Today's typical business software system can generate so many different reports that it can be too much of a good thing. You've got to be selective in what you concentrate on or risk being buried in a blizzard of information.

“If you're looking at the overall company, then the income statement is most important,” says Richard Roeding, owner of Accent Windows in the Denver suburb of Westminster. Most managers would agree that the income statement is the “bottom line,” both literally and figuratively. After all, profit is the point of the exercise.

But an income statement tells you what has already happened. Many managers would like a glimpse into the future. And nothing better predicts the immediate future prospects of a home improvement company than the number and quality of its leads.

Roeding says that “numbers will follow one another, so you have to look in the aggregate. If you know people are calling or walking in, then you know the marketing is doing its job and you can select the most effective media,” he explains. “You spend a lot of money to get in front of somebody, so you have to have a high closing rate,” he says, another key number to analyze.

Lead reports are also of prime interest to Dale Brenke, president and co-owner of Schmidt Siding and Window, Mankato, Minn. “We are in the lead business,” he says. “You've got to know where your leads come from,” he says, in terms of marketing source, locale, and more, and also at what rate those leads convert to appointments and, ultimately, to sales.

John Vondra, general manager of Renewal by Andersen, Milwaukee, gets a look into the future of his business through “would recommend” scores on customer satisfaction surveys. With these scores, “I am not only looking at today, but I am looking at five years from now.”