Struggling to generate meaningful reports?

Reporting is the Achilles heel of most organizations. An Interana report found that “70% of organizations feel they do not get critical insights from their data or get data into the hands of the right individuals.” Usually, the solution is to implement a CRM or other database tool where reports can be generated at the push of a button, but (and I hate to be the bearer of bad news here) that’s not going to solve the problem if your reporting culture is lacking.


What we mean by ‘lacking reporting culture’ is that the approach to reports is ad-hoc and inconsistent. Every report is looked at as a unique project, rather than a piece of the whole. That’s why at Iceberg, we encourage companies to embrace the approach of ‘canonical reporting’ where reporting is approached holistically through a single owner.


‘Canonical’ in our context is a fancy way of saying ‘according to the established method’. These may seem too simple, but the root of many reporting pain points is inconsistency and decentralization.


Of course, there’s a little more to it than that. We’re going to dive into step-by-step specifics in a minute, but first, let’s take some time to understand the problem.

What’s wrong with the reporting culture today

Consider this common scenario: Sales and Marketing are comparing reports in a strategy meeting. They’re reporting on the same data but the report results are completely different. They realize the problems are 1) that they are using different filters and 2) that they have different definitions for critical terms like ‘lead’. Marketing considers any record in the CRM (regardless of level of qualification) a ‘lead’, while Sales only considers ‘leads’ to be people who have been qualified by Marketing to talk to a sales rep. With these disconnects, the meeting becomes a long saga of ‘which filters should we use?’ and ‘What means what?’ rather than making data-driven decisions for the coming quarter. 

Your report isn’t wrong, it’s untrustworthy — here’s why

Another reporting problem you may have run into is a report whose data makes no sense. You may have thought to yourself ‘this report is wrong’. However, unless there is an actual bug in the system, the report itself is correct — it just isn’t trustworthy. ‘Untrustworthy’ means the data isn’t speaking to the question you’re trying to answer, and it doesn’t build on previous reports. Rather, each report has a unique set of rules. When this is the case, it’s hard to determine basic metrics like growth and team performance.

The #1 Way to Transform Your Reporting Culture (for the Good)

In a word: consistency! Most reporting is an ad-hoc crowd-sourced nightmare jumble of disorganization. Maybe that’s a bit harsh. What we mean is that we’re working harder, not smarter.

Does this sound familiar?

  1. There’s no central repository for reports
  2. Different teams keep generating new reports on the same question with no awareness of the ones that have come before
  3. Teams do not share the same definition of key terms like ‘lead’ or ‘opportunity’

If any of the above points are true, then your reporting culture could use a boost. This means that no one person or team owns reporting and so the measuring stick keeps changing. Likely, a lot of time and energy is going into reports, but nothing is changing. Everyone is frustrated and it seems like one of those problems that just can’t be solved. However, this isn’t the case! Implementing canonical reporting can get to the root of all these problems. 


How does canonical reporting help create better reports?

Canonical reporting solves common reporting issues through consolidated ownership. With one person or team in charge, your company can create a consistent approach to reporting. Like all good things, a strategic reporting strategy takes work. However, this consistency will help teams make better decisions, and, in the long run, will save you time and energy. 


Here’s how to get started with canonical reporting

   1. Designate an owner

Designate an owner of ‘canonical reporting’. They’ll generally be part of the Revenue Operations team, but this is not a must. If you don’t have the skills internally, consider working with a consultant to help you establish a framework. 


The owner of reporting will not be the only one to build reports, but they will be a source of truth for anyone in the company building reports and dashboards. Maybe someone in the company has already informally taken on this role, but it’s important to make it a formal part of someone’s job so the function isn’t lost if that person leaves the company or changes positions.


   2. Decide which reports/metrics to include

Decide which reports and metrics to include in your canonical reporting. Hint: create the smallest list possible to give you the necessary insight without trying to boil the ocean. Take the time to include stakeholders from various teams so you aren’t overlooking important concerns.


At Iceberg, we work with reporting packs— reports geared towards different strategic meetings.  


See our report packs here, including…

  • Board Pack for reporting to your board of directors
  • Leadership Pack for reporting to the C-suite
  • Marketing Pack for critical Marketing metrics
  • Sales Pack for critical Sales metrics

   3. Define your terms

Define the terms associated with each measurable step in your revenue funnel in an accessible document. Common examples of terms that should be defined include lead, MQL, SAL, and pipeline. At Iceberg, we find it helpful to carefully define a company’s lifecycle stages. Every step of the funnel from awareness to deal close should be clearly delineated with the right criteria and coinciding filters.


Check out our case study with 280 Group for a real-life example of what crisp lifecycle stage definitions can do for your reporting.


   4. Create a home base for reports

This is usually a folder that all stakeholders can access but only your canonical reporting owner can edit. This folder will be an important source of truth for your company’s critical metrics. Be sure to include documentation that will make it easy for stakeholders to decipher the meaning and purpose of the data.


Bonus tip: Create a ticketing system

If your canonical reporting owner has the expertise, you may want to create a ticketing system that allows people to request reports. This will help ensure reports are trustworthy and efficient. Let’s say your VP of Sales needs to answer a question for an upcoming meeting. She can either spend the time trying to remember how to build a report or simply request the report from someone who already tracks the information and can create it in much less time.

If you work in a business, reporting applies to you

In today’s business world, a CRM is a basic necessity for customer-facing teams. Grand View Research reports that 91% of companies in the US with over 10 people now use this technology. But just because we all have it doesn’t mean we’re getting what we need from it. The reality is, most of us are fairly competent at using a CRM to automate tasks like email campaigns or customer outreach but struggle when it comes to reporting. It’s ok to admit this! Better to face the problem head-on and get help when needed.