The digital marketing funnel is a crucial concept for companies’ digital marketing efforts, helping you understand how your marketing efforts translate into actual sales.
By modeling the buyer’s journey, from initial brand awareness to purchasing a product, the digital marketing funnel is an excellent technique in marketing mix modeling.
However, in order to get the most from your digital marketing funnel, you need to slice and dice your data in a number of different ways. For example, you may want to break down the funnel in terms of lead channels, mediums, sources, and more.
To perform ad hoc and advanced analyses of the data in your digital marketing funnel, you need a robust database and business intelligence reporting platform. Microsoft’s SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) is one such tool—but how can you use SSRS at maximum efficiency to get the valuable insights your business needs?
In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know about SQL Server Reporting Services: features, benefits, creating reports in SSRS, and how to decide if SSRS is right for your organization.
What is SQL? What is SQL Server?
SQL (Structured Query Language) is a database query language that has become the de facto standard for managing data stored in a relational database management system (RDBMS). SQL can be used to perform database commands such as selecting, inserting, updating, and deleting data from a relational database (also known as a SQL database).
Microsoft SQL Server is an RDBMS developed by Microsoft that is one of the most popular SQL database technologies (together with MySQL, Oracle Database, and IBM Db2). SQL Server has often used in business IT settings for various BI and analytics tasks.
What is SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS)?
SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) is a Microsoft-developed tool that generates business reports based on data stored in SQL Server.
SSRS is part of Microsoft’s suite of BI and analytics tools, which includes SQL Server as well as the data mining tool SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) and the data integration platform SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS). SSRS can interface with these other Microsoft BI services in order to analyze and optimize your digital marketing funnel. What’s more, SSRS is included at no additional cost with a SQL Server license.
Today’s businesses use many different marketing channels and methods in order to engage their customers. For example, you might use social media to introduce customers to your brand, while also using retargeting ads to pull customers back in after they’ve already browsed the products on your website.
This multi-touch approach demands BI and reporting capabilities that can visualize the buyer’s journey in a non-linear format—which is something at which SSRS excels.
SSRS stands out among BI and reporting tools because it’s capable of serving multiple types of audiences:
- Analysts can use SSRS to crunch data and find the big picture. For example, you can automatically generate basic reports about the percentage of prospective customers who advance to each stage in the digital marketing funnel.
- Marketers can use SSRS to explore and consume information. For example, you can apply different filters to classify and sort the prospective customers at the awareness stage of your digital marketing funnel.
SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS): Features and Benefits
In this section, we’ll discuss the most important functionality that the SSRS platform has to offer. The features and benefits of SSRS include:
- Support for multiple data sources and formats
- Powerful report generation capabilities
- Collaboration and sharing features
- Data security and data governance
1. Support for multiple data sources and formats
Most obviously, SSRS can pull data from SQL Server when generating reports. However, it also supports input data from sources such as:
- Microsoft SharePoint
- SAP NetWeaver BI
- Hyperion Essbase
- OLE DB
SSRS can export reports and data in many different formats, including HTML, PDF, XML, CSV, images, PowerPoint, Word, and Excel. Thanks to this diversity of output formats, SSRS is flexible enough to suit the reporting needs of many different organizations.
2. Powerful report generation capabilities
SSRS is a powerful, feature-rich report generation platform. It offers fine-grained control over your output, down to the location of different components and stylistic concerns such as font size and background color.
3. Collaboration and sharing features
SSRS also shines in terms of collaboration and sharing features. As a Microsoft product, the SSRS platform makes it easy to share data between various applications and services within the Microsoft ecosystem, including SharePoint and Excel. When reading a report, users can make comments and include attachments in order to make improvements or add a necessary perspective.
4. Data security and data governance
As a Microsoft-backed product, SSRS ensures that your sensitive data remains secure at all times. Having access to SSRS does not mean that users have access to information stored within the database itself. IT administrators can set SSRS permissions as necessary, either by creating user groups or setting custom permissions.
SSRS also includes advanced authentication and authorization features to protect against unauthorized access. This includes Extended Protection for channels between two endpoints, as well as multiple authentication types for users and applications who request access to SSRS data.
How to Create Reports in SSRS
Now that we’ve discussed the main features and benefits of the SSRS platform, let’s discuss the main use case of SSRS: creating reports.
There are three main stages of creating a report in SSRS: authoring, management, and delivery.
In this first stage of creating an SSRS report, the author specifies the report layout and identifies the data that will be used in the report. SSRS provides two basic authoring tools: Report Designer and Report Builder.
The Report Designer tool requires the Visual Studio IDE and the SQL Server Data Tools (SSDT) plugin that must be downloaded separately from SQL Server. Report Designer offers a graphical user interface to guide you through the SSRS report creation process.
First, you specify the type and appearance of the report you want to create. Next, Report Designer will generate a report preview, which you can modify as necessary before sharing the report.
The Report Builder tool is used to create paginated reports, which are intended to be printed or exported as a PDF file. Report Builder is best for business users who prefer to use a standalone reporting tool, instead of the Report Designer environment within Visual Studio.
Report Builder includes multiple pre-built options when creating a report, including maps, tables, matrices, and charts. You can use information from any data source with a Microsoft .NET Framework-managed data provider or ODBC interface, as well as XML data sources and custom data sources.
Within Report Builder, you can perform actions such as:
- Pulling and modifying data from many different services.
- Updating reports that you have created with Report Designer.
- Adding formulas, embedding images, and creating charts and interactive components.
- Highlight specific metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs).
The management stage is where you publish your report. In general, reports are published to a centralized SSRS database, where an administrator decides who has access to the report and how the report should be handled and processed.
Administrators are tasked with automating report delivery and distribution, as well as determining the specific content of the report. For example, an administrator can configure a report so that two groups of users see two different sets of columns when reading the report.
Delivery is the final stage of creating a report in SSRS. At this stage, you will decide how the report will be distributed and in what format. For example, you might distribute a report via email and the web-based Report Manager viewing tool. If users have chosen to subscribe to a report, the report will be automatically delivered at a given time or in response to a given event.
Is SSRS Right For You? Choosing the Best Reporting Tool
As we’ve already discussed, SSRS is jam-packed with features and offers many benefits to SSRS users—plus, there’s the fact that it’s 100 percent free of charge with a SQL Server license. Despite these advantages, though, is SSRS the best reporting tool for you?
Whether you go with SSRS or another reporting tool, you need to choose a solution that will satisfy your needs and work in harmony with your digital marketing funnel. Below are 8 questions that you should answer before deciding that SSRS is the best reporting tool for your business needs and objectives.
1. What does your digital marketing funnel look like, and what are your primary goals?
If your focus is to convert leads via your email newsletter, for example, then you should choose a reporting tool that easily integrates with your email marketing funnel. On the other hand, if you’re using Urchin Tracking Modules (UTMs) to track the traffic sources for the links on your website, then your choice of reporting tool should enable this sort of analysis.
SSRS is an excellent all-purpose reporting tool that supports an interactive presentation format, which makes it highly convenient and cost-effective for existing SQL Server users. If you’re looking for a reporting tool that supports more specialized use cases, however, you may be better off with another solution.
2. What is your budget?
How much can you afford to spend on a reporting tool? Do you prefer a one-time capital expense, or a recurring subscription?
Even if your choice of reporting tool appears to fit into your budget, don’t forget to consider the costs of support and maintenance over time. As your business grows and scales, you may need to find alternate reporting solutions to accommodate your budget and your digital marketing funnel.
3. What are your metrics and KPIs?
Improving your digital marketing funnel is easier when you know which metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) are most relevant to your business and industry. If the reporting tool you’re using doesn’t support your most important KPIs, it’s time to find an alternate solution.
For example, customer acquisition cost (CAC) is a metric often used by businesses to measure the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns. If CAC is one of the KPIs you want to track, you need to choose a reporting tool that helps you make CAC a priority.
4. Which integrations do you need?
Integrating SSRS with various data sources and business intelligence tools such as Power BI is a snap. This means that you can automatically update information in the background by pulling from different sources, so that your reports will always contain the latest insights. SSRS acts as a centralized hub for all your enterprise reporting needs.
5. What is your team’s technical skill set?
Consider how much you need the advanced reporting options that SSRS has to offer. Creating reports with SSRS often requires in-depth SQL knowledge to get the results you’re looking for.
If your reporting requirements are relatively straightforward, you could be better off using more lightweight reporting tools, or even generating reports from your Excel documents.
6. What about mobile accessibility and remote work?
Telecommuting is on the rise, including for many marketing professionals. After IT, marketing is one of the hottest professions for remote work, making up 25 percent of jobs posted on remote work job boards.
In other words, many businesses need a reporting tool that enables employees to work from anywhere, at any time, with any device. The good news is that SSRS can support remote work initiatives, with mobile reporting capabilities for publishing reports to smartphones and tablets.
7. How important is visualization?
They say that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and reality seems to bear this out. A study by 3M finds that people process visuals 60,000 times faster than their text-based equivalents.
Most businesses need reporting tools with robust support for attractive and intuitive visuals, including graphs, charts, images, videos, and infographics. SSRS provides a number of visualization features that help users quickly understand the most salient information in a report.
8. What about your offline reports?
SSRS easily generates reports in multiple digital formats—but don’t forget about your offline reports as well.
Traditional paper-based reports can still play a crucial role in your marketing efforts. For example, if you’re holding meetings with a client, then handing out hard copies of a report can serve as a visual aid for your presentations.
The good news is that SSRS automatically supports pagination, so your reports will always have an attractive and well-organized layout whether they’re in paper or digital format.
As we’ve discussed above, SSRS is a reporting solution with many features and benefits that can be a valuable tool in your BI toolbox. Like any reporting tool, however, SSRS users need to understand how to use it for maximum effectiveness in order to see a return on their investment.
No matter how well you make the choice of your reporting tool, SSRS or any other solution will be useless if you don’t understand how to use it and what you’re using it for.
Are you struggling to get results with your in-house reporting efforts? It might be time to get in touch with an expert team who can provide a variety of data analytics solutions.
IronFocus has the experience and the skill set to fix the challenges with your digital marketing funnel. We offer high-quality reporting and customized analytics solutions that will give you the insights you need to make smarter business decisions.
To learn more about how we can help, get in touch with the IronFocus team today.