After Action Reports (AARs) have been used to analyze the past and improve future performance by military generals dating back to Julius Caesar; and more recently adopted by businesses for the same purposes—et tu, Brute?
AARs are the analysis of a sequence of goal-oriented actions, conducted retrospectively or prospectively. Similarly, sales reports should be goal-centric and actionable for improving the collective performance of the team.
In this article, we detail what makes for a good sales report, the importance of reporting, and what the future of sales reporting looks like.
A sales report details activity, results, and rationale for a product, rep, team, or organization's performance over a given period of time. The report relies on interpretations of data to measure progress against the plan, communicate wins and loses, and update projections based on actual performance.
A sales report is more than just a recap of the numbers; it’s an opportunity to reflect and review what actions influenced those numbers.
A process of reporting at regular intervals can be used as a method to coach your team towards success, just like athletic coaches review game film to offer their team an analysis of which plays worked well, what mistakes impacted the scoreboard, and strategies to prevent future mistakes.
Paired with a sales plan, the sales report is what enables leadership to measure the team’s performance and understand why and how the team missed, met, or exceeded expectations. For example, has the sales capacity plan played out as expected with a growing head count or has attrition spiked, rep ramp slowed, and performance slipped?
Sales reports can differ based on the time-frame being reported, the data being reported on, and the report’s author or audience.
The company could be on a short-, mid-, or long-duration reporting cadence (or a combination of each), usually daily, monthly, or annually, respectively. More importantly, however, the type of sales report will be based on who is reporting and the data being reported, such as:
It can feel like a waste of time reporting on the past when you could be spending that time actively selling and generating future performance. This is why we must reimagine the weekly sales report by utilizing real-time and automated reports to keep tabs on the leading indicators that directly influence performance.
Not only does a revops dashboard provide you with machine learning insights based on your team’s sales activity, but the data is automatically integrated without any manual data entry.
When building your sales report, you should rely almost exclusively on the data to do the reporting because sales reports are not op-eds.
The data can be measured against your previous performance and the goals established in your sales plan to provide context for where you are today, compared to where you were and where you thought you’d be.
Your assessment of the data is where you can explain what you believe contributed to these results. Ultimately, the data should help guide you towards improving performance, even if performance is at an all-time high. If, on the other hand, the results are disappointing and sales goals have been missed, you must use the data to formulate a plan to get back on track.
The data you include in your report should be limited in complexity, focusing on the main KPIs that have contributed to performance. Some examples of data to include in a sales report include:
Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and other best-selling management philosophy books, has a great line about prioritizing too many KPIs: “If you have more than 3 priorities then you don’t have any.”
Limit your report to include only data that provide actionable insights and takeaways for the team to implement moving forward.
You might be wondering how you can write a sales report that will impress your boss or leadership. Ultimately, the data will dictate much of how leadership judges your performance but there are some important formatting and talking points that will help elevate your report in the eyes of the beholden boss.
The odds are good that the person reading your report will be a manager of managers and therefore reviewing multiple sales reports. This is why the executive summary is a vital component of the report as it can signal to leadership if they need to spend more time digging into the details of your report (if anything notable or uncharacteristic stands out in the summary).
The executive summary should be short, to the point, and comprehensive of everything that will be covered in the report. Think of the executive summary as a table of contents with additional context for each item.
A good sales report is framed in the context of the goals established before the period, such as opps generated and quota attainment. This is important for posing a number of performance related questions:
Goal-based performance analysis is important for measuring the metrics that leadership has deemed matter most. Tying data back to the original projections holds everyone accountable and can help make future plans more realistic.
Vanity metrics are the data points that make you look good but don’t actually move the needle. These are not what you should include in your sales report.
If you’re putting together a report on rep ramp, for example, your report likely wouldn’t focus on how fully ramped reps have been able to shorten the sales cycle by a certain percentage. While an important metric for the team’s overall performance, this data overshadows the main goal of the report.
We mentioned that your report will not only be read by your direct supervisor, but by your supervisor’s supervisor, the board of directors, investors, and possibly others.
This means that being concise and to the point will certainly be appreciated by executive leadership, but extra attention must be paid towards readability, accessibility, and usability. User experience is typically thought of exclusively in regards to product development, but in reality, we must assume, even if untrue, those reading our reports (like those using our products) are not in the trenches each day.
In your sales report, use language that is straight forward, define acronyms and key words, annotate charts and graphs, and otherwise make your report as digestible as possible for any audience.
Your sales reports should mostly maintain the same structure and formatting to standardize the process, making it easy for readers to scan for the important information as well as easy for you to regularly compile reports.
Reporting should also occur at a regular cadence and look back over a consistent time-frame. This not only helps further incite reflection and establish accountability, but also over time, can reveal macro trends that aren’t recognizable amongst the minutiae of shorter and more recent time scales.
Data visualizations are important for quickly conveying trends and insights from the period being reported on, but data visualizations alone are not enough.
You must formulate interpretations of the data and highlight them within the visualizations themselves. This will help guide your readers to connect the same dots you did when analyzing the data.
Outline what you’ve learned from this period’s performance and how you plan to close the feedback loop next period.
Now that you’ve assessed you or your team’s performance this period, it’s time to make forecasting adjustments depending on the outcomes covered in your report.
If things went exceedingly well this period, what is your plan to accelerate (or simply sustain) this growth? If things didn’t go as planned, how should we adjust our goals or strategies to make sure we have more accurate quotas and regular attainment.
This could mean investing more in the strategies, tools, and markets that have delivered the most value and results while reducing or eliminating those that lagged or failed to add value.
We started this article with a discussion of After Action Reports (AAR) but we believe this method of reporting needs to be inverted to account for the adaptive learning nature of data-driven reporting, becoming Before Action Reports (BAR) — or even, During Action Reports. Not only because it’s a better acronym, but because we believe sales reports should be more prescriptive and actionable.
Reports must include tangible ideas for improvement guided by the data. C-suite executives are responsible for the performance of the entire organization but heavily rely on those closest to the situation to report their data insights for avoiding past mistakes and navigating uncharted territory.
Sales reporting is no longer a snapshot of the previous period but an ongoing process of iteration, refinement, training and implementation. Modern teams are driven by transparency such as pipeline visibility and must continue this progress towards live action reporting and guidance.
Sales performance is no longer measured only in the past, but also in the present and even the future. BI dashboards equipped with machine learning algorithms use the sales activity data your team generates to visualize the current status report and predict future performance.
The future of sales reporting should incorporate this 360-degree awareness. Whenever possible, use your reports as an opportunity to ask yourself, as Peter Thiel famously does, “How can you achieve your 10 year plan in the next 6 months?”
This mindset forces us to think differently about the big picture mission and how we could potentially accelerate our progress towards fulfilling that mission.
One thing that might actually get in the way of this progression is spending inordinate amounts of time reporting. This is why we at People.ai are proponents of sales automation and in this situation, reporting automation.
People.ai empowers reps to find the needle-moving strategies in the haystack of their activity data without the distractions of manual entry and reporting. Sales managers can use People.ai to get a status report on their team’s ramp, results, revenue, and rationale for performance.