Hello fellow agency owners. I have a ton of respect for you, but I think there's a big hole in your game. You're just not as data-driven as you say you are. You're not alone, but that's not an excuse. It's time to grow up. Whether you know it or not, your immaturity is showing, and it's costing you dearly.
I don't mean to irritate you, I want to motivate you. I want us all to get better. I want us to produce better results for our clients. I want us to align more closely with our client's most meaningful goals. I want us to connect further into the organizations we serve, and really solve for them. I want us to demonstrate our value more effectively.
We won't achieve greatness until we become data-driven
As a small services agency owner your job isn't easy. It's easy to focus on the urgently important more than the non-urgently important. While you're grinding away to build your agency a lot of emergent stuff gets thrown at you. You're trying to juggle dozens of priorities, deadlines, fires, and more. You're scoping projects. You're selling contracts. You're onboarding new clients. You're working like mad to deliver the assets you promised in your contract. It's about the delivery....
Some of you probably don't even understand what being data-driven really means. your definition of data could be the problem. You haven't connected the dots.
If you're unable to connect all that effort to something tangible and meaningful to your clients, you're doomed. You have to see the forest through the trees. You have to understand you weren't hired to create and promote a bunch of shit. You were hired to produce a lot of results. I'm afraid too many of us are measuring deliverables instead of results.
Being a data-driven agency is all about mindset
To get there, you'll need to instill an agency-wide culture of producing and tracking results. You know the saying, what gets measured, gets done. At Revenue River, we love data. Everything we do is tied to performance metrics, whether those metrics are our own goals, or our client's goals.
These days it feels like all we do is chase goals but, it wasn't always like that. I can think of several really tough conversations around our pursuit of goals. My Director of Marketing, Marc Herschberger, probably wanted to punch me in the throat a few times. We went round after round for a couple years about goals. Our exchanges got heated at times, as we're both passionate about what we do. Most of the exchanges went something like this:
Me: Where's their goals?
Marc: We don't have goals for them yet.
Me: WTF!? Why?
Marc: We can't build goals for this client.
Marc: It's not bullshit, they don't have a baseline. They weren't tracking ANY metrics!
Me: So what, that's why they hired us.
Marc: Well Eric, how the hell do I set SMART goals when we have to pull numbers out of our ass? They're not going to be accurate or realistic when we don't have a baseline.
Me: I don't care. We have to have goals. Set their goals.
Marc: What if I mess them up? I might get too aggressive and set our team up to fail.
Me: Well, we might get fired but if we don't get set goals we'll get fired anyway. At least they'll have a baseline for some other agency to work with.
I don't think I was very effective at fostering buy-in back then. However, I do think my intent was pure. What I wanted was a non-refutable focus on goals. I wanted us to cut through the excuses and solve. It wasn't easy but eventually, we got there. We developed the mindset. Since then, we haven't looked back.
What being a data-driven agency looks like
Today, Marc is data-driven AF. He and our Director of Sales Enablement, Amanda Daume, live and breathe data. Marc is relentless at establishing firm baselines we can project confidently off of. His years of campaign experience have provided him a level of expertise that empowers him to fight through excuses and foresee challenges that will prevent our team from dialing down meaningful goals for our clients.
Amanda and her team focus on closing the loop for attribution and developing our goals into real-time reporting dashboards. She looked to our Sales Optimization Specialist, Emily Cray, turning her loose on Databox with instructions to integrate our client reporting. We wanted to go beyond simply tracking campaign reporting in custom databoards, and connect our clients directly to our goal performance.
To accomplish this initiative we leveraged the goals dashboard inside our Databox account. We've developed our 2018 goals for ourselves, and our clients. As I write this article, only 5 days into the new year, our agency's annual goals are in place and already tracking.
We're also leveraging the client performance dashboard to track all our goals in one place. The filtering capabilities allow us to order the clients however we'd like, including by who they're assigned to. This allows us to filter by Campaign Manager, displaying only their associated set of clients. These days, Marc is not only on top of our client's goals, everyone on the team is too. Here's an example of a client's monthly goals for one of Meghan Dillow's clients:
Implementing a process is hard
Trust me, I know. Implementing a new process within your agency is never going to be easy. Implementing process that requires digging and scraping data and putting yourself out there on a limb with specific achievement parameters is really hard, and risky. Remember, you won't realize the reward if you don't take the risk. If driving an internal process to make your agency data-driven was easy, everyone would do it.
Getting there is going to take time. It's going to take effort. It's probably going to involve a little swearing behind closed doors. I'll challenge you to eat the elephant one bite at a time. Tackle the problem head-on, and have some self-awareness. Where you're at in these four basic steps will help you identify what you need to do next:
Step 1: Monitoring the right data
Holy shit, monitor the right data. We have all the tools in the world at our finger tips, so use them. Google Analytics, HubSpot, SEMRush, AdWords, and Salesforce all have connectors with Databox. Hook up your clients to any or all of these tools, and start pulling the data that matters to your clients. Traffic, leads, qualified leads, opportunities, deals, customers, average-days-to-close, and deal value should all resonate with your clients. Talk to them about what metrics they care about most, and figure out how to track 'em.
Step 2: Setting goals for your clients
Tracking the right metrics is rad, but tracking the lift towards goals is totally fetch. All of you that perform an inbound marketing assessment during the sales cycle should already be talking about baselines and goals. Once you have the metrics your clients care about, identify the baseline to goal from. To Marc's points, baselines aren't always perfect. You won't always have a 12-month rolling average to calculate. Work with what you have. If you only have 3 month's of reliable traffic data, use it to build a goal for your client.
Step 3: Reporting on client goals
What gets measured gets done, remember? If you're afraid to talk about goals you're probably afraid to fail. Failure isn't missing a goal, it's refusing to go after goals. If you build a bunch of goals only to file them away and get back to cranking out assets, you're screwed. You have to report on your goals, current status, and plans to improve. You have to report often, and accurately.
Step 4: Automate goal reporting
Sending a shitty PowerPoint or PDF 7 days into the following month talking about the numbers you put up the previous month is so 2013. You can do better. Tools like Databox empower us as agencies to provide real-time access to performance to our clients with a click of a link. We've built a host of templates you can download for free. Grab one that works for you and get your client's goals loaded and connected to the appropriate data sources. Share the link with your clients and get them to save it to their favorites. Show them their numbers every time you talk with them. Use those goals to center your strategy, set expectations, push back on disconnected busy work, and stay laser-focused on making those numbers look great.
Let's get to work
To be data-drive you have to establish firm baselines. You have to develop a connected strategy to lift key performance metrics. And finally, you have to track and report those numbers all the time. Being data-driven means being fanatical about the numbers.
I hope this helps you prioritize the development of your own data-driven agency process. Being data-driven is a lot of hard work but it will pay off. Solve this hole in your game and you'll begin solving more problems for your clients.