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3 Steps for Generating Actionable Reports

Many times, I have come across reports that contain interesting information, however the report is set up in a way that does not allow for the person reading the report to take any actions from it, if need be.  The report maybe a snapshot of one period of time, it may use numbers that require you to wait for future reports to develop trends, or it may just be simply unorganized to the point where it just does not make any sense.  As someone in the marketing field, it is extremely important that the reports I look at are actionable and after I am done reading one, I know a) if I need to take any action and b) where I should focus my attention if I do.  With that said, here are some great ways to set up reports to ensure that the next time you receive one, you will clearly understand your next course of action, if any.

1. Know the Goal of the Report

Without a goal for a report, there is no desired action.  What are you trying to accomplish? Are you trying to sell widgets? Generate revenue? Traffic? Page Views? Ad views?  In statistics, these are called key performance indicators, or KPIs. They are the metrics that define the success of your company; metrics that if they go up or down, you respond.  

If your goal is sales, you should be looking at customers, sales, revenue, revenue per visit/customer, conversion, etc.  If your goal is to drive traffic, you should be looking at unique visitors, visits, page views, etc.  Without properly understanding the goal of your reporting, you are not going to be able to come up with a report that is actionable.    For the sake of this article, let's assume we are concerned with sales of a particular widget and build from there.  So your main goals are units and revenue.

2. Choose Metrics that Tell You Something

Let's say you get a report that tells you that yesterday, you sold X widgets for Y revenue. Did you have a good sales day?  With a report this simple, you may have had a great day, or you may have had a terrible day.  How effective were your sales efforts?  Let's assume you sold 5 times the number of widgets you usually sell.  What caused the increase?  Did 5 times the customers come to buy your widgets, or did they sell 5 times better to the same number or people?  Or was it a combination of both?  Could you have sold even more widgets than you did?  Selecting metrics that tell you something will help you make decisions and understand your audience's behavior.  

For a minimal sales report, it is good to know how many people saw your product (visits or visitors), the conversion rate of those people to buyers, the raw number of widgets sold, the number of widgets sold per order, revenue generated and the revenue per order.  Using metrics that tell you something will help you know where you failed or where you were successful. In this case, we can see if the increase was from an increase in visits, an increase in how well your product sold (conversion) or how many of your widgets people bought per purchase.  Well, almost... you are not quite to the point where you can determine trends, etc. You just need to add a little time (no, not Thyme...).  I'll show you what I mean in the next step.

3. Use Time as Your Ally

Now that we know how each metric affected your sales day yesterday, how do we know which metrics contributed to the sales increase?  Without time, do we really know if the increase in sales was due to visits, or conversion, or items per order?  No, you only know one day's worth of numbers.  And sure, you can remember that you normally only sell 1/5th that number, or the day before you only sold 1/5th that number, but can you really make a decision yet?  Do you know if this 5X increase is in line with current trends, or was it simply an anomaly?  Are you getting more customers to see your product but your conversion numbers are slowly declining or are you converting better but being seen less?  To know this, you just need to add a little time.  

Set up your reports so that they run in timed increments.  If you select a one day report, how are you doing hour by hour?  And how does each hour today compare to last week, last month, or last year?  Would you like to see the previous week or month's worth of data leading up to this?  Absolutely!  This now makes each of these metrics relative to another point in time and you can now clearly see what is trending up and what is trending down.  You can see that the 5X increase is actually consistent with growth trends for the same day over the past 4 weeks and you can start beefing up your efforts to continue and support that growth.  Or you can see that it was simply a HUGE day, and there is nothing to suggest it is anything but an anomaly and you can take your staff out for a celebratory drink!  Either way, you would not know which one it was without time on your side.


Now that you know the goal of your report, you are using numbers that actually mean something and are using time as your ally, you should be able to successfully create reports that you can use to take action.  Once the reports are set up, you need to check them and check them often.  Whether your reports are telling you how today is going, or they are telling you how last week went, your reports should be delivered to you or checked on a regular basis so that you can keep an eye on the things that are important to you.

I have attached a couple sample reports that would be useful for a standard ecommerce website.  You can use them as templates and change out the variables to meet your requirements.  They should provide some insight into how reports could look and help you get a general idea of how you might structure yours.

The Monthly Sales Report would be a great report to show you how well you are doing at converting traffic to sales and revenue.
The Daily Unique Visitors Report would be a great report to show you how well you are doing in driving unique visitors to your site on a daily basis.  Comparing it to the previous day and pervious week help you generate a relative measurement of success.  

Happy reporting and more importantly, good luck actually having an impact on those numbers you are reporting on!  


Comments (1)

b0lsc0ttIT Manager

I will have to wait until later to look at the sample reports but I really enjoyed reading this.  Great info and liked the flow of the article.  Thanks for the contribution and your time working on it.


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