What is an analytical report
Analytical reports are data analysis reports companies use to identify and act upon particular problems and opportunities in their business processes.
Besides the charts and graphics, analytical reports often contain written text that explains the interaction between the various metrics, and proposes solutions to improve them.
In most cases, an analytical report usually focuses on a few key figures that are relevant to a certain department.
For instance, a company’s support team will likely focus on:
- Tickets received.
- Tickets solved.
- Ticket satisfaction rate.
- Time per ticket.
However, an online marketing team will instead concentrate on metrics such as:
- Total cost of ads.
- Cost per lead.
- Revenue per lead.
- Total revenue.
Analytical reports are sometimes compared to information reports. These are periodic (weekly, monthly etc.) business reports that simply measure the performance of certain key KPI’s (key performance indicators), without proposing any actions or proposals.
To put it simply, an information report says that something happened. An analytical report explains why something happened.
How to write an analytical report
Avoid vanity metrics, and focus on the KPI’s that matter
When working with data, there’s a temptation to focus on “vanity metrics”. These are data measurements that have almost 0 impact on a company’s business health.
Example of vanity metrics:
Company A has a blog with 10,000 monthly readers, that does not generate any leads, customers or email subscribers. In this case, having 10,000 monthly readers is a vanity metric, because it doesn’t help grow the company in any way. On the contrary, the blog eats up valuable resources that could be spent elsewhere.
By comparison, Company B has a blog with 1,000 monthly readers, only that this one brings in 1-2 new clients per month. For company B, having 1,000 monthly readers is not a vanity metric, because these can directly help grow the business.
Unfortunately, vanity metrics will be around for a long time simply because they’re easy. It doesn’t take much effort to generate 1000 extra Facebook likes, or 10,000 extra blog visitors. Generating another 10 sales per month however? That’s a far harder challenge.
The important, actionable metrics to focus on:
When doing data analysis, the metrics to focus on are those that directly help a company’s bottom line.
This can mean:
- Monthly revenue.
- Conversion rate % of leads into customers.
- Number of quote requests per month.
- Customer acquisition cost.
That being said, there are some metrics that indirectly help a company, by improving product quality and customer experience:
- % of support tickets resolved (good indicator of customer satisfaction).
- Number of 5 star reviews (great for social proofing).
Actionable metrics are the ones that truly matter to a business, but they are also the ones that hardest to improve. Lifting up an actionable metric requires constant effort, true skill, a sound strategy and a lot of time and patience – something many businesses are running short on.
Use different chart types to show information
When building a report, consider experimenting with different chart types. Some charts are better than others at expressing a particular piece of information.
The best example of this is the Funnel Chart, which elegantly shows customer journey, from when they are mere visitors to actual buyers.
Displaying the information with simple, clean and attractive charts can be just as important as the information itself. This is because analytical reports are often used by executives and other decision makers to decide where to allocate budget resources, worker focus etc.
In many cases, overwhelmed executives simply ignore reports that are too convoluted and don’t transmit the information clearly. This is true even if the underlying data is sound and correctly identifies an opportunity or problem.
Focus on key KPI’s, then add secondary KPI’s that support it
Analytical reports are built around a key KPI, that shows the main problem (or opportunity). This KPI is then paired with secondary KPI’s that give it context and meaning.
Report built with Dashthis
This is a sample taken from an online Pay-Per-Click advertising campaign.
The key KPI in the report above is the Total Ad Cost. The secondary KPI’s provide context and show that the advertising campaign is not profitable in the long run, with costs exceeding revenue.
Reports that combine key and secondary KPI’s are able to tell a story and can explain a business problem / opportunity all by themselves.
By organizing the information in such a way, you will make the report easy to understand for readers (such as executives, or clients) and convinces the reader to take action.
Combine data from multiple reports
Companies often use multiple online tools to run their business. For example, they might use Instagram, LinkedIn Ads, Google Analytics, Help Scout (support ticketing), Facebook Ads, Google My Business etc.
Creating a high quality and detailed analytical report may require combining data from all these tools, into a single report.
The hard way to do this is to create the report manually, through Excel or other tools. This can be very tedious and time consuming. It’s also very hard to create at scale, meaning you have to create multiple reports every week.
The easy way is to use a data dashboarding tool that has integrations with the software you use and can connect their data into a single screen automatically.
Below is an example of a report built with a data dashboarding tool, that mixes data from Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn or YouTube.
A data dashboarding tool can build a report in 1/10th of the time it takes for manual methods. It also offers many other useful features such as automatically updating data, scheduling email sharing, using different chart types, direct access to the report through a link and many more.
Suggest a course of action
Once you’ve established through charts and data that a problem exists, you will have to propose a one or more solutions to the identified problem or business opportunity.
This doesn’t have to be in-depth, or very well detailed. 2-3 sentences that are clear and to the point can be sufficient to outline a basic course of action and get the gears turning within your organization.
Don’t jump to conclusions; understand the real-world situation
A major risk when doing data analysis is misreading a set of swinging KPI’s, not knowing why they fluctuate, and then proposing the wrong solutions to them. This can very quickly make a bad situation worse.
The only way to prevent mistakes when interpreting data is to connect it to the real-world situation, and try to see what changes or situations might have caused the numbers to fluctuate.
Here are a couple of examples:
Example A: A company that sells subscription software changes its 2 week Free Trial policy. Customers now need to submit their credit card numbers, whereas before they didn’t. This has an immediate negative impact on conversion and sign-up rates since many people are reluctant to give up their CC info.
Example B: You’re a data analyst for a small chain of 15-20 pizzerias. Lately, you’ve seen that 3-4 of the locations have been outperforming both their historical averages, as well as the other locations. You try looking at the data, but can’t figure out why they’re performing so well. That is until you physically go to one of these locations and see that they’ve installed ordering kiosks. This increases average order value, and with it, profitability.
Many, many companies communicate changes to business processes very poorly to their own employees. This is especially prevalent in bigger businesses that have many moving parts.
It is completely possible that a subtle change to a company’s processes can affect important KPI’s and leave the data analysts scratching their heads trying to understand what’s happening.
Make the information easily shareable and accessible
Finally, an analytical report should be easy to share and view. This means the report should be capable of being viewed in a live link, can scheduled for a periodic report, shared through email etc.
Another major aspect is that the best analytical reports are interactive. This means executives, decision makers and other team members can play around with the report, change the time frames, dive deeper into key segments, cross-reference with other metrics.
This is especially important for execs who are themselves more skeptical and data oriented. These are people who put their own opinion first and foremost, and are wary of others telling them how “things should be done”.
Analytical report examples
Tracking website landing page conversions
Above is an analytical report built using Databox, with data coming in from HubSpot.
Landing pages are pages on a website specifically designed to convert a website visitor into a “lead” (email subscriber, phone callers etc), or even a paying customer.
The analytical report above breaks down the performance of a website’s landing pages, at all stages of the “pipeline”.
In the case above, the headline figure is the 9.74% conversion rate.Having a good conversion rate is the first step in generating a profitable marketing channel. At least in this regard, the report seems promising.
Next in the pipeline is the Subscription to Contact conversion rate, at 57%. Contacts are actual people that a sales department will get in touch with, either by mail or phone call. The number in this particular marketing pipeline is very good and promising.
Where it all falters however is in the final, and most important metric: obtaining actual customers.
Out of 79 contacts, not one became a customer. This communicates either one or multiple points below:
- The sales department doesn’t know how to pitch a product (ouch).
- The product itself may not be good enough for customers.
- The product is too expensive for what it offers.
- The product doesn’t actually have a market, and doesn’t answer people’s needs.
Depending on the product or service that’s being pitched, there are multiple possible solutions:
- Change the pricing structure.
- Switch up the audience, maybe the marketing team was focused on the demographic.
- Add new features.
- Ditch the product.
Finally, the three bottom columns show which were the best landing pages for converting visitors to subscribers, and ultimately subscribers to customers. This particular chart is important to figure which approach is more successful, and best to focus resources on.
Measuring a project’s progress
Built using Databox, with data coming in from Asana.
This report measures the progress being made for various projects, as tracked with Asana.
As with the previous report, the headline figure and most important one is Total Overdue Tasks. The month-over-month comparison shows the number is in a steep 37% increase.
The other most important metric is Tasks Completed. This one is in an even worse situation than Total Overdue Tasks, with just 13 tasks completed per month – a 55% decrease.
These two data points combined point to multiple potential problems, each with its own solution:
- The company is taking on too many projects, and it can’t handle these in efficient time. Solution: decrease the number of initiatives and have realistic expectations of what can be achieved.
- The company doesn’t have sufficient employees to process all outstanding tasks. Solution: Hiring more could overcome the imbalance of excessive work per employee.
Medical appointments report
Built using DashThis, with data coming in from Google My Business and Google Analytics.
The report above is a year long overview of the performance of a dentist cabinet, measuring the total number of appointments and which channel has generated the most.
The report is built on a month-over-month and year-over-year comparison.
The initial table compares 2019 vs 2018, and shows that overall the two periods are comparable in terms of appointments.
The charts just below that show just how wide-spread a mobile web browsing has become. Many people still have an instinct to prioritize a desktop experience vs a mobile one. That however is a mistake, simply because most people now browse the Internet on their phones.
The headline chart shows the number of appointments is roughly the same year-on-year. This however hides deeper changes within the cabinet’s marketing efforts.
On one hand, Google Ads come with a reduced cost, but an increased number of appointments.
The next chart shows the importance of having good SEO. The number of sessions isn’t particularly impressive, but what stands out is the high conversion rate. This indicates that SEO is a viable business strategy to acquire customers, and is a valid marketing channel to spend resources for.
Tracking the number of incoming and missed calls
Above is an analytical report built using Databox, with data coming in from CallRail.
Many companies rely on customers calling in to inquire about their services, or ask for quotes. Prime examples are pest control companies, house cleaning services etc.
For these types of businesses, incoming phone calls is practically their lifeblood. Without calls, there are no clients, and without clients there is no money.
This analytical report reflects that by placing Total Monthly Calls in the most prominent spot, with a month-over-month comparison.
In this particular case, the 18% decrease in calls can be caused by multiple causes that should be further expanded upon in the report:
- Seasonal adjustments.
- Marketing channels are faltering. As the largest source of calls, Google Search is the prime culprit.
- Stopping paid ads to focus organic search, which would explain the -18% decrease in calls.
The other important metric is Missed Calls. By keeping an eye on this metric, a business can keep an eye on any potential “water leaks” they might have and quickly fill it in.
In the context of this business, they could potentially see an 11% increase in revenue simply by reducing the “Missed Calls” metric to 0.
Tracking billable and non-billable hours
Above is an analytical report built using Databox, with data coming in from Harvest time tracking.
On this occasion, the report tracks the number of hours worked by a marketing agency for various clients.
The problems highlighted in this report is that the agency is getting caught up doing non-billable work that doesn’t have direct results for clients, and thus doesn’t generate revenue.
To a degree, this is normal. Every agency has to invest non-billable work hours into administrative tasks such as acquiring supplies, negotiating with new potential customers, organizing conferences, etc.
The solution to this is to review the activities they have spent excessive amounts of time on, and then proceed to eliminate these from their business process and instead refocus on their customers.
Best analytical reporting tools
Databox is a freemium reporting tool, that displays data from multiple sources into a single dashboard.
It comes with a forever free option, but it doesn’t quite provide access to all of their integrations. Nevertheless, it’s great for a test drive and can potentially solve the reporting needs for a small business or department.
DashThis is another reporting tool, with a focus on marketing reports.
It doesn’t have a free option, but it does come with a 2 week free trial during which you have access to all its features.
Google Data Studio is the Big’s Own reporting tool.
Unlike the other 2 on the list, this one is free. However, Data Studio provides native integrations only with other Google tools, such as Analytics, Search Console etc.
To get access to other integrations, you’ll have to purchase them through their partner integrations.