Agencies: How to break out of the bad reporting rut

Sep 3, 2021

Published by: Lucky Orange
agency team reviewing reports

Agencies are entering a problematic time. The client/agency relationship is showing signs of crumbling, with the number of agencies reporting improved client relationships falling from 70% to 53% over the course of one year according to a Forrester/SoDA study.

Another study, called "Mad Men to Sad Men," explored both client and agency frustrations. It found the why behind these frustrations, including feeling less valued (agencies) and believing agencies not understand their needs (clients).

Among the shared agendas to re-energize and re-engineer the agency/client value proposition was one very important aspect – focusing on long-term and short-term goals.

Regular reporting may be the answer, but the truth is that most client reporting fails spectacularly. You’ve probably even seen (or prepared) these reports yourself.

Yes, you know the reports I’m talking about: Reports updated manually, every single metric reported for every single client, more time spent on reporting than analyzing, relying on graphs and screenshots.

In many ways, these reports are like a Monet painting – they look great from a distance, but the closer you get, the more confusing and basic they become.

It’s a waste of time for you and your clients alike.

The good news: It’s not difficult to break out of this reporting rut.

Pssst…hey there non-agency fans! Don’t click out just yet. You may find that while you don’t deal with client reports, you may need a CEO report instead.

With few exceptions, I promise that you’ll find some tips for better reporting in this article, too.

Why getting client reporting right is so important

Raise your hand if you love creating client reports.

Anyone? Hello? Is this thing on?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Client reports are typically the bane of our agency experience. Call it a “pain in the ass/neck” or a tedious chore you procrastinate each and every month, but one thing is clear – the value of client reporting is quickly being hidden under the monotony of it all.

So, let’s go back to the beginning – why is client reporting so important?

DashThis lists six reasons, but I think it can really be narrowed down to just three.

1) It builds trust and accountability

Reports open the door for regular interactions and opportunities to teach clients about your processes and what data really show.

The more your clients understand, the more you can help them manage their expectations and needs.

Because your focus is on the client, reporting also provides an added layer of transparency and accountability. Not only can you build trust and open a discussion, but you can also use reports to provide a proactive response to add context to your client’s overall strategy.

2) Results take front and center

Your clients want to see results!

DashThis said it best:

“By measuring your own progress, you measure theirs; client reports are your way of showing that they’re putting their money in the right place.”

By connecting your agency’s actions, processes, and efforts with their revenues and ROI, your reports are making sure you’re not only showing results but explaining how your agency helped contribute to a client’s bottom line.

3) Clients feel valued

As we learned in the “Man Men to Sad Men” study, clients want agencies to listen more and sell less. Clients feel like agencies don’t understanding their world or customers.

Unfortunately, it’s more than just a feeling. Another study confirmed that while 90% of agencies thought they understood these businesses, only 65% of their clients agreed.

Client reporting provides agencies an opportunity to show that they do understand the client’s business, know their customers, and are actively listening to the client’s concerns.

Key to your success

Okay, so I know that you know client reports are key to your agency’s success and help build successful client relationships. You can try to convince yourself that the more effort you put into the report, the better it will be and the happier clients will be with it.

Tie a bow on it, we’re done! Right?


Signs you're stuck in a reporting rut

When I was a tyke, I once rode my training-wheeled bicycle into the field behind our house.

It didn’t take long for my little tires to become lodged perfectly in a rut, preventing them from making contact with the ground.

It didn’t matter how hard I pedaled. Other than a fabulous spray that ended up covering my younger sister in mud (still not sorry), it didn’t go anywhere.

I was tired, muddy, frustrated, and very stuck.

Reporting ruts can end up looking a lot like my bicycle.

You know your client reports are getting “muddied” with too much or irrelevant information, but you’ve spent so much time and energy creating the reports you just want to get it out the door.

In other words, you’re stuck with reporting you know isn’t exactly what your clients want to read.

Don’t believe me? Here are signs your reporting may be stuck in a rut:

  1. You’re spending hours cutting and pasting data. WordSteam’s 2018 State of the Digital Marketing Agency report found 85% of agencies spend between one and five hours per client per week on reporting.

  2. You’re not focusing enough on analyzing. How can you focus on analysis when you’re spending so much time compiling reports?

  3. You’re cherry-picking results to only showcase the good results. Clients would prefer to see a good report, but their trust in your agency will be obliterated if you leave out the negative results.

  4. You’re failing to adapt the report to what the client wants and needs. Each client has unique goals and expectations, yet it’s easy to report the same data for every client, even if it’s not relevant to their needs.

  5. You’re reporting an overwhelming amount of data. Don’t flood your client reports with a tsunami of analytic data. Just because you’ve collected an incredible amount of data doesn’t mean it’s going to add value to your report and not overload clients.

  6. You’re not providing reports on a regular basis. It’s going to be tempting to push reports to the bottom of your to-do list. Regular reporting can only improve your relationship with clients while building their trust in your agency.

If you’ve found that your agency is among those stuck in a reporting rut, where do you go? What can you do?

The answer: stop spinning your wheels. Find a different path.

6 ways to commit to better reports

It’s an exciting time to be an agency.

The digital world is evolving, your clients are looking for help, and you have an incredible wealth of experience and skill to share with them.

Say “good-bye” to the outdated and inefficient reporting. Client reporting should never be about adding hours upon hours of extra work on your plan.

Now it’s time to turn to smarter methods, tools, and techniques for better client reporting in 2018. Here are my top seven tips:

1. Turn to the right tools

Step away from Google Analytics and that spreadsheet! There are other, more specialized tools you can use to more effectively share your findings. Here are the best tools for:

Note: For HubSpot users, don’t forget about the HubSpot Reporting Tool. If you need some inspiration, Kyle Benton has seven specific reports gleaned from this Reporting tool.

2. Use a template

Guys, if you aren’t using a template, just do it.

Templates streamline your reporting process to save you time and energy. That doesn’t mean a template is boring or basic.

You will still have flexibility to tailor reports for each client while maintaining a standardized look that gives your reports a consistent, professional style.

Having a free PowerPoint template also mean it also doesn’t matter who creates the report. If you were to go on a long vacation (you’ve earned it!) or a medical leave, your clients would still receive the same report they have come to expect.

3. Incorporate more than text

Research from 3M found that visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than just text. That means you need to be doing more than just adding screenshots from Google Analytics.

By adding in visuals such as a heatmap or session recording, you’ll force your client to play a more active, engaged role in digesting the information.

With these elements, clients could actually see data populate on their drop-down menus for themselves. This is more impactful than simply seeing numbers on a screen.

4. Focus on customization

Remember that each client and campaign will be different and will require different insight.

Too many agencies have a bad habit of providing the same data for all of their clients, regardless of whether it’s relevant to their needs or not.

Don’t waste your time or your client’s time. You know your client’s business and the goals they want to achieve, so prove it. Report the data that matters to them.

HubSpot’s Carly Stec had great advice in her article here: “With raised expectations on the horizon, it's important that you're prepared to not only report on marketing data, but the marketing data that actually matters to your boss [or client].”

Stay focused on their business goals and determine which metrics are relevant to those.

IMPACT’s CEO, Bob Ruffolo also suggests five marketing KPIs worth tracking for deeper insight into a campaign’s performance and how buyer personas are responding to your marketing.

For example, don’t just discuss visits and page views. Consider tracking lead generation from social media or showing a dynamic heatmap that clearly illustrates how visitors from Facebook are interacting with the website differently than those from Google PPC.

5. Focus on clarity

If your clients can’t understand your report, it’s missing the mark.

For example, if it’s filled with too much jargon, you clients may be struggling to much on the “what” and not enough on the “why.” In other words, your client may spend more time trying to figure out what you’re trying to say rather than actually understand and interpreted the report.  

Try to keep your reports clear, complete, and emphatic to your clients and their needs.

6. Make reporting a habit

It’s said that habits take 21 days to form, but it’s not exactly true. Instead, stop with the “buts” and start making efficient reporting a priority, done on a consistent schedule.

In this article, IMPACT’s Katie Pritchard discusses how often you should track and report on some of the most popular metrics and Karisa Egan lists four simple habits that will improve your reporting and results here. Use these tips to make reporting a part of your regular marketing routine.

(Note: the only edit we would make to Karisa’s article is to consider using Lucky Orange!)

Happier Clients = Happier You

You’re already blowing away client expectations with your results, and now it’s time to make your reports an asset, too.

Adding in interactive aspects from the likes of dynamic heatmaps or visitor recordings to a solid template and customizing reports to reflect the metrics that matter specifically to them, your report will help grow your retainers and impress new clients.

Like one of Lucky Orange’s agency users told us recently that after being presented with a visitor recording, the clients said, “That doesn’t even work? You can’t even click that?” Without Lucky Orange, the client wasn’t even aware aspects of their website weren’t even clickable.

There isn’t a silver bullet to make client reporting easier, but by refocusing on your clients and their goals, you can make it a better experience for all.

Check out our podcast

Welcome to the show where we're closing the gap between hearing about a business topic and knowing how to take action with it in the real-world.