on September 28, 2021 (last modified on April 21, 2022) • 14 minute read
Clients want transparency. It’s simple as that.
Agencies are well aware of this and many of them talk about the need to be more transparent with their clients.
However, when the moment comes to actually implement client transparency practices, many agencies don’t know how and where to start.
But that’s where agency reporting comes in.
The easiest way to create more transparency with clients is through agency reporting. Because agency reporting is a perfect way not only to explain to your clients what you’re doing to help their business grow but also to remain clear, honest and open with them at all times – – in other words, to offer them more transparency.
While it definitely seems scary, reporting, especially through agency dashboards, is a proven way to build stronger and more profitable relationships with your clients in the future. There’s so much you can also learn about your client’s projects by utilizing client tracking dashboards as well.
If you are feeling hesitant, check out how 30+ agencies use reporting to create transparency with clients, build trust and ultimately boost client retention.
Learn more from their stories below:
Undoubtedly, trust is the foundation of any good relationship. Here is how reporting can help you build client trust.
Marissa Ryan from VisualFizz says, “Client reporting is tangible evidence of the work or the relationship. The way reporting is assembled and delivered to the client is often more important than the performance itself.
If clients trust that you’re actually analyzing their data, reading the reporting, and looking for areas to optimize, they will trust your recommendations.”
On the flip side, Ryan advises against automated reporting. The reason? Those do little to help gain and grow trust in the relationship. “If you send them an automated report that is vague and doesn’t explain the value of what the client is reading, that trust will be lost, and the client relationship will suffer. Regular, consistent touchpoints to discuss reports that matter leads to the best and longest-lasting client relationships.”
Similarly, Spitfire Inbound’s Louisa Du Toit shares, “Through Spitfire’s in-depth weekly, monthly, quarterly and campaign reports, our clients get to see the account performance, expert insights and data-driven actions from reporting on a regular basis.
Because of this, our clients never have to wonder or guess how they are performing; they know every step of the way. This builds trust and reports with clients that have led to long-term partnerships.”
Du Toit’s experience, however, brings an important question to the table: how often do agencies report to their client? We asked our contributors and learned that monthly reporting is the most popular option among the majority (45%) of them.
Some 18% also report weekly and biweekly. And, around 6% report daily and quarterly. Less than 5% report twice a year and after each project phase completes.
Among the agencies we surveyed, most of them are in the SEO, PPC, content marketing, and social media niche (over 50%). The other half offers all sorts of digital marketing services to their clients, from website development and creative services to reputation management, influencer marketing and similar.
Related: How 31 Marketing Agencies Created an Unbeatable Value Proposition by Choosing a Niche
Sometimes, it can be hard for agencies to be transparent with themselves, not only their clients. But, staying truthful and honest to yourself and others can take you a long way. In the case of Branch & Crumble, it can even help reduce churn and develop true partnerships with clients.
“At Branch & Bramble, our relationships with our clients are built on a foundation of data and the corresponding reporting that articulates each project’s performance in a clear, digestible format,” shares Chris Gaudio from Branch & Bramble.
“The quality of our digital agency’s relationship with clients isn’t so much defined by the average success rates of each program (though that is a key element), but the ability to be open and honest about what our reporting conveys and how willing we are to adapt, or even abandon, campaigns that aren’t working in favor of new strategies,” Gaudio continues.
This means reporting helps Gaudio’s team build transparent relationships with their clients. In fact, as Gaudio outlines, they’re open enough to share which campaigns have been doing well so they can plan better, high-performing campaigns for their clients.
“It’s not just about the hard numbers, it’s about the story those numbers are telling,” Gaudio summarizes. “Once a client understands our diligence in analyzing the data regularly and their own ability to access those metrics in our easy-to-understand reports, we find the relationship transforms into a true partnership.”
Xiao daCunha or Westerlund Marketing LLC agrees too, “Reporting itself is a neutral tool. Therefore, providing honest, all-inclusive reporting that gives a fair look into both positive and negative changes in client’s accounts has helped us establish a trustworthy relationship between our agency and our clients.” “Vanity reporting focusing only on ‘pretty numbers’ would eventually damage the client’s ROI and bring down the agency’s credibility. While numbers don’t lie, they do need to be properly interpreted scenario by scenario. It is the agency’s job to analyze the reports for the client and help them make sense of the numbers. The more effectively an agency can explain the numbers and the trends shown in a report, the more aligned the client and the agency will be.”
One way to create more transparency with clients and build trust is to explain the story behind all the data obtained from your client dashboard software and shared in your reports. To earn client loyalty, always explain why the metrics in your reports matter and what they mean.
“At Leadhub, we are always seeking the story behind the data. Data and analytics are easy to manipulate when working with clients who may not fully understand the reporting metrics and what they mean. Our team is dedicated to explaining in detail the data we are reporting on and why it matters. This transparency builds trust between us and our clients. For example, we have an HVAC client in Houston who went through three different marketing agencies in one year. When Leadhub sought the story behind the data, we found that the former agencies were tracking vanity metrics like impressions and page clicks as conversions. We only track active leads, like phone calls and form submissions, as conversions. While it looked like conversions were down year over year, our client’s revenue was the highest it had ever been because we were bringing him legitimate leads. When we were able to explain why conversions were down but revenue was up, our client’s trust in us grew and we earned client loyalty.”
Not sure how to create dashboards that tell a story? Instead of spending hours manually building a report, download any of the 300+ pre-built dashboard templates for free here.
At Structured Agency, Nick Shackelford shares how agency reporting helped improve transparency with clients, which, in turn, helps boost client confidence in their abilities and work.
In Shackelford’s words: “Transparency is the key to maintaining a long-standing relationship as a digital marketing agency. Data-driven results provide an arsenal of actionable insights that will translate into customer confidence and allow you to resign clients for longer terms.”
Explaining their process briefly, Shackelford writes, “We use standard spreadsheets to document our backlink accumulation, Google analytic reports to showcase conversions, traffic, and authority, as well as metrics based on content creation to forecast future results.”
Ultimately, “the effect has reduced our churn rate considerably and enabled us to establish ourselves as a reputable brand with tangible results.”
Interestingly, Shackelford isn’t alone in using spreadsheets to share reporting data with their clients. 18.2% of our respondents use them. But, the most popular ways to report to clients are centralized dashboards and presentations used by 21.2% of respondents each.
Red9’s Mark Varnas points out how digital marketing comes with two-way benefits – understanding their clients as well as helping them understand what the agency is doing for them. In doing so, the team is able to develop a smooth, bump-free relationship with their clients.
“Reporting helped us better understand our clients, their goals/objectives, and their customers,” according to Varnas. “Reporting increased the number of people that are aware of what’s going on within the agency which means that there are less surprises. Reporting also allowed us to develop a better relationship with our clients by being able to provide accurate updates on content performance.”
“All clients are different and need different levels of assurance that things are working, and working well,” Steven Tait from Online Marketing For Doctors admits. “We use reporting to directly meet that assurance.”
“It allows us to set measurable goals, and show how we are progressing towards them,” Tait says. “We also use reporting in the process of determining that once goals were achieved, did it create the desired outcome (It is amazing how often it doesn’t!).”
“Clients are generally very receptive to both the good and bad news, if they are kept informed all along, and are made to feel included in the process,” notes Tait. “Consistent clear reporting allows for that.”
Like most marketers and marketing managers, you want to know how your efforts are translating into results each month. How is your website performing? How well are you converting traffic into leads and customers? Which marketing channels are performing best? How does organic search compare to paid campaigns and to previous months? You might have to scramble to put all of this together in a single report, but now you can have it all at your fingertips in a single Databox dashboard.
Our Monthly Marketing Performance Dashboard includes data from Google Analytics and HubSpot Marketing with key performance metrics like:
Now you can benefit from the experience of our Google Analytics and HubSpot Marketing experts, who have put together a plug-and-play Databox template that contains all the essential metrics for monitoring and analyzing your website traffic and its sources, lead generation, and more. It’s simple to implement and start using as a standalone dashboard or in marketing reports, and best of all, it’s free!
You can easily set it up in just a few clicks – no coding required.
To set up the dashboard, follow these 3 simple steps:
Step 1: Get the template
Step 2: Connect your HubSpot and Google Analytics accounts with Databox.
Step 3: Watch your dashboard populate in seconds.
Another benefit of reporting is differentiation as Twelve Three Media’s Jake Johnson points out.
“Having clear, concise, and transparent reporting is truly a cornerstone for our agency,” comments Johnson. “These reports (and calls to discuss the data and strategy moving forward) help to build and strengthen our relationships with our partners (clients).”
What’s more, Johnson says: “Transparent reporting is crucial because this begins to separate us from those other agencies/freelancers who only look to be nothing more than a vendor to their client base.
It is during these reporting calls that we learn so much about not only our clients’ business but also their daily lives. These insights help us build customized strategy plans that wouldn’t be the right fit for anyone else.”
Paige Arnof-Fenn of Mavens & Moguls also believes being more transparent with clients helps to gain a competitive advantage over other agencies, “Transparency in regular reporting is the foundation for building trusted relationships with clients in the digital economy. Data is easy to track and measure today so sharing insights provides value and an opportunity to influence behavior based on results which is a competitive advantage once you earn their trust.”
To differentiate yourself from your competitors, we suggest using one of our prebuilt performance dashboard templates. No matter whether you need marketing, sales, or project management dashboards, we have more than 15 templates to offer in each category.
Digital agency reporting also comes with the perk of educating clients according to Blue Compass.
Mallory Cates from the agency shares reporting helps to retain clients by educating them. This, in turn, shows clients how invested their agency is in their success. “Monthly reporting meetings allow us to build a better relationship with the client while regularly reflecting on the status and progress of their annual goals,” says Cates.
“Our team gets the chance to educate clients on new digital updates during these meetings, and we want to know about any new processes on their end. Blue Compass always wants to make sure our work is helping the client grow their business.”
Socially Found’s Rob Sanders uses the same educating approach and shares it’s helpful for maintaining strong client relationships.
For one, Sanders highlights the importance of understanding client goals before knocking together reports.
“As much as reporting is a great benefit to a client relationship, one of the most common things I find that is overlooked is what is being reported,” Sanders says. “Too often, when speaking with a new client, they were unsure of exactly how their efforts were going, simply because the report wasn’t aligned with their goals and objectives.”
“A big part of the client relationship starts with understanding what is important to them and how they measure success. Once these questions have been answered, it needs to be tailored into the report so that it clearly supports the effort & outcome that they desire.”
That said, Sanders adds, “In addition to just providing a bespoke report, discussing it directly with the client is another part of maintaining a good relationship. Some clients are not as tech-savvy or may have other questions pertaining to the results, and providing the option to discussing them directly can have massive benefits to that continued partnership.”
Speaking of retaining clients, we learned that 35% of the agencies, the majority, work with a client for 2-3 years on average. 26% collaborate for less than a year though with just 20% working with clients for 3-5 years.
Some 17% also retain clients for 5-7 years. The remaining have client relationships lasting between 7-10 years on average.
Related: How to Outsource Your Agency’s Work to Other Marketing Agencies
And, finally, for The Search Cure, Shannon Trimble shares that digital agency reporting is a way to delight clients by putting in the extra effort in sharing and discussing reports.
“We create individualized campaign reports for each client on a quarterly basis. We found that clients seriously appreciate the extra touch and that it elevates our service,” Trimble admits.
“This is one step we take to exceed client expectations. Since we focus on SEO and content, we found that this is the right balance for the impacts of our work to filter through to client results.”
Related: 26 Agencies on the Winning Approach for Managing Client Expectations
Reporting also helps with accountability according to Trimble. “The remaining benefit of reporting with our client relationship is that it holds us accountable, and lets our clients know that we are taking responsibility for their account,” says Trimble. “It allows us to build trust quickly and create a stronger bond with our clients.”
In the long run, keep in mind that transparency will not only benefit your clients but also your agency. It will separate your agency from the competition, and help you build strong, long-term, and profitable relationships with your clients.
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