B2B Articles - October 25, 2023
In an agency world prone to constant transformation and change, data has the ability to center and focus our work, allowing us to tune out the static and focus on what’s most important — and valuable — for our agency and our clients.
Unfortunately, too many agencies often treat reporting as just a tool for showcasing successes to their clients. This perspective can be problematic, especially when it leads agencies down the road of touting “successes” that are actually just cherry-picked or meaningless metrics. They write the story beforehand, build the dashboards to match it, then say, “Our agency is making good use of your money.”
Agencies that approach reporting this way are doing a disservice to themselves and their clients. When agencies instead approach reporting as a tool for learning and communicating with clients, it can build strong, trusting relationships.
Strong reporting is similar to translating a work for publication in a new language. A good translator doesn’t simply translate word-for-word; they understand the nuances of each language and are able to capture the essence and purpose of the author’s original words. Without obscuring the author’s intent, they make it possible for readers from a different culture to understand it.
Similarly, a successful marketer doesn’t just build dashboards full of related data points and send it off to a client. They absorb the data, identify the essential message, and translate that into clear, actionable insights for their clients. Crucially, they don’t change the essential message of the data. When the data shows weak performance, they don’t try to hide it with selective reporting; they contextualize it and offer learnings and next steps.
With strong reporting, agencies and their clients can better understand buyers and their needs, wants, and aspirations. Dashboards can paint a clear and detailed picture of a client’s marketing maturation over time and the market forces they’re facing. Even pulling analytics about unsuccessful campaigns and strategies can build a narrative about the team’s work and their ability to identify winning strategies for clients through testing and iteration. It also paints a clear picture of buyer needs during a specific time.
But for reporting to play this role in client communications, agencies must approach the data as something to be read and understood, not a means to an end. We need to treat it as more than just numbers on a dashboard and spend time analyzing data, carving out buyer insights, and educating clients on new developments.
Lots of people can put some reports together on a dashboard, but not everyone can successfully translate data into structured, actionable insights.
For metrics to support a collaborative client relationship, agencies should ideally focus on what often matters most to our clients and their leadership teams: revenue and opportunity growth. Focusing on winning new revenue allows agencies to shed metrics and reports that aren’t meaningful to business leaders and support our points of contact in communicating wins to teams outside marketing. This focus is not always the reality, as marketing and sales CRMs can remain siloed; instead, it’s the ideal state that we should strive to achieve.
While HubSpot1 and LinkedIn2 both note that marketers predict their budgets will increase in 2023 and 2024, respectively, lingering economic uncertainty may mean they still feel pressure from leadership to justify their spending. Helping our points of contact defend their budgets is difficult when agencies are more focused on propping up their own performance than evaluating their strategies and looking for ways to improve.
Metrics that serve as guideposts along the way, like MQLs and SQLs, will provide insight to frontline marketers and digitally savvy marketing managers, but business leaders want to understand how efforts impact the company at large. Relying on this type of focused reporting as a communication tool can build positive relationships with company leaders who want to understand the return on investment.
Reporting and performance form a self-perpetuating cycle: what gets reported on is what gets the most attention and focus on improving. In this way, reporting is not just a tool for showing what has happened in the past; it sets priorities for our relationships and affects how — and what — we communicate with our clients. It can tell us how to adjust our strategy in the future and reveal unexpected insights about buyers, but only if we’re focused on the right thing.
Approaching marketing data as a story to be translated enables transparency with clients, which is crucial for effective relationship-building. It empowers them to understand what the agency is accomplishing, who their buyers are, and how teh agency’s work is supporting their growth goals. Working with an agency is a significant investment, and strong, transparent reporting helps us demonstrate the value we create on that investment.
Reporting also holds us accountable to what we know (but sometimes forget) is most important. When our clients understand the value of MQLs, SQLs, deals closed-won, and new revenue — and hold us accountable to those metrics — we can continue driving towards those successes without getting hung up on less valuable metrics.
Finally, reporting helps us justify our strategy and planning. Clients often have preconceived notions of what channels, messaging, and overall strategy will engage their buyers, and it’s not always correct. It can be difficult to get a client to move away from those old ideas. Data and analytics can help us show them exactly who their buyers are, what they’re interested in, and how fruitful new messaging or strategies can be.
1HubSpot, The State of Marketing, 2023
2LinkedIn, The B2B Marketing Benchmark: A global look at the state of B2B marketing, June 2023
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