Adrift in a Sea of Numbers

This summer I helped a client automate several Excel sales reports, comparing sales forecasts to actual sales, and last year’s results to this year’s. It’s a complicated process, pulling numbers from different systems, updating lookup tables, compiling the numbers, and creating reports by product, by customer and by sales rep. Before we automated the process, it took one person almost a week to create the reports, and despite all that effort, nobody was happy with the results.

  • The sales reps thought there was too much data to wade through – they wanted to focus on their customers and sales. Were sales on target? Which customers need more attention?
  • The managers wanted to see the big picture, and quickly assess how things were going overall. Were all the brands performing as expected? Which products or customers were growing or declining?

Tableau Dashboard

While working on the reports, I noticed peopletalking about Tableau dashboards in Twitter. I followed their links, and was really impressed by what I found. With Tableau, we could quickly connect to the data in Excel, and also link to the lookup tables, so all the prices and descriptions would be accurate and instantly updated. So, I downloaded a trial version of Tableau, and created some reports from the client’s data. It was really easy to get up and running, creating tables and charts, with quick filters that let me focus on a specific brand, customer, or sales rep. Next month, when there’s a new set of data, the old file can simply be replaced by the new file (with the same name), and the charts and tables will automatically refresh when the Tableau workbook is opened.

Share the Results

After you create reports in Tableau, you can send out a pdf file, or a Tableau workbook, to share the results. There’s a free Tableau reader, so recipients can open the workbook file, and adjust all the filters, sliders and other controls that you’ve added to the dashboard. Each person can analyze the data in a way that’s meaningful to them, and drill down to the details, or step back to absorb the bigger picture. To give you an idea of what’s possible in Tableau, I’ve created a sample workbook, shown below. Dan G. Murray, COO of InterWorks Inc., generously shared the sample sales data that he used for a presentation at the Tableau Customer Conference this summer. With Dan’s data, I made a few dashboards, and Elissa Fink, VP Marketing at Tableau, published them on the Tableau Public server.

Try It Yourself!

Here’s the first dashboard in the workbook, focused on sales rep results and country totals. Each sales rep can see their overall total, and total and average sales by country. The map gives a snapshot of sales location, and clearly shows that large sections of the USA aren’t buying the company’s products. You can experiment with the dashboard controls, and change the way the data is presented. You might have to widen your browser window, to see the full dashboard.

  • There’s a date range selector at the top left of the dashboard. Only the past four weeks of sales results are in the dashboard, but you can select a specific number of previous weeks, or other range, such as previous quarter.
  • At the bottom left of the dashboard, in the Salesman Name list, click the highlighter at the top right, to turn on the Highlight Selected Items feature. Then, click on a Sales Rep name in one section of the dashboard, and that name is highlighted in all the sections.

Dashboard on Tableau: Sales Rep Dashboard