The Emailed Dashboards School of Management

Today we have access to increasing amounts of data and analytics, from all kinds of systems and applications that were not easily accessible to business users even 5 or 10 years ago.

“Big Data” it is sometimes called, though more because it sounds cool than the actual size of the data in many cases. With all of this data however, understanding the “meaning” of the data is increasingly difficult.

We all need a way to quickly spot trends, and gain actionable insights from all that data that helps us manage the people and processes in our daily work.

One method I have found to be particularly effective in making use of data is having a series of dashboards automatically updated and then emailed to me nightly or weekly. Hourly between midnight and 4 or 5 AM, Salesforce updates my dashboards and emails them to me, graphs and all, to be reviewed while having my morning coffee and cleaning out the inbox.

Getting dashboards emailed to me eliminates the need to remember to log in and check the correct reports, and makes it easy to spot any anomalies or trends early. If I need more information about a graph or chart, clicking on it in my inbox takes me directly to the underlying report in Salesforce.

And having all the data centralized in Salesforce (hopefully) makes it easy for the data to be up-to-date without any human intervention to combine data sources or update spreadsheets.

Some Dashboards I like to see daily:

  • Website traffic via Google Analytics into Salesforce – how many unique visitors, page views, etc. did I get yesterday and where did they come from? How did that big blog post do? Anything that doesn’t look right? (Yes, I know I can log into Google Analytics and see this high level data plus a whole lot more, but I probably won’t — unless an email dashboard alerts me to something that warrants deeper investigation.)

DashboardVisitorsandPageviews

  • Registrations via backend database integration – if visitors are signing up on a web site or registering for an account with a SaaS product, I want to push that to Salesforce (within a few minutes ideally), so I can correlate visitors with registrations and have a clear view of the top of my funnel.
  • Leads via Salesforce’s Web-to-Lead form and other sources – how many inquiries are we receiving, and what is happening to them. This should include lead sources, ideally set by an automated tracking system (and yes I have one that I favor), as well as anything sales reps or marketing people enter into Salesforce clearly identified as such for separation in reporting.

DashboardSalesRepActivity

  • Sales activity via Salesforce – How many calls, emails and other activities are happening, and which reps are performing best. Don’t think of this as big brother or keeping the Sales people honest, but more as understanding your business’ sales productivity. And if you haven’t worked in sales before, you have to witness the data to understand that one Sales rep really can make 5 times more calls than another rep (and generally close 5 times as much business, though not always) even though both reps appear productive anecdotally.
  • Online Advertising Performance – If you are advertising online, Leads or Registrations with daily graphs broken out by advertising publisher is a particularly useful dashboard. You do need to keep some of those ad networks or blogs honest in terms of the impressions they are running and traffic they are sending you. Plus you will be able to see right away if your conversion tracking code was accidentally left off that new landing page, rather than at the end of the month when the numbers are run and it is too late.

Some Dashboards I like to see weekly:

  • Usage data – Integrating usage data from SaaS products or other customer behavior or purchasing information into Salesforce accounts is critical for both lead scoring / account ranking, as well as aggregate numbers on how the business is doing overall. I like to see a dashboard that has total usage (or whatever the key metric that shows customer adoption is) across all customers, as well as a list of top accounts, new accounts with high usage, and potential churn accounts whose usage / purchasing has recently dropped off.

DashboardFunnelMetrics

  • Conversion funnel – what are the trends in terms of lead conversion / opportunity creation, and how does the top of the funnel look in terms of volume.
  • Sales Pipeline – what Salesforce Opportunities are open, if there are free trials which are expiring in the next week or two, how many deals are at each stage, and is anything neglected or staying open forever without movement?DashboardGauge
  • Revenue – If you have a billing or other financial system integrated into Salesforce, it is nice to have some revenue dashboards as well. It isn’t a substitute for financial reporting (and won’t make the accountants happy), but can help you see total revenue, new sales, and understand some high level financial trends, even if it isn’t accurate to the penny.

By reviewing daily or weekly dashboards emailed from Salesforce, you can start each day with a quick overview of your business, and an easy opportunity to understand any trends and spot problem areas or successes. In addition, building these dashboards will ensure that you have all or most of the data that you need in Salesforce for other people to use, so it can make the chances of success much greater if you are just rolling out Salesforce CRM.

You may need to dive back into any one of a number of systems to see further details in the data, or use more sophisticated analytical tools to understand the correlations between different data sets. But ultimately having the data summarized, automatically updated and emailed to you in dashboards is a great way to stay on top of the top line numbers and trends in your business.

How are you using dashboards, and do you get them via Email? Let me know in the comments below.

CloudAmp to present at Salesforce Business Apps Bootcamp

CloudAmp will be presenting at Salesforce.com’s upcoming Business App Bootcamp here in San Francisco on January 29. The topic is “Garage to Glory: Stories from the Front Lines” — how to build and market Apps on Salesforce’s AppExchange. It should be a good event, so register here for free and come on down if you can make it.

 

BusinessAppsEvent

The enterprise app revolution is here and presents a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs and developers. With a great idea and the right go-to-market strategy, you can build a revenue generating business in record time.

Hear from influential thought leaders about trends they are seeing and key advice for building the next big app for the enterprise. Join us for this free, half-day event and walk away with the tools and inspiration to transform your idea into big business in the cloud.

BUSINESS APP BOOTCAMP
Tuesday, 1/29, 2:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Terra Gallery, 511 Harrison Street, San Francisco

Google Analytics data into Salesforce: A Method to the Madness

When I tell people that one of my main goals in business is to centralize all marketing and sales data in Salesforce, sometimes I am met with strange looks.

“Why would you want to do that?”

“Aren’t you worried about all the limitations of Salesforce?”

“Why don’t you use real analytics and and business intelligence tools?”

While many businesses pull data out of Salesforce and other systems to store in a BI tool, data warehouse, marketing automation system, or even just a spreadsheet, I believe that data centralization inside Salesforce for all of your marketing and sales tools is the future.

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I’ve even put my “money where my mouth is” as the saying goes, and focused my company CloudAmp on building apps that integrate data to display it in Salesforce Dashboards, in order to provide better analytics around the sales and marketing funnel.

Our CloudAmp Dashboard for Google Analytics connects to Google Analytics and then imports data automatically each day to display in a dashboard. Relatively straightforward (though not without some technical hurdles), yet no one had integrated web analytics data from Google Analytics into Salesforce in this way before.

Here are some of the challenges around centralizing marketing / sales data and analytics inside of Salesforce, as well some of the advantages to integrating and using that data inside of Salesforce that make it a worthy goal.

Salesforce Limitations

Salesforce has a number of limitations over external data warehouses and analytics tools. This is a valid concern for some applications, but in many cases these limitations can be overcome, or the value of integrating data into Salesforce outweighs the limitations.

1. Lack of functionality. For big data analytics, where very large amounts of data need to be processed, or complex analytical queries across multiple data sources are required, using Salesforce may not be possible. But for many uses, especially in the small / medium business (SMB) market, Salesforce works just fine.

Salesforce’s reporting and dashboard engine has come a long way, especially with the Spring 2012 Analytics release (Joined Reports, Cross Filters, and Bucketing — available in Enterprise Edition).

There are certainly many more features that can be added, and I know the Salesforce analytics team has a lot of increased functionality still on its product roadmap. But most basic data analysis and reporting queries are now covered, all within an interface that many Salesforce administrators and users are already familiar with (and paying for).

SalesforceAnalytics

2. Storage and API constraints. Salesforce does have caps on storage and API calls that at best could be called not very generous, at worst are a decade behind current standards. So if you are looking to import large amounts of data, it can be tricky.

You don’t want to have to pay for additional storage, but even more likely is hitting your API limit — at 1000 API calls/user/day, even if your integration is efficient and uses the bulk or SOAP APIs for some large data loads, it is easy to come up against the limit.

This means for many businesses, you will still need an external database or data warehouse to store much of this data, but it does not mean that you can’t integrate it into Salesforce. You may just need to be selective in what data you import, or just push calculated metrics into Salesforce rather than all the raw data.

Salesforce-API-Limitations

3. More difficult than Spreadsheets. Many marketing and sales people don’t use complex business intelligence tools but choose Microsoft Excel or Google Spreadsheets to run their analyses.

There are certainly challenges to modeling conversion data in Salesforce — creating formula fields and setting up the reports correctly in Salesforce is quite a bit harder for most of us than creating spreadsheets.

It also takes more work to record historical snapshots in Salesforce — by default it always displays the latest data, whereas spreadsheets tend to be more static. But Salesforce can be updated by many people without versioning issues (certainly possible in Google Spreadsheets but still tricky), and always being updated to show the latest data is a real asset in many situations.

Many companies find that spreadsheets in practice get updated once a month, or maybe the 15th and 30th of the month in a best case scenario. So a Salesforce dashboard, even updating once a day and being automatically emailed to you, has a much greater chance of alerting you to trends you should know about, or problems with an advertising campaign etc. that would be a serious issue to find out about 30 days later.

Benefits of Data in Salesforce

Despite the limitations above, there are a  number added benefits come from centralizing data inside Salesforce.

1. Single Source of Truth. The most common reason to centralize data in Salesforce has been a goal of CRM systems since before Salesforce existed — have all your data in one place, a “single source of truth” for any information that might be relevant to your customers.

This may seem an impossible goal, with data living in so many different systems typically. But with today’s APIs, it is getting easier to integrate data from various SaaS applications into Salesforce. And to simplify the integration, it can often be done as a one-way push into Salesforce, rather than a bi-directional sychronization.

Having data from multiple sources inside Salesforce can give your team a 360 degree view of the customer, and reduce the need to log into disparate systems — or even better, allow them to easily view data that they might have skipped in the past, due to the inconvenience of it being in another system.

GoogleAnalyticsSalesforceLeadsDashboard

2. Self-Service Analytics. When external data sources are inside Salesforce, in addition to providing a fuller view of the customer that data now becomes accessible to a wider audience and can be used for more purposes.

The marketing team can run some its own queries and create reports on the fly to better understand the data, and selected data can be exposed to the sales team, giving them a fuller picture of their prospects and customers where they might need it.

If you want to see data on a particular issue that comes up, it is pretty easy to create a new report, or modify and save as an existing one. Depending on your sharing and security model, I have even seen organizations where enterprising salespeople create their own reports to better understand their customers or go deeper into areas where they think there may be opportunities.

Power-to-the-People-Dashboard

3. Use Data for Multiple Needs. When multiple data sources are brought into Salesforce, it not only becomes more accessible but can often be used for multiple purposes. For example, integrating data from an external chat tool is useful not only to customer support for case tracking, but can be used by marketing as another data point in lead scoring. In technical pre-sales situations that make use of online chat, this could be a deciding factor in scoring purchasing intent.

Coming back to our Google Analytics example, bringing web site traffic data into Salesforce from Google Analytics can be useful on many levels. There are some challenges to exposing this data inside of Salesforce, because the Google Analytics terms of service do not allow for uniquely idenitifying site visitors, so web traffic data will not typically align on a customer account level basis like most data in Salesforce (though CloudAmp has another app to help with that problem).

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However, even in aggregate, Google Analytics data exposed within Salesforce can provide a more complete view of the sales and marketing funnel, starting at the very top. Viewing unique visitors, page views, and other web analytics metrics in a dashboard alongside your other sales and marketing dashboards is useful in providing additional visibility. If you have a spike in lead volume, you can quickly see if that corresponds to a spike in web site traffic, or whether there are other factors at play.

So those are some of the challenges and advantages to integrating and centralizing data in Salesforce.

Maybe we are a bit early to this party, by building simple apps that push data into Salesforce, so anyone can do it without a complex integration project. I certainly hope not, as I think there is tremendous business value here.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments, or contact us.

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