Call Reports And The Rep

Everyone who’s ever been involved in sales knows that call reports are a pain. They can be useful, of course, and in those cases they are a necessary evil. But far too often they are effectively nothing more than busy work for salespeople who should be doing something else. That’s especially true when it is known or suspected that no one is reading the reports anyway.

In our retail service business, we are expected to fill out reports. A lot of reports. And at the end of the month, we spend almost as much time drafting, assembling, and sending in these reports as we do with our month-end accounting. One month’s worth of call reports is roughly 2/3 of a ream of paper. We are looking into doing all these electronically, but it is our understanding that the tablet software is not yet where it needs to be in order for us to complete these reports in their various formats. That development can’t be far away, however, and the moment we can make the switch to paperless reporting we will make that investment.

In the meantime, I would challenge all principals and agencies alike to re-think the alleged value of call reports. I have been on both sides of this issue, having been Vice President of a small manufacturing company where I was in charge of the sales effort for most of the years I held that position. I’ve also held more field sales positions than I care to remember. I’ve filled out countless reports and I have probably received and read just as many. I’m not saying they should never be required. There’s nothing worse than being accountable for sales revenues, whether you’re a manufacturer, a sales manager, or whatever, and the numbers are down and you don’t know what’s going on in the field. But if no one is actually paying attention to the reports (and I mean in detail), why have your people in the field waste their valuable time filling them out? Surely you have a more effective way to hold people accountable or to gauge their activity than filling out reports that nobody reads.

I freely admit that when the day comes that all of our reports can be done quickly using a stylus and a tablet, much of my problem with them will go away. But even so, some of what we fill out in these reports I will still view as meaningless fluff, and I will still be annoyed that no one will read them. For the rep, c’est la vie!