have an in-depth plan with KPIs
So far, everything we’ve discussed can be summed up with one simple yet very important fact.
Proper planning and preparation are key to creating a successful data report that your stakeholders will want to read and find helpful.
Having an in-depth plan means asking important questions about what you’re setting out to achieve. Some of these questions like “who is this for?” and “what is the purpose of this report?” we’ve already looked at above, but there are more questions to consider such as:
- What data will the people reading this report need to make an informed decision?
- What does this data show and what are the key insights to be gained from it?
- What are the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that will be most helpful to include?
This last question is particularly important as the type of KPIs you select can play a big role in determining the overall effectiveness of your report, helping you to present data in a context that is relevant and meaningful to your intended audience.
For example, tracking important sales KPIs such as your Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR) and churn rate may prove invaluable when pitching new ideas for improving your customer support strategy, but if you’re talking about broader marketing goals it may be that they prove superfluous and only distract from metrics which, in that particular instance, could be more valuable to your audience.
Use data visualization
We started this guide by talking about how drab, dull, and lifeless old-fashioned data reports used to be, but there really is no longer any need for them to stay that way in a world where data visualization is both more prevalent and easier to create than ever before.
This isn’t just about upping the game for the sake of showing off or using data visualization tools just because they’re there.
Business intelligence dashboards and other visualization options can make it easy to present typically difficult-to-follow concepts and ideas in a way that makes it easy for decision-makers to understand while and can help to keep those decision-makers engaged in a way that no amount of endless data tables ever could.
There are a few important things to consider here:
- While making your data visually appealing could seem like a great opportunity to unleash your team’s creativity, this isn’t the time to get carried away. Think about what visuals are going to have the biggest impact, make the most sense, and be the easiest to understand.
- Be mindful that your report looks equally as impressive across all devices and mediums. The data you present should look just as good on your manager’s iPad as it does in the printed report you’re sending off to shareholders.
- Visual data can be a great way to help identify patterns and opportunities that may have otherwise been overlooked but don’t take it for granted that your audience will automatically spot them. Although people will have an easier time getting to grip with a BI dashboard than they would a huge data table, you’ll still want to ensure you can point out exactly what they’re looking for and -more importantly- what it means for your business.
Make your report actionable
You can have the best-looking report in the world, one that’s full of fascinating insights and relevant data sources, but if you don’t wrap that report up with some kind of actionable recommendation then the end result is likely to be that your audience is left thinking “yeah? So what.”
If you’ve produced a report on your team’s recently forced switch to remote working, for example, then it may not be enough to simply show what impact this has had on operational productivity or your overall bottom line.
If that report is to really make an impact, then you’ll want to finish off with actionable steps that your organization can take, whether that’s implementing permanent policies for making that switch stick or implementing actions to gradually get back in the office.
Create Impactful Data Reports Today
If there’s only one key thing you take away from this guide, let it be this:
The key to creating an impactful data report which enhances is to understand the who, why, what, and how of that report.
Who is this report for? Shareholders? Upper-management? Clients? Your target audience is going to shape and define not only the different kinds of KPIs you measure, but ultimately how you present that data.
Why are you creating the report? Is it to recommend a change in business practices? To improve sales or increase customer loyalty? Again, knowing what you’re trying to achieve will play a large role in determining which data sources you include in your report.
Finally, what are the biggest insights or recommendations arising from your report and how can your company move forward with those recommendations with actual, actionable-steps?
Put a plan together, keep these key points in mind, and by the time you’re done, you’ll find your data reports are no longer the kind of thing that sends upper management to sleep, but which provide genuine value and enhance your business’ performance.
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About the author
Zoe is a content marketing strategist for SaaS brands like FollowUpBoss, Mention.com and more. Bylines: Ecwid, ProProfs, Score, etc. On the personal front, Zoe is a pho enthusiast and loves traveling around the world as a digital nomad.