Image of David Carnes next to text that says, "Skills for Success: Data Analysis."

Build Your Data Analysis Skills as a Salesforce Admin

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Twenty years ago, while managing systems for the IT team at a small software company, I was encouraged by our CEO to think of myself as a business person first and an IT person second. He knew of my love for working with systems and data, and suggested that employing those talents to optimize processes and improve reporting would help his leadership team run the business better. A key opportunity for this came in the form of data analysis.

Managing our systems gave me insights into where specific data was stored, how clean the data was, and how reliable the processes were that fed the data. To best support our leadership team, however, I needed to learn the words they used to describe the state of the business, the key performance indicators (KPIs) they used to measure the health of the business, and the reporting tools available to me at the time. I knew I was onto something big when the CEO and chief marketing officer sat huddled together over one of the reports I created, excitedly discussing its implications for the business, and then asked me for more.

What is data analysis?

Wikipedia defines data analysis as the “process of inspecting, cleansing, transforming, and modeling data with the goal of discovering useful information, informing conclusions, and supporting decision-making.” At a simpler level, data analysis is just making sense of the data in your organization. It can help drive effective decision-making, though getting there requires awareness of how the data is organized and used, and the types of metrics that would be most useful.

Why is data analysis important for Salesforce Admins?

Salesforce provides all users with the ability to create and run reports and to see dashboards. Salesforce Admins, however, tend to be much more knowledgeable about the underlying data model, the health and utility of the data, and the patterns of use within the system. This makes admins excellent candidates to build out reporting for their organization.

How can I learn to develop my data analysis skills?

Establish a glossary of terms.
Your organization may have a formal glossary of terms that details acronyms and other key definitions within the business. If there isn’t one, you can start your own by listening for important words used in your business and writing down their corresponding meanings. A glossary is an excellent tool for onboarding new staff and very valuable as one foundation for reporting.

Learn all you can about the data sources and structure.
The most important class in my career has been a college course I took one summer on database management, which framed how I’ve thought about reporting ever since. Key things to be comfortable with in Salesforce are objects, how they relate to one another, report types (both standard and custom), and which fields are in use. Your awareness of the underlying plumbing goes a long way in your ability to create effective reporting!

Keep an eye on data health.
While the goal of data reliability should be 100%, the reality is that our organizations have varying degrees of compliance and adoption with regard to data entry. Bad data impacts reporting considerably. It’s easy to be upset when first running a new report or dashboard and encountering some level of mess in the data. Instead, we should embrace this as an opportunity to clean that data.

Learn the KPIs in your business and industry.
Instead of waiting around for department heads and executives to approach you with reporting requests, spend some time learning about the KPIs already in use in your business and ones that are common in your industry.

Be ready with questions when asked to create reports.
The most important question you can ask when creating reports for others is, “What business decisions will you make with this analysis?” Beyond that, some other useful questions include:

  • Do you have a mockup of the kind of analysis you’re looking for?
  • Who will be using this information?
  • How often will it be used?
  • Are there issues you know of with the data set or supporting processes?
  • Are there variations of this that will also be helpful?

Ask to sit in on meetings where your reports and dashboards are used.
I recall the first time I was invited into a leadership meeting to introduce reporting I had created. What struck me was how quickly the people around the table made assumptions, including incorrect ones, about what they were looking at and why it was useful to them. If you’re able to sit in on a meeting where your reporting is used, listen in for things like, “If only we could see this as…” as they will give you ideas for variations on your report or dashboard.

Write good descriptions.
While not required, the description field in each report’s properties provides an excellent opportunity to describe what someone is looking at and what decisions it might help them make. You can write a few sentences. Each dashboard component allows for a title (up to 80 characters), a subtitle (up to 40 characters), and a footer (up to 255 characters, though truncated) where you can clearly spell out why that component is meaningful.

Play!
It’s vital that admins be willing to play to truly learn Salesforce Reports and Dashboards. Each of us is given private report and dashboard folders where we can clone existing reports and dashboards, and try out ways to make them better. Play might involve sampling all eight chart types on a report you’re creating, or all 11 component types on a dashboard, to determine the most effective presentation. Most importantly, it means becoming comfortable with the set of reporting features available, as it’s through the combination of those features that we can reach new heights in our data analysis.

Build a strong foundation for data analysis

Most businesses are awash with data and can always use more help making sense of it to better drive decisions. Salesforce Admins are often in a great position to distill meaning from the data through data analysis. Vital to this journey are familiarity with data sources, an understanding of the data model, and knowledge of any data issues. Clarity around KPIs and the meaning of words used to describe the business is essential. Being ready with questions and willing to play with report and dashboard features builds a strong foundation for data analysis.

Take these three steps to build your success:

  1. Explore the new Salesforce Admin Skills Kit to learn how to represent your skills when applying for admin jobs or preparing for performance reviews.
  2. Share these skills on social media using #AwesomeAdmin, and tell other admins three skills you’re going to commit to developing this year.
  3. Revisit admin.salesforce.com next Tuesday for the next blog post in this series!

Resources

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