Reporting at scale with iO

Published Apr 2 2024 Last updated Apr 11 2024 5 minute read
reporting at scale
  • Sean Dougherty
    Written by Sean Dougherty

    A copywriter at Funnel, Sean has more than 15 years of experience working in branding and advertising (both agency and client side). He's also a professional voice actor.

The world’s most successful agencies serve many clients at once, each bringing multiple projects worth of work. At the same time, each project may have different monitoring or reporting requirements. In other words, agencies tend to have a lot on their plates. 

So how do agencies handle that volume of work - specifically all of that reporting at scale? 

To get the answers, we spoke with two reporting experts at the agency iO, a Funnel Solution Partner. Both Glenn Weuts, marketing services director, and Toon Pauwels, team lead of data and insights, helped us to gain deeper insights into the tools and techniques that the top agencies employ to stay on top of it all. 


Glenn Weuts (left) and Toon Pauwels (right)

More mature work means more complexity

As the world of marketing continues to become more digitized, the possibility to draw on more diverse data sets has meant new opportunities for businesses. Whether analyzing return on investment, determining marketing efficiency ratio, or performing predictive tests like incrementality, organizations are increasing their data maturity in order to maintain a competitive edge. That has also led to an explosion in the number of platforms being used by marketers. 

“Client questions are getting more complex and multi-source by nature,” said Glenn. “Dashboards used to be built from a single source, but now, clients need to connect and transform data from multiple platforms in order to calculate things like total overall impressions.”

To keep up, agencies like iO need tools that can handle increasingly complex data connections and transformations to surface the kind of insights that their clients now crave. Take, for instance, the task of connecting marketing efforts to sales. 

“We are now seeing that clients need to add their CRM data to their marketing reports,” said Toon. “At the same time, due to cookie deprecation and increased privacy regulations, tools like Google Analytics 4 are losing their ability to reliably collect and track user information.”

An example of modern reporting complexity 

Let’s imagine a basic e-commerce business for a moment. They offer custom-designed decals that can be applied to your favorite water bottles. As part of their sales cycle, they need customers to fill out an online form that gathers the water bottle specifications, the customer’s contact info, and information on the design they would like. 

In years past, they may have gotten by just by advertising on Facebook that pointed to their web form. Today, though, they also use Instagram, TikTok, Google Ads, and YouTube. Plus, they run an affiliate marketing program through Amazon. The business also uses an agency to analyze their performance across their advertising channels. 

In order to accurately report performance success, the agency needs access to data from all of those platforms. In an ideal world, the agency will also have access to CRM or sales data, which can help them identify what leads bring the highest value. 

“In our case, we are often running media campaigns,” said Glenn, “so it’s useful to include and learn from that sales data. For some clients, we’ve found that Google Ads drives better quality leads that result in higher-value sales despite generating fewer leads overall than on competing platforms.”

Without that CRM or sales data, Glenn and his team may not be able to draw those insights, which lead to better strategies and more efficient returns for their clients. 

When, exactly, is it “large scale?”

Marketers may bat around the term “reporting at scale” a lot. But when does high-volume turnover reporting stop being simple and instead become reporting at scale? Is there a specific volume of data required? Is it when a marketer hits five terabytes worth of data? Or is it something else entirely? 

While there isn’t a set definition of reporting at scale, the iO team does have a few benchmarks.

“Typically, you can say you’re reporting at scale once you are reporting for multiple departments per client,” said Glenn. “That can mean eight clients per account.”

That increase in stakeholders per reporting relationship can present increased complexity in a few ways. Of course, you’ll have more clients to report to (and more opinions to take into account). Your dashboards may also need to speak to different audiences. Those dashboards that reach senior leadership should provide a fast, high-level overview, while the dashboards speaking to technical teams must provide much more detail. 

And when the BI team gets involved, projects tend to add even more complexity. However, the iO team tries to take everything in stride. 

“We are seeing BI get involved more frequently now,” said Glenn. “They may be pushing data to a warehouse or running jQuery, and they need our help with that. But when working at scale, we don’t really need to change our toolset too much, since we have a broad team of specialists that can plug into different projects.”

According to Glenn, even large-scale enterprise clients tend to use similar tech architectures, though they might serve different use cases according to industry and digital maturity in general.

Sometimes, larger clients may be restricted in the kind of data they can share with an agency, depending on their industry. For example, clients in the pharmaceutical or healthcare industries may be required by law to securely store patient and product data. In those instances when they lack deeper data, the iO team may only be able to provide top-line guidance.

“That’s our role as an agency,” said Glenn. “We can either take full responsibility or simply advise clients from a distance. We need to maintain that flexibility.”

What challenges do agencies face? 

Restrictions on data availability are just one slice of the challenges agencies like iO face when working with clients’ data. According to Glenn, data governance tends to be a recurring issue. Specifically, it can be difficult to ascertain what team is responsible for each piece of data. 

“Especially with CRM, this can be an issue,” said Glenn. “Is it managed by marketing or IT? If it’s the latter, it may be more difficult for us to get access to that data due to the well-meaning rigidity of many IT departments.”

Another challenge that agencies face is the herculean task of keeping up with all of the marketing platforms available. Thousands of platforms are available, with more coming online every day. 

Additionally, well-established platforms are constantly evolving. What were readily trackable metrics and data yesterday may not be available tomorrow. And sometimes, clients may request metrics that are nearly impossible to measure.

“An issue I’ve noticed is people want to report on reach, specifically for Facebook campaigns or posts,” said Toon. “It’s actually a very difficult metric to report on, especially when you try to blend data sources. It can be hard to explain to a client why we can’t easily drop it into a dashboard without providing the necessary context. I think educating your client is a crucial part of being an agency.”

Glenn agreed. 

“To add on that point, all of these tools have different data models,” said Glenn. “So, while we have different transformation tools, it can be very difficult to blend certain data. It’s hard for clients to understand how different UA (Google Universal Analytics) and GA4 data are and how they can’t be directly compared. It’s not just some numbers that need to be added up.”

It seemed like we may have struck a nerve as Toon continued. 

“Yeah. The whole technical side of building a dashboard… general marketers don’t necessarily understand the frameworks and the work required to build dashboards,” said Toon.

Capturing a unique perspective

While agencies may face challenges in supporting and educating their clients, they are afforded an advantageous view of the market that other businesses can’t enjoy. For example, by working across different business models and industries, agencies like iO can borrow from the most effective techniques that they discovered while working with Client A and apply them to Client B. 

“We tend to standardize as much as possible,” said Glenn. “For example, there are certain data transformations that we know every sector needs. We try to standardize those processes in order to speed up reporting.”

Putting it all together

At the end of the day, a successful agency is one that constantly learns from its clients and adapts its approach to best serve them. But it’s not a one-way street. Businesses that can provide the broadest and deepest data sets will reap the biggest rewards from their agency partners, since the level of insights derived from that data will only increase. 

Those businesses that may be restricted in what they can share should maintain realistic expectations of what their agencies can advise on. At the same time, those agencies must realize that the data maturity, and the requests, from their clients will continue to evolve and gather complexity as the marketing industry continues to evolve. 

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