What’s the best way to visualize revenues, budgets and forecasts?

Revenues versus budgets is an essential report for sales organizations. Whether you are responsible for leading the business, guiding a regional team or hitting your own personal budget, you want to know “How’s it going?”

When it comes to charting sales revenues, however, it isn’t straightforward. There can be problems with getting a hold of accurate data and keeping it updated. Different people required different reports and they expect them to be easy to understand.

In this article we provide tips on how to pick the right charts types and we show several illustrated examples.

Requirements checklist

The first step in creating any good data visualization is to understand what you want to communicate. Even if ‘revenues versus budget’ is simple enough, different people might want different views of the figures.

Use the following questions to help clarify requirements:

  • What is the persons role? CEO, CFO, marketing, regional sales director etc.
  • Is there one sales target or several? e.g. overall, products type, sales per channel or account
  • What is the relevant time period (s)? e.g. weekly, monthly, yearly
  • What other parameters are relevant and meaningful for analysis? g. customer category, customer location etc.

Sales and budget visualizations can be vastly different depending on the answers to these questions. The trick is to have data readily available on the lowest granular level, so you can easily twist and tweak the visualization for different needs.

Once this is done, you’re ready to design.

Progress reports

A gauge is one of the best visualizations for showing progress because it shows movement. According to research, people find it more motivating to see the solid line filling in than basic numeric indicators.

In the example below, the gauge shows percentage of budget achieved.

You can also add additional information, like a green arrow indicator, to give the gauge more meaning. Graphic indicators are used to highlight positive or negative change from period to period.

We’ve added an organisation filter beside the title, enabling authorized users to quickly see data on different levels. Most business intelligence tools enable you to add filters and enable or restrict data visibility based on user rights.

If you want to chart revenues by product, customer type, account manager or other categories, you can add options using drop-down filters.

Sales dashboard with progress reports

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Trend reports

Do you want to show how revenues have changed during the last year or two? Do you need a pedagogic tool to help you explain reasons you didn’t reach your goals?

In this case, you can use trend reports to visualize developments.

The examples below show revenues per month and accumulated revenues per month.

In the first example, we’ve used both a line and bar graph. This makes it easier to see where revenues have surpassed budget or fallen short. We’ve also included forecast data, in order to provide the audience a glimpse into the future.

In the second example, the differences between sold, forecast and budgeted are clear. The x-axis is moved up in order to clearly show negative variance.

Graph sales versus budget bar chart with sales and forecast

Scoreboards and leaderboards

Sales  scoreboards or leaderboards make sales fun. This kind of visualisation can motivate people to achieve higher levels of performance – as long as it’s done the right way.

In some cases, showing individual progress has the greatest motivational effect, while in other cases you may choose a format that is based on team results.

In the example below, we show a ranked list based on percent of own budget achieved. This design is suitable for a large office screen format, and there are lots of possible variations.

Digital sales leaderboard

A final note

While these examples are useful for visualizing sales performance, the same principles of good design apply other company data.

Your data visualization (dashboard) tool should enable you to set up data, fields, filters and charts to fit your exact specifications. If it doesn’t, you’ll get frustrated.

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