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The Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model revolutionizes traditional approaches to business analysis. The long deployment cycles, high costs, complicated upgrade processes and required IT infrastructure of traditional on-premise business intelligence solutions are no longer acceptable in the age of on-demand. Instead, a new breed of analytics solutions has emerged that are easy to set up and use, and deliver immediate business value.

The difficulty for customers is knowing where to start. With well over 50 analytical applications to choose Manufacturing Cloud from on the AppExchange and native transactional reporting capabilities constantly being improved in the CRM application itself, it can sometimes seem like the Excel Hell status quo is the easiest and safest Choice.

If you don’t like managing and maintaining those clunky spreadsheets, pivot tables, separate Access databases, and numbers that often don’t even add up, here’s an introduction to help you go from automating the sales force to accelerating with Switch to on-demand business analytics:

Understand your sales analytics needs

As a Salesforce admin, you already know the importance of learning about the app’s built-in reporting and dashboarding capabilities. If you’re not up to speed, be sure to sign up for a training class, watch a Dreamforce presentation on the community site, and try downloading some of the AppExchange’s free dashboard apps . (Introductory dashboards, for example, are a great introduction and jump-start for dashboards, and they also familiarize you with the process of installing applications on the AppExchange.)
But that’s just the beginning. Invariably, with Salesforce, as is typical with transactional reports, you are always 4 or 5 reports away from answering the question you really want to answer.

To understand your sales analytics needs, you need to consider the following:

  • What information do sales leaders, CFOs and CEOs need today to be successful? (A clear understanding of your goals and success metrics is critical. How many of these questions can you answer today?)
  • What are the most difficult business questions to answer today? Who is asking these questions? When and why?
  • Would employees prefer to answer their own business questions, or do they happily rely on information from the sales department, business analysts, and/or the IT function?
  • How do managers prefer to access and analyze business information – dynamic dashboards, spreadsheets, PDF, PowerPoint, email, mobile devices, etc.?
  • What other sources of information do people need to access and analyze to make sales? (Note that important sales data is often locked into financial systems – orders, transactions, billing information – or stored outside of the CRM system in spreadsheets – commissions, quotas, forecasts.)

Familiarize yourself with your AppExchange analytics options

In their article “Sales Management 2.0: Metrics, Not Hunches,” Barry Trailer and Jim Dickie of CSO Insights describe the key criteria for sales analytics as follows:

“You can decide whether you need to pull and analyze data from multiple data sources (e.g. accounting, inventory, sales, etc.) or just one (CRM). Solutions are available either way; what you want is an application that allows you to define business rules, historical trends, and exception reporting with a minimum of administration/setup.”

Here’s an overview of some of the AppExchange options available to customers and their pros and cons:

Production reports

These are tools designed for advanced report developers to create virtually any transactional data report. Also known as “enterprise reporting,” these tools typically provide built-in scheduling of pre-built, portrait-formatted, “pixel-perfect” reports that may include pre-built prompts or filters to make them appear interactive. For customers, these tools can create virtually any join, but the data size must be small. Trying to replicate all your transactional data in a desktop reporting tool to get the queries you need will not work. If people want to be able to ask ad hoc, iterative, or trend-based questions about their business data, these tools aren’t for them. If you have someone in the house who understands SQL (and SOQL) and you just need a few static reports, start here. Just make sure you read up on the costs of customization, support, and writing advanced reports upfront, and keep an eye out for the improvements that are coming in’s native transactional reporting capabilities. Also consider what Neil Raden noted in his paper entitled Accelerating Analytics Success with On Demand:

“Porting a desktop application by removing its user interface and replacing it with a web front end disguises the fact that its internal workings have not been migrated to an on-demand, multi-tenant architecture. The result will likely perform poorly, require time-consuming work for upgrades and patches, and may be discontinued when the vendor releases its “true” on-demand product sometime in the future, likely without a satisfactory conversion path.”

Native dashboard applications

There are many interactive, real-time charts and analytics dashboard components based on Adobe Flex on the AppExchange today. Some are easier to set up and use than others. Most are eye-catching. The native dashboard applications often impress corporate executives and non-analysts, but because they’re built on the underlying transactional platform, they typically do little for the people who work with disparate Excel spreadsheets and historical reporting and struggling with analysis requirements. Remember that a nice-looking, thrown-together dashboard widget might “demo sizzle” and even make sense for your business process, but all dashboard-focused apps on the AppExchange aren’t created equal. Be sure to research the vendor’s vision to go beyond operational or embedded business analytics for a transactional system to determine its ability to meet both your near-term tactical and long-term strategic on-demand information access analytics needs .

As mentioned, be sure to download the relevant free native AppExchange dashboard applications to boost your sales analytics initiatives and become familiar with the AppExchange experience.

Real analytical applications

Also known as Online Analytical Processing (OLAP), it is important to look for analytics applications built on a separate data platform designed from the ground up for user interactivity and information analysis. They allow you to monitor and track historical trends and get answers to ad hoc questions, not just static reports. These applications must be easy to set up and easy to use. They should also be built on top of an underlying on-demand business intelligence platform that takes care of the “heavy lifting” by integrating, cleaning, and aggregating data from multiple sources into a single reporting and analytics interface.

But beware of tools approaches. Instead, look for real applications that provide prepackaged best practices and are designed for specific industries and roles.

When Henry Morris coined the term “analytical application” over 10 years ago, he defined three key criteria as essential:

  1. Process support
  2. Segregation of duties and
  3. Time-aware, integrated data from multiple sources

Also, learn about the testing process and how easy it is to get an on-demand analytics application up and running for your organization’s data.

Whatever you do, don’t wait for Sales Analytics!

Postponing sales analysis is like postponing winning. But for many organizations, getting started means getting fit and joining a gym. You know you have to do it, but there always seems to be a good excuse not to do it. To help you Manufacturing Cloud get more out of your CRM investment and drive sales performance with data, not opinions, here are some suggestions to help you make sales analytics a top business priority for your company:

  • Make analytics a business initiative. Identify the metrics that matter and create a plan. Executive sponsorship is critical to the success of analytics.
  • Think big, but start small. By starting in a department or even a region, you can achieve some quick wins and you’ll be amazed at how quickly word of your success spreads. Have a vision that goes beyond one business area, but don’t let a broader vision slow you down. The important thing is to start.
  • Make it business processes. Sales analytics and the lead-to-cash cycle are a good place to start. And since this is an analytics initiative, make sure you set clear goals and measure your success against those goals at every step.

In tough economic times, more and more companies are relying on sales analytics to gain a competitive advantage and win. Make sure you are one of them. No more excuses. No more surprises.