How Salesforce Reporting Has it Wrong

I sat down to breakfast yesterday, eager to unwind after an early morning run. I checked social media, and this blog post stood out in my feed:

4 Steps to Better Reporting in Salesforce

Given my focus on Salesforce reporting, it was a lock that I would click through. Unfortunately, the post didn’t help me unwind from my run. Quite the opposite.

Once again, my kids gave each other the “Dad is having a conversation with his iPad” look.

You shouldn’t need training on your Salesforce reporting tool

The title of the blog post speaks for itself – it outlines four steps for improved use of Salesforce reporting tools. I have no problem with some of the advice given in the article, especially the exhortation to “Give less, go faster!”

I got riled up when I hit the second section of the post, with the advice to “Train before you create.”

To me, this is everything that is wrong with Salesforce reporting (and business software altogether). That reporting inside is so complex and so complicated that you are essentially being told “Don’t use it until you’ve really trained everyone” is . . . is . . . just flat out wrong.

I am a big believer that every business should have a data-driven culture so that they can run their business better. Cloud-based software makes data more and more accessible than ever before. Every time an employee starts a sentence like “I have an idea, we should . . . .” that employee should have the ability to immediately validate their new idea with data. Analysis and availability of “the numbers” should be pervasive. And I’m not just talking about providing access to the standard reports that get generated every month. Every employee should be empowered to explore all the data about your company and dig deep.

But here, as a user, you are being told to slow down and train everyone. Furthermore, they link to Salesforce’s Analytics Workbook, a 30+ page PDF of “Quick Tutorials” and a host of other videos and materials.

The level of training for which they are advocating is never going to happen across your entire organization. Best case, there will be one or two people who are well versed in building reports. What is the net impact?

Data is less available. Fewer people access the numbers. Data is left unexplored.

You are tracking the data, but are only empowering a select few employees to take advantage of the potential insights.

Much of the reason you invested in a CRM system is left untapped.

Salesforce reporting needs to be easy

Your Salesforce reporting tool absolutely needs to be easy to use. So easy that you can sit down and immediately start discovering new things about your organization. Think about some of the web applications you use every day. Did you need training to get started with them? Did you watch 30 minute videos on them? Did you read 30 page PDFs? Of course not.

Lets use twitter as an example.

There’s no “training” for twitter. They aren’t pushing you to hold off on using twitter until you understand all of the complexities and ways you can screw up.

Twitter makes it easy to sign up, get started and start benefiting. They’ve got hundreds of millions of customers as a result.

Reporting and analysis needs to be the same in your organization. Every employee should be able to immediately jump into their company’s data and get insight.

When training is put out front as a solution to a problem involving software, alarm bells go off in my head. This means that the ease-of-use of the software is an obstacle to the value that the software can bring. Training is an expensive solution to an obstacle and becomes obstacle itself.

Is there an alternative?

The alternative is a Salesforce reporting tool that is intuitive and easy to use from the outset. Report builders like those provided by Salesforce are incredibly flexible and can meet the needs of virtually any scenario. But as we can see from this need for training, flexibility comes at a huge cost: customers are intimidated and exploration of the data is minimized. People who are “trained” on the reporting system become a bottleneck for access to data-infused insight on your organization.

I am here to say that there is a better approach. Eliminate those bottlenecks.

Don’t use software that requires training, especially when it comes to software that is meant to distribute information more widely in your organization. Just as twitter is about information distribution, so is your Salesforce reporting tool.

Your data needs to be in the hands of as much of your organization as possible. Rather than optimizing your Salesforce reporting tool for every possible scenario and creating bottlenecks, choose one that is optimized for ease of access.

Use software that makes analysis with your CRM data free and easy to access. By breaking down the bottlenecks in information access, you will reap massive rewards from empowering your entire organization. Every employee is a potential source for new innovations, new ideas and better decisions. If your company’s ability to execute analyses are hoarded among a select few “trained” employees, your ability to move quickly is greatly hampered.

This emphasis on ease of access, usability and explorability  might come at a cost of not having the exact perfect report each time. So be it. I argue that this cost is dwarfed by the benefits you will gain from empowering your entire organization to consume, explore and use your company’s most important data.

Say no to Salesforce reporting tools that tells you training is the answer.

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