Client reporting: How to make it less painful (and more profitable)

Client reporting: How to make it less painful (and more profitable)
Written by: Karl Sakas

Earlier in my career, I created quarterly market share reports. My predecessor spent eight weeks a year on this task. I revamped her process, and cut that timeline by 80%, from two weeks a quarter to two days each time.

An agency COO recently asked me: “What’s normal for agencies when it comes to client reporting?”

Here’s my 7-point philosophy on client reporting for digital agencies like yours.

1. Prove it. Reporting helps your agency show clients that your work is getting results. It’s a key part of the second half of my “agencies should think like a personal trainer” model. (That is, it’s not enough to get results; they need to understand they’re getting results.)

2. Put “client want” before “agency need.” Lean toward sharing what your clients care about, not what you care about. For instance, you can easily see that unique visitors are up—but your client probably cares more about whether sales are up. You won’t always have this info, but try to get as close to clients’ revenue as possible; it helps client retention (and upsells). Remember, they’re the Hero here.

3. Give higher-end clients higher-end reporting. Bigger clients tend to expect more reporting from agencies, especially because your client contacts have higher pressure to “manage up” to their bosses in a corporate environment. They may also like “heavier” (that is, longer) reports. Longer client reports aren’t necessarily more valuable, but they can feel more valuable to clients in a political environment; you’ll need to decide how you approach that.

4. Get the timing “just right.” Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the frequency and volume of your reports needs to be “just right.” That means not too often, not too infrequent, and the right amount. This will vary by client, and may combine an in-person update and a post-call recap (especially if your client contact isn’t especially detailed). You’ll likely do monthly and/or quarterly reporting to retainer clients—but do weekly status updates in between so your clients don’t get antsy.

5. Automate it. Ideal reporting is at least semi-automated. Manual reporting is a poor use of your team’s time, unless you’re getting paid for it. (There’s likely to be at least some manual commentary, depending on the client relationship.) You can use tools like Databox and to get things done faster—they both have agency partner programs—and check out the Agency Automators group. Automation was key to me saving 80% in the quarterly market share reporting process.

6. Custom reporting should always cost extra. It has value, so custom client reporting shouldn’t be free (unless you choose to call it out as “strategically free” for other reasons). A client once promised free custom reporting; two months later, he hadn’t figured out how to do it, and couldn’t afford additional resources to do the work.

7. Keep evolving. Debrief with clients on what they do and don’t use. This is especially helpful when a client contact or their boss changes; they may not care about something their predecessor saw as a must-have. (Of course, be sure to frame custom reporting as a special deal—or an upsell—when appropriate.)

Question: Think about your agency’s client reporting. What will you change next?

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