Reports and dashboards are a critical component of the Salesforce Sales Cloud, delivering insight to sales reps, managers, and executives across your company, and on any device. But lately, I have been getting a lot of questions about best practices around reports and dashboards in Salesforce. Regardless of whether you are an administrator at a growing SMB or a large enterprise, there are 10 key principles that can help you build a solid foundation.

1. Clean data means accurate reporting

We have all heard the adage, “Garbage in, garbage out.” No matter how simple, sophisticated, or smart, reports and dashboards cannot compensate for data inaccuracy. We recommend fostering a culture across your business where everyone is committed to getting the right data into the system at the right time. As some of our customers say, “If it is not in Salesforce, it didn’t happen.”

It also helps to have a system to ensure data quality. If you have data cleanliness issues, you might consider using data cleansing software by to clean up inaccuracies or duplicates. You can get started with Clean here.

2. Are your users creators or consumers?

Like fingerprints, no two organizations are exactly alike. Some companies have flattened hierarchies, whereas other companies are matrixed organizations. When starting to determine permissions with regard to reports and dashboards, it can become a little bit intimidating.  

First, I recommend starting by segmenting your users into creators and consumers. Creators will need to be able to create reports and dashboards, whereas consumers only need to read/run reports and dashboards.

Next, it’s time to determine which users need access to saving into public folders. Public folders are accessible by everyone in your company, and are great for curating report content. As long as only certain people have access to saving in public folders, it becomes easy to ensure that the right reports and dashboards are being referenced. (See step 3 for more on folder management.)

After building this game plan, stick with the framework as you add new users.

3. Folder management is key

For a new Salesforce deployment, folder management can seem trivial. But if done correctly, it creates a foundation for scalable report management across your organization.

There are three common folder management strategies:

  • By function (for sales, service, marketing, or operations)

  • By role (based on your organizational hierarchy)

  • By location (national, regional, and office-level report folders)

Because every company is different, folder management will vary. But it is critical that when coming up with a strategy you consider scalability in the long term, and you avoid ad-hoc solutions.

A few more tips for folder management:

  • Proactively delete folders that are no longer being used
  • Turn on Enhanced Folder Sharing: This is a recently released feature that allows granular control over folders. You can now give access permissions to view or edit folders at an individual folder level. Further, it is possible to grant Editor/Manager Access to folders as needed if the default Viewer access to folders does not meet your users’ needs.

  • Place reports used in shared/cloned dashboards in a folder where the dashboard running user has viewer permission. This prevents dashboard components from failing to refresh with message “Error: The source report isn’t available; it’s been deleted or isn’t in a folder accessible to the dashboard’s running user.” This also prevents users from drilling to source report and accidentally saving or deleting.

4. Consider two simple approaches to user permissions

The first way to manage user permissions is to make it open for all users to create and edit reports and dashboards. This definitely promotes sharing and democratization of data. It’s important to see how this will resonate in your business, and in many cases it will be warmly welcomed. If you see that certain rights are being misused, you can easily change permissions to read-only.

The second approach that many companies have taken is to keep it closed to a small group of users who know report types and allow read-only access to everyone else.

In addition, also consider the following tips:

  • Grant View Reports in Public Folders, Create Report Folders, Manage Reports in Public Folders, View Dashboards in Public Folders, Create Dashboard Folders and Manage Dashboards in Public Folders permission only to a select few users.

  • Grant Edit My Reports profile permission to profiles that have Create and Customize Reports permission. This would give users ability to edit, save, delete and move out reports they created in folders they only have “viewer” access.

5. Manage report types

At Salesforce, we want to deliver the breadth of capabilities to our customers. But, at the end of the day, not every company uses every different report type.

I recommend hiding report types that are not relevant for your business. It get rids of unnecessary report types that can result in accidental reports being created. Just check the “Select Report Types to Hide” box and start hiding those report types if you don’t want users creating from those to start with. Keep the report type folder relevant for all users so that they start with the right one.

6. Let the dashboard tell a story

When building dashboards, think about the story you want people to take away. A dashboard is not just designed to communicate metrics, but to empower actions that people can take while/after viewing the dashboard. Organize information in a way that is easy to process.

For example, you can present higher-level metrics in the top row, and granular information a level lower. Or consider organizing all sales in one column, marketing in another and service in the third. When building a team dashboard, think about what you want managers to see first. Let the dashboard tell a story — like a newspaper, first highlight what is important, and then get into the detail.

7. Use dynamic or filtered dashboards as appropriate

Dynamic dashboards let creators build one dashboard, then customize it for a particular user. Filtered dashboards allow viewers to filter dashboard information so that it is more relevant to them.

Consider building dynamic dashboards to minimize the replication of dashboards that needs to take place. Also apply filters at the dashboard level for different types of users to view what is relevant to them.

8. Roll out Salesforce1

Mobile cannot be an afterthought. Getting information to your managers and reps when they are in the field is  critical to boosting productivity. When building new dashboards, think about mobility and how users will consume these on smaller form factor devices. Are the columns organized in way that users don’t have to swipe columns back and forth? Is the information hierarchy easy to digest?

Features like deeplink to dashboards are a great way to get your team aligned on metrics. Simply email or Chatter the url of the dashboard to your team, and when they tap on the link, it opens the app and takes them to the dashboard.

9. Provide in-context metrics — embedded charts

Now, with Salesforce1 reports and dashboards, you can embed charts directly onto a record. By simply adding one or two report charts to your page layout, you can provide real time, in context metrics to your users.

For example, the account page layout can include Opportunities and cases for the month. The nice thing about this feature is that the report automatically filters by that account ID. Instead of going to the reports and dashboards tab, users can view relevant metrics right on the record page and on Salesforce1.

10. Purge, rinse, repeat using Mass Delete

Mass delete Reports is available under Setup in addition to mass delete Records. Filtering options in Mass Delete allows you to get a list of all reports that have not been run in the last N weeks/months or similar criteria. Feel free to use this feature to clean up old, inactive reports.

Finally, keep in mind that every company will have unique needs based on the organization structure and reporting rigor. Try something first, and keep iterating to make it better. This post is the first of a series related to this topic. Stay tuned!

About the Author

14932469204_314e68a140_oAshwini Govindaraman is Senior Product Manager, Analytics, at Salesforce. She has extensive experience leading products in enterprise and consumer companies. She is obsessed about building products that delight users. She holds several patents in the field of cloud, social and mobile. In her free time, she enjoys writing and sharing best practices and tips and tricks.