In this post, 40+ experts running agencies share their secrets for improving operational efficiency including visualizing your work, developing SOPs & more.
Agencies | Dec 24 2020
Dann Albright on January 15, 2019 • 13 minute read
That time of the month, or quarter, where agencies review the impact of the work they’ve completed toward a client’s goals or objectives.
And sure, while the tools agencies are using and even the manner in which they report on performance continues to evolve, it’s clear from the agencies we spoke with that frequent performance updates are essential.
According to respondents to our most recent report, 61% of marketing agencies say they run client reporting meetings on a monthly basis.
23% say they hold reporting meetings on a weekly basis, while 10% hold them quarterly, and 6% admit to having them infrequently.
*Editor’s note: Keep in mind that many of the agencies we surveyed are Databox users, therefore monthly (and weekly) reporting frequencies are seen pretty favorable here. Our guess would be that, with a larger and more diverse sample size, the number of agencies delivering monthly and weekly performance reports would be less.
We also learned that client reporting meetings are a big investment of time, as 58% of respondents said it takes an average of 4 hours per client in order to prepare for a client reporting meeting.
42% of agencies say it takes at least one day per client to prepare–23% said it takes one day, while another 19% said it takes an average of 2-3 days.
*Editor’s note: For agencies using Databox, we asked them to answer with the time it took prior to implementing Databox.
One of the biggest reasons prepping for a single client reporting meeting takes so long is the number of tools that agencies need to pull data from.
Of the agencies we surveyed, 77% said they pull data from 5 different tools in preparation for a reporting meeting, while 19% said they pull from 10 different tools and another 3% pull from 15.
All of these points clarify a common theme–client reporting meetings are a big investment of time.
So, how can agencies ensure they’re getting the most from that time so that both the agency and client walk away with actionable, productive insights?
We asked 31 agencies to share their insights and experiences for running effective reporting meetings. Here’s what we learned.
Editor’s note: Are you wasting hours building client reports every month? Create a free Databox agency account to automate your client reporting, track performance in real time, report results as they happen, and more.
“Reporting is all about telling a good story, and supporting that story with relevant data,” says Meghan Hultquist of HQdigital.
“A lot of agencies make the mistake of just putting in the analytics data into a report and leaving it at that. Clients want more than just reporting on raw numbers. They are paying you for the analysis and recommendations on how to improve their numbers.”
Pat Ahern from Junto recommends preparing an executive summary before the meeting:
“We as marketers love to share the granular data points that we see on a monthly basis and highlight anything that sees a positive performance. However, the best advice that our team can share is to focus less on those granular data points and more on the overarching story that those data points share.”
“When compiling reporting notes, we start by analyzing more granular data, such as channel-specific bounce rate, changes in sessions for each of the top 20 pages on the site, and much more. However, once we’ve analyzed that data, we pull together an executive summary that provides a 30-second overview of the story that the data from the past month is telling.”
“We spend the first 5 minutes of each reporting call walking through that executive summary together. That way, we ensure that we give the client the big picture story of how our marketing efforts are performing. If they need to need to hop off a call early, we simply cut down on some of the data that helps paint a better picture of that story.”
“Limit the amount of KPIs you’ll present to the client,” says SparkReaction‘s Kelly Groover.
“While reading dashboards and diving into analytics may be easy for you, it’s easy for a client to get lost in the numbers or get distracted by less important values. Choose 3–4 metrics to discuss during your meeting and stick to these. You can always provide a larger report to them later, but make sure your discussion is focused on metrics that matter.”
But, it’s still important to know the metrics and measures.
“Share only the essential data, but know the rest,” suggests Erik Norsted from Olive & Company.
“Sharing too much data with clients can be overwhelming and counterproductive, but there’s a difference between ‘sharing’ and ‘knowing.’ Agencies must be prepared to answer questions and add context about performance even when the discussion goes off-script.”
“To do this effectively, you have to be very comfortable with what the numbers mean and confident in the factors contributing to trends. You should also be equipped with additional data points that can help illustrate something in case your first data point fails to resonate.”
Agencio‘s Marc Bitanga recommends knowing “which personas or roles are attending your reporting meetings. Different personas will at times put emphasis on different metrics compared to their colleagues. Knowing who is attending in advance will help you be better prepared for the questions coming your way.”
But no matter who will be at the meeting, “always start with a narrative, not a dashboard. Dashboards alone don’t provide value, it’s the insights you share. Don’t lead with the dashboard, tell them a story based on your analysis first.”
“Clearly outline the business results of your work,” says Adrian DeGraffenreidt of CoCreative Management.
“Likes, shares, and even an increase in website traffic is nice, but with the rise of third-party platforms like Thumbtack and HomeAdvisor, it’s critical that agencies are clearly able to demonstrate the number of leads, calls, and even sales that they’ve delivered to the business on an ongoing basis.”
Colibri‘s Andrew McLoughlin adds: “Not to say that you shouldn’t have the hard numbers available, but from the client’s perspective, it will be the contextual interpretation of that data which will be most relevant. A lot of different things can inform that context.”
“Many of our clients, for instance, are less concerned with raw numbers, like ROI, but more with how we’ve helped their business to make a difference in their communities (socially, ecologically, etc.) We work with a lot of B Corps, so their values always inform the nature of our reports and meetings. In short, remember to base your report around your clients’ values, rather than the hard numbers themselves.”
And Chris Strom from ClearPivot puts it succinctly: “If you can’t justify that the metric contributes to the overall business goals, then omit it entirely.”
“Don’t sugarcoat anything,” says John Kelleher from ESM Inbound. “Your clients are paying you to be the expert and they trust your judgment.”
“They’ll understand that means you’re not going to get things right 100% of the time. If you’re honest 100% of the time, then you’re building a relationship that transcends the raw data.”
Daniel Lynch from Empathy First Media suggests that agencies “define expectations early on, and don’t feed your clients vanity metrics. Focus on educating your clients on what numbers will get them the best ROI for their bottom line, not the number of likes on a social media page.”
Stacy Caprio from her.ceo gave similar advice, but allows a bit more leeway:
“Gather all the data objectively first, and then organize it into a story that positively represents the results and client. Don’t twist data or lie, but you can focus on what went well and present what you have in a positive light.”
“Make sure to highlight the things you are going to do to improve results even more in the future since the client will likely be interested in hearing that and keeping your company hired to see what you are able to do next.”
“Numbers are not good enough. You need charts, graphs, heatmaps, and recorded visitor sessions. Let these visuals do the talking. Show the chart, pause for a moment of silence, and then start the discussion,” says Andy Crestodina from Orbit Media Studios.
“And, avoid dashboards for major presentations. These have too many visuals. They’re just noisy and don’t focus the attention on specific trends and insights. Dashboards are great for regular meetings but bad for big presentations.”
Here’s Brad Driscoll on the issue:
“At Think Big, we have found that clients like to see graphs and charts that show numbers improving, so it greatly helps to present the data you find in a nicely polished report. By preparing systems to accurately track data in real time paired with polished reporting templates to pop the data into, you can greatly reduce the time it takes preparing for your client reporting meeting and also have happier clients.”
Even though you should avoid overwhelming your client with data, you should still have it available.
“We always recommend having the original data source in front of you before walking into the meeting, to answer the client’s additional questions,” says Futurety‘s Sam Underwood.
“If you’re showing them results from a search campaign, have Google Ads open on your computer during the meeting to give quick, authoritative answers to the questions around, ‘What was our top keyword phrase last week?’ or ‘How did we do on iOS devices?'”
Tracy Julien from Guided Choice likes to send relevant documents ahead of time to everyone involved in the meeting.
“This will help ensure that everybody has a chance to review the agenda and information before the meeting begins, and you can get off to a strong start. Don’t forget to send a recap after the meeting is over as well, this will help clear up action items going forward and reiterate the highlights.”
“To prepare for a client reporting meeting, you need to know the objectives and goals of the clients,” says Growth Hackers‘ Jonathan Aufray. “Those goals could be traffic, lead generation, daily or monthly active users, revenue generated, ROI, etc.”
Kristen Buerman from Leighton Interactive suggests “know[ing] and understand[ing] what really matters to your client. You will still use the numbers and data, but it should be presented in a way that a non-numbers person can absorb.”
“Open the meeting with why the client should care—present the numbers and the insight from those numbers. Move to what the next steps are—based on this information, here are the clear action steps. Close with a prediction of the action steps specific to their business—what are the specific outcomes for your client’s business.”
Buerman continues with an example:
“ABC business published two blogs this month as compared to their normal four blogs, we saw a drop in organic search traffic and overall sessions to the site. Based on this information, we would recommend increasing content creation back to four blogs or more a month to increase website traffic. With this change, we would expect to see X% increase in traffic. Increased traffic provides more opportunity to reach new users and nurture them through their buyer’s journey to become customers.”
Dan Thornton from TheWayoftheWeb suggests caution with reporting templates. “It’s easy to try and save time with boilerplate templates, but you need to ensure you’ve adapted them for the clients who want more technical detail, and those who simply require a summary.”
“Be consistent, but flexible,” says AJ Alonzo from demandDrive. “Set up a reporting structure at the beginning of your agreement that both you and the client find beneficial. Stick to it.”
“Having a consistent report eliminates the possibility of confusion for both you and the client, and it allows them to interpret data in a familiar fashion each reporting cycle.”
“That being said, if it starts to not work or your client asks for something to be added/subtracted from the process, be flexible. Understand why they want the change to be made and work with them to get it done.”
But don’t get too complacent, says LyntonWeb‘s Jennifer Lux.
“So often I see people getting into the same pattern with reporting. It so easily becomes a robotic replacement of data month-to-month. Make reporting more dynamic.”
“There will be interesting and new data emerging each month. Don’t be afraid to dive deeper into SEO one month and referral traffic the next month. Look for the overarching story the data tells and weave in the right subplots or contributing data points to support that narrative.”
“Go off script. Don’t be afraid to toss aside the boring reporting template and weave in the impact of industry trends, seasonal fluctuations, or anything else that is relevant to the data you see.”
“Planning is tops, figure out what you need and make sure it is prepared for fast and efficient access when in front of the client,” says Richard George from Print4Hospitality. “If there is something you know needs changing be sure to have the data to back it up.”
“[T]rial and test everything prior to the meeting, this gives chance to resolve any issues. It isn’t good to flap and fluster and you need to concentrate on providing value to the client.”
Penguin Strategies schedules “an interview review [with] colleagues that are less familiar with the account,” says Nili Zaharony.
“This allows for solid brainstorming and often times analyses that we miss when we’re stuck in the day-to-day. Bringing in this outside perspective makes both our reporting and the client reporting meetings that much more impactful and fosters a collaborative environment.”
“Don’t use a ‘one-size-fits-all’ mentality with your reporting,” says Lightbulb Media‘s Lewis Kemp.
“Some clients will naturally be more knowledg[e]able around the technical aspects of what you are discussing. Some will need to have the information explained in terms of the key metrics that matter to them. Get to know your client personally and tailor your reports to their personalities. You’ll find that they stick around much longer.”
And don’t be afraid to show off your successes, says McMahon Marketing‘s Kalie Fry.
“It’s common to communicate the reasons for drops in traffic and your plans to improve it. However, where many marketers undercut their value is failing to attribute credit for the good months.”
“If numbers are moving in the right direction, don’t just take them at face value – let the client know exactly what you’ve done to achieve this and present an opportunity to A/B test it the following month.”
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