38: How skilled do you need to be at marketing reporting?

Data, data everywhere! If this conjures up the green vertical parade of binary numbers from the Matrix, you’re not alone in being confused. 

You might be thinking — I didn’t sign up for this! You didn’t go to school for statistical analysis, so what makes you qualified to produce a marketing report? 

There’s a lot that makes you qualified to produce reports, even if you don’t feel like an expert. Marketers, particularly in smaller companies, need to learn enough to be dangerous. 

The main takeaway for this episode: you need to incorporate reporting into your skillset, and it’s not as scary as you think.


  • We both have a background working at an analytics company
  • So much hype around data over the years, whether it’s big or small
  • It can be super intimidating thinking you need to be responsible for reporting, and it’s way too easy to overcomplicate things

The difference between analytics and reporting

The terms are used interchangeably so often that it’s hard to really understand the difference.

I think that one way to think about reporting and analytics — for reporting, you’ll almost always have a clear understanding on what you need to report on.

Analytics, you’ll likely be exploring data and not always sure what you’ll find.

This is where having a data analyst is useful — they can look at a data set and tell you if an insight is relevant or meaningful.

Performance and exploration. That’s how I see the difference between reporting and analytics.

Most startups don’t have time to prioritize either. But in the venture backed startup world, comes a bit more process and a board of directors that ask for monthly/quarterly reporting updates.

A really nice sweet spot for learning to become dangerous is a bootstrapped startup that doesn’t have a big data team or requirements for long tedious reporting processes.

But regardless of the environment that you’re in, marketers need to learn these skills if for nothing else — to be able to show their worth, their impact on key metrics.

Every marketer needs some reporting skills

  • Where the heck do you start with this skillset?
  • Confusion of reporting and analytics has marketers overengineering solutions to some simple problems. No, you don’t need to learn R and statistical analysis to be effective at reporting

Think of analytics as exploring data for unknown insights and buried treasure. We can think of reporting as being accountable for the things you get paid to do.

Start there. All my marketing reporting comes back to the question: is what I’m doing making a difference? Reporting on anything else is purely intellectual.

So this sounds simple right? Show your impact… Reality is that different marketers will have access to different tools and metrics.

But as soon as you start talking about marketing reporting, you quickly get to attribution and then multi touch points and you get lost really easy in all the noise and options of reporting.

How do you get to what’s important?

  • This is the ultimate question, and where you as a marketer are incredibly important
  • The absolute best data analysts on the planet are the best because they can tie all that data and insight back to business strategy
  • You need to be able to answer business questions with your reporting

You should start simple. The marketing funnel is the ideal starting point for understanding marketing reporting. Map each stage of the funnel to a marketing metric and then start to fill in the data.

For example, Awareness is the total sum of impressions across advertising and social media and interest is all web sessions.

Boom – you’re already starting to get somewhere. This is how nearly every marketer structures their reporting and strategy. Start at the top of the funnel and work your way to revenue.

Yeah we had a full series on lifecycle, starting at episode 12, check that out.

You don’t need to be able to report on end to end multi attribution from the start. Small steps. Conversion rates from one stage of the funnel to the next is an awesome starting point. Even just focusing on one slice of the funnel.

Lifecycle reporting

  • We both know that getting to revenue data isn’t always that easy
  • Sales and marketing systems often come loaded with data issues or caveats around the process
  • Impressions and sessions are easy to get — log in to Google Analytics, your digital ads platforms, etc, and throw those numbers together
  • Things can get hairy when you start working with contacts, deals, and new customers

This is where lifecycle is so key. You need a set of common definitions to even start getting to reporting nirvana. If you and sales don’t agree on what constitutes an MQL, it’s going to be hard to be successful creating good reports.

The lifecycle series goes super deep into how to set all this up.

Lifecycle reporting is probably one of the most useful ways to report on marketing data. This is definitely high level reporting and should map to your strategy quite nicely. As you progress through each stage, you get a series of conversion rates and baselines.

Ultimately lifecycle reporting answers the question how effective you are at turning sessions into contacts and then customers.

I love this narrative, that lifecycle is at the heart of growth marketing.

It’s so easy to over-complicate reporting.

One thing that makes things tricky is where your data lives. Lifecycle reporting sounds straightforward, number of impressions > number of views > number of signups… but often you’ll get a different number of signups from your crm compared to your goal in GA compared to your automation system.

Every marketer will work with a tool that provides data

  • Getting the most out of in-app analytics
  • First step in journey to reporting mastery is learning the tools you use on a daily basis
  • How do you get good at in-app reporting? You see all the time the first thing students do is go out and grab a certification for Google Analytics, etc, etc… 

Certifications are totally worth it and you should go ahead and do it. Don’t worry if it’s worth it or not. The truth of these certificates is that they demonstrate that you’ve: a) put in the effort to learn an application, and b) learned the fundamentals of a tool.

It doesn’t make you an expert — yet — and you’ll need to apply those skills to real-world problems to truly master those skills. 

I learned these tools by always being the guy people came to ask questions. 

  • “How many visitors did we get from Organic this month? Is that an improvement?”
  • “What percentage of our traffic is on mobile?”
  • “How many trials did we get last month? Where on our website did they start trials?

You don’t need the answer, but you do need the curiosity and discipline to dig deeper.

This is one of the reasons I think early marketers should spend time in small startups. You won’t come close to the amount of time or freedom to dig deeper in a big enterprise where tools and data teams are already full fledged.

Learning through trying and breaking things right?

What makes someone good at reporting?

  • But the data never lies! It might be true but like a rock on the side of a hill, it requires some context and big picture thinking to understand how it got there
  • So much of marketing reporting is done on an ad-hoc basis as opposed to a formal month-end style. Of course, you need to do your monthly reports, etc, but I think you will be seen as “good” when you’re able to respond to ad-hoc requests.

The deliverables of ad-hoc reporting can be a simple as screenshots, numbers written down in Evernote, or spreadsheet exports with pivot tables, charts, and graphs.

Being awesome at ad-hoc requests really opens a lot of doors for marketers. I think this is where your stock will rise and interesting things will happen.

But a common mistake is that people will share this stuff with absolutely no commentary or opinion. Don’t drop a screenshot in Slack and expect everyone to know what the heck you’re talking about. Give some colour commentary, weigh in with an opinion, and lean into your expertise.

Striking a balance between doing your work and reporting on your work is one thing, but when you throw in adhoc reporting in there, things get stressful really quickly.

I’ve also been the person on the team who needs to answer technical data questions in GA or tag manager or needing to build a dashboard to query our CRM’s api.

The best way to go about this is to have a common understanding of responsibilities around data. Who owns the pipeline, who owns exploratory stuff. What priority do we assign to adhoc data questions, how urgent and important are they?

What metrics do we care about the most? What’s our true north?

True north of marketing reporting

Marketing reporting isn’t about employing mystical dark arts to data to conjure up insights and apparitions of genius — it’s about being accountable for what you do.

Marketing is about turning ideas, words, and visuals into revenue by selling a product. Your reporting should demonstrate your effectiveness and justify your existence!


Intro music by Wowa via Unminus
Cover art created with help via Undraw

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