Are your reports something you can learn from?

I found myself nodding in agreement reading An Autopsy Has Never Brought the Body Back to Life (A Note to the Sales Manager) on The Sales Blog. I’m working with a number of clients helping them get better information out of resources such as Google Analytics, but in most cases, the exercise is driven by the need to produce retrospective reports for senior management, rather than to see what the data is predicting about the future.

There’s actually only a fine difference between the two. In the first scenario, producing a report to justify your activities, you’d look at the traffic from a banner advertising campaign and say: “Well, we spent £1000 on that and got 200 people visiting our website” and leave it there, for better or for worse. In the second scenario, where you’re looking to learn something, you’d ask if the traffic from the campaign was increasing or decreasing over the time it ran, whether spending twice as much got you double the traffic, and if there were any trends about banner advertising as a whole. If you’re going to the trouble of preparing a report on what happened, you must always take the next step and also ask why it happened. No great revelation there, but are you actually doing this?

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