Designing Better Sales Dashboards

A customer relationship management (CRM) or sales force automation (SFA) dashboard should function like the dashboard of your car. It provides key information in easy to grasp form. "Easy to grasp" is the key. A good sales dashboard gives us the information we need in a way that lets us absorb it in a single glance. It hits the high points without being exhaustive.

A sales dashboard is not a complex graph, or even a sales pipeline or forecast. Sales dashboard best practices advise that information is not complete by design. Instead it encapsulates the essential information needed and no more. That's important because the overwhelming errors in poorly designed dashboards are they try to present too much information and they don't present the right information. You need to decide early what each role-based user group absolutely needs from each dashboard and present them with only that.

Similarly, a dashboard is not a data mining tool. While it's often useful to let your user drill down two or three levels, for example to go from an aggregate sales view to regional sales, or even sales by salesperson, the dashboard is not the place to try to allow the knowledge worker to do elaborate data analysis. The user has, or should have, better, more powerful tools for subsequent investigation.

Here’s some helpful tips to construct the most useful CRM dashboards.

1) Keep It Simple
The fundamental fact about dashboards is that humans can only absorb up to 3 related data points at a time. The purpose of a dashboard is to hit the high points, not provide a complete picture.

2) Keep It Informative
The first job in designing a good dashboard is to decide what information is most relevant. If you make a list of all the items you "should" display, your next job is going to be to pare it down to a short list, perhaps the top four or five items. Although with clever planning you can stretch that to six or eight, or maybe even 10 items, you generally shouldn't. Spend the time to select the most important items for each role or user.

3) Know Your Audience
A dashboard is to inform someone, or a group of people with similar interests. A good dashboard doesn't try to be all things to all people. Instead the information is precisely targeted to what your audience needs to know at a specific point in time.

4) Use Graphics Wisely
Graphics are a key part of a dashboard. They help group information and convey performance metrics quickly. Color, charts and graphs can simplify information. Graphics can make a dashboard a stunning visual display, but pretty pictures don’t necessarily make a good dashboard. The graphics should reinforce the information you are supplying and help the user make sense of it. They don't exist just for visual effect.

Making effective use of graphics in dashboards is somewhat complicated by the fact that you seldom have a completely free range of choices for graphic elements. Instead you usually have to pick from a menu of graphic types with a limited degree of customization. Since most sales software used to create dashboards provides a wide range of types of charts, graphs, etc., this is seldom as limiting as it first seems. However you do have to choose wisely, especially to visually tie together related elements.

5) Design For Readability
Or more precisely, "comprehensibility" since a CRM dashboard is heavy on numbers and graphics rather than text. Humans react to proximity, size, color, shape and location in the visual field when it comes to associating objects. You should use these attributes to group related types of information. Use similar colors and similar shapes to represent the same things. If your current sales numbers are in green on a pie chart, use green for current sales on a bar chart on the same dashboard. Try to avoid both extreme outliers and blobs of data points on scatter charts. Choose your scales so the data points are nicely separated.

6) Have Clear Legends
Dashboards may be mostly graphic representations, but that's no reason not to label your graphics clearly. If a chart displays multiple metrics make sure each one is clearly identified.

7) Keep Historical Data To A Minimum
The focus of a good business dashboard is both the present and the future. The past is useful only as it illuminates them. Typically the data on the dashboard should concentrate on the current situation of the business and projections for the near term future.

8) Test Your Dashboards
Try them out on your users and seek feedback to improve them. Remember, you're doing the dashboard to communicate with them.

CRM software dashboard designs and deployments are worth multiple iterative revisions because they are a primary means of communicating key performance indicators with their users, especially senior executives.

A dashboard that does a good job of communication makes it easier for knowledge workers and executives to instantly view key metrics and based on the information, invest in further data analysis which often leads to actionable follow-up and course corrections while those corrections still have meaningful impact.