Part 2 of 3: A Consultant’s Tips to Intuitive and Effective Report Formatting

June 01, 2017

Last week, we looked at the key guidelines to approaching a sales compensation reporting strategy that keeps the end user needs in mind. For the second part of our three-part blog series on the consulting approach on reporting, we’ll examine the visual elements of any effective sales compensation report.

From a navigation standpoint

As you begin to design your reporting structure, start by keeping in mind how your end users will interact with the web portal. This will ultimately gain buy-in from users, since the web portal and the reports are the face of the compensation program for payees. If your calculations are accurate and quick, but the reports are difficult to understand and there is too much (or too little) data, it’s ultimately a waste of an investment as payees spend more time asking questions than getting answers. When reports raise questions from payees, confidence in the reports is lost.

From the OpenSymmetry approach to building a report portal with intuitive navigation, some key tips to take away include:

  • Have the report portal open with the report that is most important displayed first. Less is more when it comes to data, but less is also more when it comes to clicking. When the viewer spends less time looking for the information they want, then they can get back to doing what they’re tasked with.
  • Remove unnecessary tabs. Again, less is more! When it comes to what the end user can click on, remove anything unnecessary, because ultimately end users will click through any (and all) tabs, spending needless time looking for that extra nugget of sales comp information that they think they might want or need to know.
  • Minimize horizontal scrolling. In our experience, vertical scrolling is fine, but users should have a full view of the information they need left to right. For an effective user experience, keep data to a few columns and make use of rows for clean formatting.
  • Create a mobile-friendly version of the report. Think about the needs of end users who are often on the move and need information at their fingertips. A report may be at its peak usefulness out in the field, rather than when end users are sitting in front of a desktop computer.


From a formatting standpoint

Report formats may look different in every incentive compensation management (ICM) and payment tracking tool, but from our years of experience with ICM tools from top suppliers, we found that the most effective reports consistently include these design rules:

  • Align matching fields. Clean, correct display of data in reports should be aligned with proper conditional formatting. For example, if the title of the report is left aligned, then data under it should not be right aligned but rather, left aligned.
  • Only display the essentials. Again, less is more (starting to see a pattern?). Display only basic information on the main page and create options for deeper drill down. With that said, show the math for how final numbers are calculated (ex. (Deal amount x 2% commission) – Texas sales tax). Preempt questions end users would otherwise email the comp admin for how things were calculated – instead, just link to the calculation.
  • Emphasize important data. What is the most important piece of data people want to know? Their pay! Make essential information easy to see and find by using a bold, color, or large font. Put their final payout near the top of the page where it is easy to find.
  • Use buttons and images. Action buttons create a more intuitive navigation in reports. For single hyperlinks, use a button or image for an elevated web experience rather than text.
  • Avoid using dropdowns. For end users, dropdown menus are usually only useful for managers and not the average payee. For the most part, try to avoid using dropdowns and opt for a link through to lists or dashboards instead, when appropriate.


If a report is formatted successfully, reports should be clean, easy to read, and professional. The look and feel should be consistent, and nothing should stick out as odd. Often, the best reports are simple and intuitive.

chart-p2-top-10-tipsHave a report formatting question or pro tip? Comment below, or email me at Next week, in the final installment of our reporting series, we’ll cover the ways to ensure maximum user engagement for a new system of reports. Be sure to subscribe to our blog to get the last installment of our series on a consulting approach to reporting delivered straight to your inbox!



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