The best SEM reporting: educate, simplify, and adapt

SEM companies often fail when it comes to explaining complex ideas. This is unfortunate, because if you can’t explain complex ideas, you must work much harder to help explain the importance of an idea or proposal, and it can even prevent clients from learning about good work you did.

Reporting SEM results can be challenging: it is expected to be measurable, it depends on complex interactions of systems, and it often involves ideas that are relatively new. But you don’t have to give up on reporting. In fact, you can spend less time actually messing with Powerpoint, more time talking to the clients and your co-workers, and deliver much better reporting — all while having fun in the process.

It’s simple! Any SEM who wants to successfully report to a client must be ready to do three things:

  • Educate
  • Simplify
  • Adapt

Educate your client. Even the most Bottom Line “just the facts” client will have questions about the data that you regularly present. This is particularly true once the Key Performance Indicators are developed and agreed upon. The key with education for a client is two-fold: First, the best opportunities for education come when you anticipate a question. The way that we do this at Pure Visibility is that we spend less time making reports “pretty” and use that found time talking about how the presentation will probably go with the client. When we hit particular discussion points, we quiz each other to determine if we know how to explain what is going on.

The second key point about education is that it should be part of the discussion and supplemental handouts, but not an explicit part of the report. Why? Education should be seen as a way to improve the way that you and your client communicate, but adding it to your monthly executive summary means the client will have to wade through all your brilliant prose to get to the key bottom line numbers she needs to make her boss happy. Put the materials on the side, in a separate file, if need be, and just talk about it in the meeting.

Take the time to simplify your reporting. Ever write a long letter because you didn’t have time to write a short one? Reporting is like that, too. Instead of dazzling your client with endless lists of data, charts, and graphs, ask yourself what the key messages are that you would like to deliver, and challenge yourself to put that information into one or, at most, two charts or graphs, along with one page of supporting narrative. Does that make you feel nervous, unprotected by your legion of spreadsheets? Well, try processing all that data without a tour guide. It’s basically like doing your taxes. EVERY MONTH. Why would you want to do that to someone who is paying you?

Adapt to the client’s needs. Your clients will love this approach, if they are getting simple data and enjoying the benefits of your knowledge as part of their marketing education, well, they GET IDEAS. During the beginning of an engagement, we find that clients who are really looking at the information and asking question tend to evolve in their understanding of what they want and need. As a result, we usually expect our reports to change three to five times in the early part of project. Sometimes this happens very rapidly (monthly or every other month), sometimes more slowly over the course of a year.

But here’s the key point: change is good! It means your client is starting to learn about her own business, and wants to get reports that more closely reflect that business as it is projected online.

Take less time worrying about fonts and your bookmarking feature, and more time thinking about how your client sees your data. It is endless fun, and will create conversations with your clients that you never dreamed you’d have!