People often ask me what the best business dashboard is. In the past, I've always tended towards 'safe' answers. You know the kind: "It depends on your specific business needs", "What are you trying to achieve?" and suchlike. Well today I've decided to cut all of that bull, and give you my best shot at a proper answer. Like all our posts, this guide to creating the best business dashboard is going to be something that you can actually take away and implement straight away in your own business.
What are the components of a good dashboard?
The best business dashboards tell a story. They're not just a collection of numbers crammed together on a page! Instead, they take the reader through a journey of information that they can relate to.
Like a good story, the best business dashboards have a beginning, a middle and an end.
Another thing that all good business dashboards have in common is a strong theme. That theme could be a specific outcome that you want the reader to achieve, or it could be a particular business area or project that you want to provide a summary of.
Finally, the best business dashboards contain a range of different content types - specifically they should contain a mixture of both leading and lagging KPIs [more on those here if you're interested] as well as succinct commentary that explains what the reader is seeing.
What should your dashboard be about (the "theme")?
I said at the start of this article that I wasn't going to mess around with vague advice that is hard to actually do anything with. Because of that, I'm going to cut straight to the chase and say that if you can only have one single dashboard for your business - it should be this one:
Don't worry, I know that picture is crazy small - read on to see each row in glorious detail. This is very similar to the main dashboard that we use here at Cascade (I've changed the numbers, but the metrics are exactly the same). We call it 'The Bigger Picture' and it pretty much tells the story of our entire business in one simple, clear business dashboard.
The 'theme' is therefore 'our business' (yep, super high level) and it even has a beginning, a middle and an end. Let me explain...
One Dashboard To Rule Them All
OK, so the first thing you might notice about each of the 'widgets' on this dashboard, is that they have numbers - starting at 1 (top left) and finishing at 9 (bottom right). The widgets are arranged in this way, because they reflect the typical life-cycle of one of our 'customers' - and arguably the life-cycle of our entire business (since we rely entirely on our customers for our survival and growth).
First row - widgets 1 through 3.
The top and middle rows of our best business dashboard (widgets 1 through 6) all concern themselves with leading KPIs. These are KPIs that we think will give us a pretty good idea of whether we're on the right path towards our bigger goals - in this case, our lagging KPIs (which come later on).
Let's start at the beginning. To tell the story of where our business journey begins - we start off right here, on this very website that you're reading as we speak....
1 > Website Visitors
This widget tells the story of how many people hit our website in a given week. The more people who visit our site (and read this blog), the more eyes we get on our software tool (Cascade).
After looking at website visitors, we move onto our next widget:
2 > Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs)
I would love to think that every single person who visits this website could one day become a customer of Cascade. But the reality is that won't happen. Sometimes people visit our website once from a google search link, and then we never see them again (sad face). Sometimes the person visiting is a student doing research for an assignment (we love you guys too - but you probably can't afford to spend money on sexy business SaaS solutions just yet). Because of this, we qualify the website visitors we get (widget 1) into 'Marketing Qualified Leads' - in other words, people we think we have a realistic chance of selling Cascade to.
That leads us onto the last widget on row 1 - the end of the beginning if you will:
3 > Free Trials
Wanna start a free trial of Cascade? Go on, you know you want to... OK fine I'll give it a rest for a while - but seriously, this KPI is super important to us. It's how almost all of our thousands of customers started their journey with our strategy software. It's also the culmination of much of our marketing efforts - hence why I call it the end of the beginning.
Second row - widgets 4 through 6.
Now we're getting to the meaty stuff - where all the action happens. The middle row of our 'best business dashboard' is all about making sales and keeping them.
4 > New MRR From Sales
MRR stands for Monthly Recurring Revenue - this is a super important metric for any SaaS company, and increasingly important for other types of company too. This KPI looks at how many new sales we make and the value of these sales to our total monthly recurring revenue. This is just sales remember, it doesn't include renewals (or churn).
Speaking of churn (i.e. customers leaving us) - there's one metric we look at very closely as a indicator of what our churn is likely to be...
5 > Improve Net Promoter Score (NPS)
NPS is a numerical measure of how likely your customers are to recommend your product to their friends or colleagues. You gain this data by sending surveys to your customers on a regular basis and asking them to give you a score. We know that customers with a low NPS score are far more likely to 'churn' than those with higher ones. This number is right in the dead center of our the best business dashboard for a reason - it represents the balancing point of our entire business. It's where we succeed or fail depending on how we do.
The last KPI on in the middle of our story is my least favorite to talk about...
6 > Reduce Churn
Churn sucks. You do all this work to score a new customer and get them set up. Then they leave you. Sure, all good things must come to an end - but seriously - churn sucks. That said, it's incredibly important to measure and in fact it's the very last 'leading' KPI to be included on our example of the best business dashboard.
Last row, widgets 7 through 9.
Ready to hear this end of this story? It's time to switch things up a gear on our business dashboard and start talking about lagging KPIs. These are the KPIs that tell us how we're really doing as a business. The stuff that our shareholders and investors (if we had any, we're bootstrapped) would really care about.
7 > Improve Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR)
I said earlier that MRR was one of our most important KPIs - that's why it's sitting right here at the beginning of the end. Remember above in widget 4, we only looked at the MRR of new sales. Well this KPI is looking at total MRR - i.e. our MRR plus any new sales, minus any churn. You could look at this number as the sum total of all of our hard work.
That said, we don't stop the story there - there's more...
8 > Increase Lifetime Value (LTV)
Looking at MRR is cool - it gives you a nice snapshot of where you are today as a business. But it doesn't give you a good indication of how you'll perform tomorrow. This is where looking at Lifetime Value can help. As the name suggests, LTV is essentially the total revenue that each new customer will (on average) bring to your business in total. This is very helpful to understanding what your total MRR will be in future years as well as how much you can afford to spend on each new customer acquisition.
And last but not least, there's one more lagging KPI that we love to look at in the tech startup world...
9 > Year Over Year Growth
This is a funny KPI, because for even highly successful businesses, it's usually on its way down instead of up! Why? Because as you succeed in growing your revenue, it gets harder and harder to maintain that level (%) of growth in future years, as the base over which you have to perform is getting ever bigger. Any kind of growth is good - but every percentage point of year over year growth (think of it as 'growth of growth') is a massive bonus - also known as exponential growth (has a nice ring to it huh?).
And that's where our story ends. The best business dashboard has done its thing. Hopefully it's kept you both informed and entertained. I can tell you from personal experience that this business dashboard is an absolute crowd pleaser. I pull it out in team meetings, in investor meetings and (as of today) in blog posts. And for the most part - people love it.
Compared to a boring business dashboard, the way of presenting data is so much more engaging as it not only gives the reader the pertinent numbers, but also explains the meaning of those numbers and how they relate to one another.
Implementing the best business dashboard for your business
So there you have it, one dashboard that tells the story of your entire business. Hopefully you're feeling pretty confident about your ability to implement this kind of dashboard for your own business or team. It's actually not that hard, if you break down your journey into a beginning, a middle and an end - then just pick the best KPIs and metrics for each phase and put them in order.
If you're using a strategy execution tool like Cascade, building this kind of dashboard is even easier (drag and drop, baby!). Not only that, but you can also hook up live integrations with all your other business systems (where those pesky metrics all live in different houses - if only you could get them out!). That means that the numbers will update themselves in real-time, and your only job is to be sure you're telling a darn good story ;) .