Best Client Reporting Practices
If you look at the top marketing agency best practices, the best agencies have one thing in common. When they think about reporting, they don't think of it as just another task or process. Their reporting practices are deeply aligned with stellar client management principles that prioritize transparency, communication, and creating a clear connection between the work that they do and the outcomes their client values most.
As you review the best reporting practices below, you'll notice that each and every one of them circles back to these three principles.
Value the Client on a Personal Level
Knowing and valuing clients on a personal level may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of best reporting practices. But because reporting is a data-heavy practice, it can seem incredibly impersonal if you fail to establish, and emphasize, a personal connection with your client. To provide the most valuable reporting possible, you need to understand what makes them tick, what keeps them up at night, and what their business is about.
Take the time to visit their website, read industry publications, and ask them about their services. In time, you'll begin to learn the language your client speaks. Being able to communicate in their language will establish trust by showing them that you've gone the extra mile to understand the ins and outs of their business.
Knowing even small details about your client can also make the reporting process go more smoothly. Does the client prefer to communicate via phone, email, video, or Slack? Do they want to be heavily involved in the strategizing process, or leave the driving to you? How often do they want to receive reports and other communications?
If you use the client's preferences to guide your relationship, you'll interact with them throughout the reporting process in a way that works for everyone. And the more you communicate, the more you'll know about your client's pain points and the better you'll be able to alleviate them.
Select Metrics Together
With so many metrics now available to us, a lot of agencies want to know how to determine what to include in a report. Here, you have to balance including data that will resonate with the client and data that most effectively measure results.
Client reporting best practices almost always include an educational component. The reality is that many clients won’t know which metrics they should be tracking. This is where you must step in to provide teaching and guidance. But even as you do so, listen to their needs.
Start by asking the client what they think is most important. What are their problems and concerns? What do they consider their KPIs? If you don't agree with all of their ideas (which is likely), consider this an educational opportunity where you can explain to them what you see as most valuable and why. For example, if a client is fixated on conversion rates but hasn't considered the importance of lead tracking, take the time to explain that most leads were generated by downloading white papers rather than filling in forms. This will help them better understand which kind of content is most valuable to their customers and have a stronger sense of where they should focus their marketing energy.
If, after this conversation, the client wants reporting done in an area they find important, include this data in the report, even if you beg to differ. For example, if the client spends substantial energy on their email newsletter, even if it doesn't lead to many conversions, include it in the report. Since reporting is an ongoing educational process, you can make recommendations for improving the newsletter's persuasiveness and see if the numbers improve. As you continue to have conversations about metrics, your clients will learn more and the process will become more streamlined. You'll also establish a practice of running data-driven campaigns rather than running them based on intuition.
By coming to an agreement together about which metrics must be monitored to demonstrate success, it will ensure that both parties stick to the objectives they agreed upon at the beginning of the campaign. By strategizing collaboratively, both you and the client become accountable. You'll use the strategy you agreed upon and the client will stay focused on the goals you've laid out rather than changing horses in mid-stream. It's a win-win for everyone.
A final word of advice regarding metrics: as you establish metrics for the first time, be conservative about committing to specific targets. Until you have been working together for a while and observing the performance drivers, it’s difficult to guess what level of performance is achievable. Setting modest expectations and exceeding them keeps everyone happy.
Stay on Schedule
The most successful agency-client reporting practices are streamlined and organized. One way to achieve this is by creating a consistent reporting schedule.
When you provide your client with regularly scheduled reports, you're essentially ensuring that the conversation about the client's progress is steadily moving forward. Regular reporting assures the client that you're consistently working on their marketing efforts and helping them achieve their goals.
The best digital marketing agencies report at least monthly, and for good reason: quarterly reports are less satisfying to clients who want to see the fruits of their efforts more frequently, while weekly reports make it extremely hard to see big-picture progress.
Of course, if a client requests weekly reports, or if you think the client could benefit from them in certain circumstances, such as when they're running a sale or promotion, you should provide them. But in general, establishing a consistent, monthly reporting schedule, including a conference call, will streamline your communication and reduce the need for ad hoc calls and meetings.
Make Your Reports Readable
It's unlikely that any of your clients is an expert in digital marketing: that's why they enlisted your help. But "proving" your expertise by cramming your digital marketing report with long lists of campaign stats and industry lingo won't work. If the client can't understand their monthly report, they can't appreciate how your work is achieving their goals. In fact, they'll just feel overwhelmed. Or even worse, they'll focus on metrics that are unimportant.
Rather than overloading your report with data, create a clean report structured around the agreed upon metrics. Start by providing an executive summary of what you've done for their business in the past month, whether it's optimizing blogs or starting a social media campaign.
Then include results but in simple terms. If the reach for their Facebook posts increased by 10%, say so. If you generated new leads or got new prospects to visit their website, tell them how many. If you increased sales, by what percentage? Balance marketing metrics and jargon with straightforward language and concepts like leads and sales that are meaningful to the client.
In addition, use formatting and graphics that are easy on the eyes and provide a clear visual for the client. Many clients like to see their logo, fonts, and brand colors used in reports. Don’t underestimate the value of showing solidarity with their brand!
Simplifying the presentation helps your clients clearly see how you've helped them. It also keeps you both focused on the big picture so you can see what you've achieved and where you can improve.
What should you do if multiple people with different expectations will be reading the report—say, the CEO and a marketing expert? A good strategy is to tailor different sections of the report toward each reader. Use your introductory section to create a big-picture overview for the CEO who wants to know how marketing spend has impacted their bottom line. Then add a section that that includes a detailed list of marketing campaign strategies and speaks to the marketing executive's desire to see whether they’ve properly allocated their budget.
Take Time for Conversation
The best digital marketing agency reports provide clients with new insights into their businesses. And when you want your client to understand exactly how you're helping them, you can't simply email them a report (no matter how readable it is to you) and expect them to know what the data mean.
In-depth education happens through conversation. Educated clients who understand what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how it benefits them, are happier clients.
Take the initiative to walk your client step by step through the report each and every month. Imagine yourself as a teacher. Don't simply show them a pile of data: talk them through how to interpret it. Show them exactly which of your many efforts have impacted their bottom line—otherwise they may see that their sales are increasing, but not necessarily connect the increase to your marketing strategy.
For example, if conversions from Facebook Ads have gone up, explain why this is important to the client's overall marketing efforts. Show them which ads generated the most leads, and how your sales funnel nurtured those leads to conversion.
Another perk of in-depth reporting conversations is that they give clients the opportunity to ask questions and clear up any gray areas that could become an issue if ignored. If a particular campaign isn't going well, don't sweep it under the rug—explain why it isn't working.
For example, if an SEO campaign isn't increasing traffic, it may simply be because with SEO, it always takes time to see results. But if, on the other hand, a PPC campaign isn't generating traffic, there may be a deeper issue with the messaging. Try to identify the problem and talk the client through changes you can make to improve the campaign.
Finally, never leave a call without explaining how your strategy has progressed from start to finish. Tell the client how their metrics have performed against targets, and how these results will impact the campaigns going forward. At the end of the call or meeting, be clear about how you will move forward with the marketing strategy next month.
Make the Process Transparent
Too much communication around the reporting process is always better than not enough. And one of the best ways to easily improve communication is by having a reporting process in place that's transparent to the client. When all of your processes are transparent, the client is more likely to trust them. They can see that you're working on their projects and see the activities and results they are paying for.
One way to get the client involved is by using a project management tool that allows them to feel like part of the process. Not only do these tools allow clients to participate in discussions and decisions with ease, but they keep a record of your conversations in case a client wants to know when or how a specific decision was made.
When the client is educated, they are empowered, and transparency allows the client the opportunity to consistently learn. They'll be more likely to proactively engage with your team about any issues or questions they have so you can clear them up before they become a problem.
Be Open to Change
Marketing agencies know that clients depend on them to be adaptable. But, whether you're dealing with a brand that is changing its image, a new Google algorithm that has made a previous SEO strategy obsolete, or a client who wants to switch up the metrics for the next monthly report, being adaptable can be difficult. The easiest path is to keep doing the same thing each month. At times like these, you must remember that flexibility and adaptation are half the value you bring to the agency-client relationship.
Rather than hunkering down and replicating the same strategies that have worked in the past, always be ready to change tactics to meet a client's evolving goals. Be open to conversations about the pros and cons of strategy changes a client is considering.
As we all know, sometimes our strategies are less effective than we had imagined they would be. You have to be ready to change them up or seek out different results, even during the course of a campaign. If not enough people are interacting with a particular campaign, don't be afraid to alter the messaging or creative, offer better incentives, or target a different audience. Marketing is an art and a science, and sometimes requires quick changes and trial and error before you see success. If you can communicate with your client throughout the process and explain why you're making changes, you stay on the same page and maintain their support.
Another benefit of reporting is that if you've done incredible reporting throughout your relationship with the client, you can be prepared for these changes before they happen. Before the client even has to ask, you'll be ready with backup strategies, have expert consultants available, or be ready to enlist a specialist on your team to help out with a specific client issue. When you do all of these things preemptively, you gain client loyalty.
A key area for staying open to change is by staying abreast of what your client’s competitors are doing. It never fails that a client sees a competitor running a successful campaign and wants to try it out for themselves. Ideally, you'll be ahead of the game and notice this first. You may even consider including a section on competitors in your monthly reports. And even if you miss an important development, don't be afraid to embrace client suggestions for change. If you've done a good job of communicating, you should feel on the same team with your client and be comfortable sharing ideas.
And finally, stay ahead of the game when it comes to technology. If you know of a technological advancement that will improve the reporting process, suggest it. One of the best ways to make reporting simpler, more effective, and more straightforward is by using automated reporting software.
While some agencies shy away from automation because they worry that it won't allow them to customize reports, in reality there are many sophisticated reporting tools, such as Megalytic, that allow you to avoid one-size-fits-all, cookie cutter reports, and make clients (and yourself!) happier and more successful. You can read more about how reporting automation software can help in this blog post.
Understanding the best agency client reporting strategies can go a long way in improving client communication, teamwork, and retention. And as we all know, it's better retention that builds your business. Take the time to embrace communication and transparency and to line up your client's goals with your strategy. Having a strong reporting process in place is one of the best things you can do for your clients and your business!