Your first sale as a startup might feel like a minor miracle. 

The second, third and fourth sale might seem like a series of happy accidents. 

By the time you’re seeing a steady influx of sales, though, it’s time to stop treating them as isolated incidents and more of a guide to the ongoing health of your business. 

Entrepreneurs aren’t always prepared for this. If you came to the world of startups from an area like product development, marketing or HR, the idea of actually monetizing your product or service was probably daunting enough. 

Following your initial launch, however, a sales report is one of the most essential pieces of admin you’re ever going to do. 

A sales report will help drive a lot of the decisions you’ll make as your startup grows from a fledgling entity in its target industry to a disruptor to (hopefully) market leader. This includes decisions like: 

  • How much money will we be able to raise? 
  • How much marketing are we going to have to do?
  • How many people will we need to hire?
  • Should we expand the scope of who we’re selling to?
  • Can we afford to stick it out through a tough economy? 

This list could go on and on because, as with any business, the revenue you generate determines much of your fate. 

Reporting any kind of data can seem like a chore, but starting off with the right tools can take away a lot of the more onerous parts of the job. This is one of the occasionally overlooked benefits of using a CRM. While startups may initially see it as a way to help close more deals, having all that customer data at your fingertips streamlines the reporting process considerably. 

If you’ve never written a sales report before or even had to review one, don’t worry. This is what you need to do: 

1. Consider all your possible readers

Initially you may see your sales report as something to use for your own purposes, and that’s fine. Just don’t limit yourself to a potential audience of one, because more than likely it will have to be shared among many other stakeholders. 

Even if your sales team is only made up of a few people, a consistent sales report will be critical if they’re often out of the office or working from home. 

As you expand your business, sales reports could be a vital document that will be requested by everyone from banks to venture capitalists. 

Even those among your team who aren’t directly involved in sales, such as marketing or operations, may need to understand your financial picture to appreciate the context of a particular business decision. 

2. Summarize the essentials

“Too long; didn’t read” isn’t an appropriate response to receiving a sales report, but recognize that those you deal with are only human beings, with possibly limited attention spans. 

Begin your report with a high-level overview that captures how well your sales are growing relative to your goals. If you wrote a business plan prior to launch (and you should), it becomes easy to align your sales figures with key milestones. 

A summary may also be a good place to include any details that will help make what follows understandable. Your sales may be higher or lower, depending on a macroeconomic fluctuation, the impact of a weather-related event or the introduction of a new product or service to your portfolio. Set the stage for the details that come next. 

3. Map out the metrics

Reporting would be easy if you were just sharing the grand total of revenue for a given time period or the sheer number of customers who made a purchase. Sadly, that’s not how it works in real life. 

You want your sales report to delve into more detailed metrics that provide insight into your business. This includes the cost to acquire customers, the average deal size and of course the win/loss rate. 

The more you can make sense of the numbers, the better. Think about the buying cycle you’re seeing so far and how that affects the number of leads you need to chase. As your startup grows, something like renewal rate will also become a major factor in how you allocate resources. 

4. Always include action items

A great sales report isn’t static or simply a historical record. It should ultimately provide a foundation to think about how you can make changes in your business to fuel further growth. 

Using your CRM will offer a lot of help here too, because the best ones have built-in analytics capabilities and artificial intelligence (AI) features that help identify patterns and get ahead of trends. 

This is more than simply a forecast of what you hope to sell within the next quarter, but what kind of action items or steps that will lead to your desired results. 

When you build in an action plan, everyone will take the sales report a lot more seriously, because they realize it will affect them. It will also make you accountable to yourself and the team the next time you look at a report. 

5. Dress it up

People almost expect sales reports to be boring — nothing more than black letters on a white page, or even just a spreadsheet. 

It doesn’t take much to turn a report into something more compelling, and therefore of greater value. 

Find a social media post where a customer mentioned you positively and add it into your report. Include a photo from your team’s appearance at a trade show or industry event. Create colourful pie charts and bar graphs that include the logos of your biggest or most recent customer wins. 

There’s no such thing as an owner’s manual for successfully running a startup, but a sales report comes pretty close — and best of all, it’s an ongoing work in progress that you get to author yourself.