The past few months we’ve been looking for the perfect tool for our monthly reports. If we’re being honest it’s actually been the last 7-8 months, searching for the perfect software reporting product to compile all of a client’s marketing our data in one place. There have been moments when we thought we’d found the perfect solution, but soon discovered a key element or two was missing. Then it was back to the search.

This time, we decided to take a different approach. We assumed there was no perfect product (at least not in our price range). Instead of falling in love with a particular flashy feature we focused on why we needed to the tool, the business objectives it would it help us accomplish and the pain points it would address.

We looked for products which had features which would address our top priorities, the primary pain points we had to fix. Then we compare the “extras” the nice things we wish were included but weren’t deal breakers. Looking at software from the business objective perspective is an interesting way to look at any new software product.

Here’s how we evaluated marketing software alternatives

Met our primary business objective – Show Value

The monthly report presents a synopsis of what we worked on each month and the results we have achieved. If the strategy we have in place is solid and executed correctly, this is a great way for us to demonstrate the value we bring to the table. The monthly report also allows us to spot things which aren’t working, and use the meeting to discuss adjustments to the tactics for the next 30 days.

I could go on about how important it is to measure your marketing (or the marketing of your clients, depending on your role) but the bottom line is that small businesses need to understand what’s working according to their guide strategy and what isn’t..

As we evaluated reporting tools, pulling out key data points and adding text to prompt the discussion was crucial. Any product which didn’t offer that feature was immediately disqualified.

Secondary objective: Less time (Simple Integration)

Preparing monthly reports for all of our clients is a tedious and time-consuming process. It typically takes a week of out of my schedule and Taylor’s EVERY MONTH to collect and organize data from the website, social media, email marketing and download summaries. As important as the data is, if I am spending so much time building the reports, I don’t have time to actually adjust and implement plans so automating the data collection was next on our list.

We found one tool which pulled data from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, both advertisements and organic data. This looked like a winner until we looked at the next items on our list, flexible comparative data. Our leading choice fell down in this category. So we had a tough choice. If we could only have one feature, which was the deal breaker?

The surprising deal breaker: Flexible comparison

Initially, we thought we could live without this, but the more we worked with the tools, the more we realized how important comparison between time periods was. And the time frame differed for clients. New clients needed to see month over month growth, but long-term clients, with seasonal businesses needed to see what their marketing looked like a year ago. We needed to zoom in on a specific week for one client and look at three months at a time for another to see the full picture.

It was a lively discuss, but at the end of the day, we sacrificed the automatic Twitter and LinkedIn integration, which were only relevant for some clients, to have optimal flexibility for all clients.

What we learned

Whenever you are going to make an important investment for your company; a software product, a new employee or a capital investment in equipment make your wish list first. Define what you really want, then go shopping and see how close you came.

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Roundpeg is an Indianapolis marketing strategy firm.