How to build reports in Salesforce: Tips to get started with analytics and reporting in Salesforce CRM

How to build reports in Salesforce customer relationship management platform. Read on to find out how to use Salesforce's cloud CRM tool to build reports to gain insight into your business.

Salesforce is the world’s leading customer relationship management (CRM) system, used by hundreds of thousands of organisations to track how they work with their customers and partners.

The key to getting the best from your Salesforce system is to use the built in analytics tools to report on your customers and analyse data to find insights in historical trends and key performance indicators (KPIs). In this article I'm going to explain the concepts of building your own reports in Salesforce.

The good news is that it is easy to start building great reports. Salesforce lets you analyse (pretty much) anything that you have put into it. That includes any custom fields and even custom objects for your business processes.

Salesforce analytics is designed to be fairly easy to use, so you don't need consultants or IT specialists to build and run reports for you.  Better still, it doesn't cost anything extra if you already have a Salesforce licence. Simply start by going to the reports tab and clicking ‘New Report’.

How to build reports in Salesforce: Report type

The first step is to choose the Report Type that defines what data you are going to use. The choices include objects you are probably dealing with all the time: Contacts & Accounts, Opportunities, etc. and any ‘custom’ objects you have that are specific to your organisation.

Next, you use Filters, Fields and Formulas to choose what you see in your report.

Filters reduce the data down to just those records you need, e.g. My Accounts, Revenue greater than £100,000, etc.

Fields are the columns, rows and values you want to display.

Formula fields let you build custom calculations, e.g. Sales Price plus 20 percent to display a new field called “Sales Price including VAT”.

How to build reports in Salesforce: Format

You can choose the Format or layout that would suit your report best:

‘Tabular’ is the simplest. It is simply a list of records from the system, like a spreadsheet with rows (records) and columns (fields). This is the best choice if you are looking at a fairly small set of records for which you want to see quite a lot of detail (columns) for each row.

You would not want normally use tabular reports if there were lots (say 100+ rows) of data. It would work OK, but you would have a very long list that would probably not be very easy to use.

‘Summary’ format gives you the ability to group together linked records and show some kind of summary (e.g. sum of values). This is a great format to use if you have a Tabular report but  want to group records together - e.g. show the Account Name, and within that, show the contact names, and give a total for the number of contacts at each account.

You could nest up to three levels of summary, e.g. accounts within their city within their country.  Personally, I think it looks quite complicated if you have more than one or two levels of summary.

‘Matrix’ format reports give you another level of summarisation and can give very powerful overviews of complicated numeric data. They show a grid of rows and columns that let you see one field against another. Matrix format reports will look familiar to you if you have used pivot tables in spreadsheets.

For example you could use Matrix if you wanted to analyse the products you have been selling over the last two years. I might put ‘product name’ down the left hand side, ‘close date’ across the top and the quantity in the body of the grid.  This would give you a quick and easy way to see what are your best selling products, and if there has been any trend over the last few months.

Management love these reports, and they are the type I use most often. They work best when you don't need to see the detail of individual records, but you are looking for a pattern, or trend.

The final report format is 'Joined', and it is also the most complicated. This allows you to report on two different objects at the same time. Normally you can’t have (say) Opportunities and Cases on the same report. But if you need to look at who your best customers are, but who creates the most cases, then joined reports lets you build two summary reports and link them (in this case) by Account. They are complicated and have some inflexibilities, but sometimes it is the only way to get the report you need.

The good news is that you can switch between these four formats while you are designing the report and see a preview of how it will look, so you can experiment and get a feel for what type of report will best suit what kind of business question you are trying to answe

How to build reports in Salesforce: Charts

On most reports you can add graphs such as bar, column, line, pie and scatter. Charts help you see a pattern from detailed numeric values, so historical trends become clear, or 'outliers' jump out without needing to read every number.

The formatting options are good, but perhaps not as flexible as you might expect if you are used to Excel charts.

How to build reports in Salesforce: Run Report, and Save

While you are designing a report you will be shown a sample of some of your data (it’s only a preview, so don’t expect the numbers to look accurate while you are designing the report). When you want to see the real numbers, click the ‘Run Report’ button. (Click ‘Customise’ to get back to the design screen.)

When you are happy, click ‘save’ or ‘save as’. You will be asked for a name, description and which folder you want to save it to.

For the report name, I suggest you come up with a good naming convention because it is easy to end up with dozens of similarly named reports.  Avoid names like ‘Bob’s Report’ or ‘Wednesdays Management Figures’, because they will be hard to search for in a few weeks time, and harder still to guess the content. Adding a description is helpful too.


  • Everyone automatically has a folder called ‘My Personal Custom Reports’ - this is your own area, but bear in mind that any reports in this folder can’t be shared with anyone else. So I recommend people don’t use it in general.
  • ‘Unfiled Public Reports’. Everyone in your organisation can see any reports that are in this folder. But again, I recommend that you don’t use it (or regularly clear it out).  t can become a very cluttered dumping ground for reports.
  • ‘Proper’ folders - this is something an administrator might need to set up for you.  I create folders for teams, projects, types of reports etc. The great thing is that you can control access, so for example my ‘Monthly Reports’ folder is read only for everyone apart from me. So everyone can run the reports, but no-one can accidentally overwrite or delete the report.  Folders are (currently) only one level deep, so you can’t have a folder within a folder.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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