How Do Agencies Create a Data Story to Show Value and Charge More?

By Jason Swenk on August 1, 2021

How can agencies prove value to their clients and eventually charge more? That’s the solution Paul Deraval offers in this episode about founding NinjaCat. After entering the agency world later in his career as a software developer and finding the competition was everywhere, Paul shifted his focus. As Paul says: Who makes money in a gold rush? It’s the guy selling the pickax.” So he decided to offer his unique data reporting technology to agencies and created Ninja Cat in 2014. They are a digital marketing performance management platform built for agencies, media companies, and brands. He joins the podcast today to talk about how agencies can prove their value to retain customers and the benefits of having automated reporting.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. The crack in the fortress. Paul found that many agencies were using big black box algorithm platforms for reporting capability that was very limited in scope. Not really designed for that use. And paying a ton of money for it. He decided to focus his business on solving this problem and be the best in the world at helping agencies prove their value to clients by knocking their client reports out of the park.
  2. Deliver a story. Know your clients and know their appetite for data. More data isn’t always better. So, before delivering an 80-page report that they may not even read, ask what they would like to know and then deliver to them on a silver platter a data story that says here’s what we did for you, here’s the impact that had on your business. And don’t forget to be clear on the point “here’s why you should continue to do business with us.”
  3. Focus on the meaningful. What do agencies get from using Ninja Cat for their client reports? They get to focus on the meaningful instead of the monotonous. Instead of data chaos and data wrangling and client reporting they automate that process and spend more time actually optimizing campaigns and building client relationships.


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Using Data Reporting to Tell the Story of Your Agency’s Value

Jason: [00:00:00] What’s up, agency owners? Got another great, amazing podcast interview coming right up. This guest has a really interesting story and we’re going to talk about how can you really prove your value, prove your worth, your ROI? So you can actually charge more and hold onto your clients better. Because a lot of times, if you don’t know the value your clients don’t know the value and you’re probably not going to hold onto them.

So let’s go ahead and jump into the episode.

Hey, Paul. Welcome back to the show.

Paul: [00:00:36] Hey, Jason. Thanks for having me.

Jason: [00:00:37] Yeah, man. I’m excited to have you on. So, uh, tell us who you are and, uh, tell us a little bit about your background.

Paul: [00:00:45] Yeah, sure. Uh, my name is Paul Deraval. Um, currently I’m the CEO and co-founder of a company called Ninja Cat. We help, uh, large scale agencies and media companies prove value to their customers through, um, automated and highly effective, um, data stories as we call it dashboards as well as, uh, automated PowerPoints and PDFs that really help you as an agency prove value to your customers.

Jason: [00:01:11] Awesome. Very cool. And so tell us, how did you come about starting this? And, you know, I know it’s an interesting story.

Paul: [00:01:21] Yeah. So, long story short. Um, my background is a software entrepreneur. Prior to this, built a SAS company called uh, Easy Facility, an all-in-one platform for health and fitness clubs, like a YMCA or yoga studio. The one tool you needed to get all your different jobs done from member payments to personal trainers, scheduling, mobile apps. Everything. Very big product.

Um, was fortunate enough in, did that from 2003 to 2009, uh, when we got acquired, and that, enabled me to do some angel investing. And, uh, one of the investments I made through a, a referral from a, a family friend was, uh, to two brothers starting, um, a digital marketing agency primarily focused on auto dealers.

Uh, I’m a software entrepreneur and was looking to make software investments. I was like, ah, you know, I don’t understand the agency business. Um, you know, really shouldn’t invest in what you don’t know, but, I’ll take the meeting.

Um, but what caught my eye during the meeting was, uh, a digital marketing agency focused on auto dealers, but had their own unique selling proposition, which was two parts. One was an ad creation technology that would scrape an auto dealer’s website, find out what inventory they had in real-time. Take that 2010 Honda civic and create a Google ad for it and take it down when the, when the, um, car was removed from the site.

I thought that was pretty nifty. Um, and another component of some technology that they built to help them differentiate was, uh, some really nice reporting dashboards. Uh, that basically offered transparency to these auto dealers. Showing them exactly here’s where your dollars are going and here is here’s the impact it’s having, right?

Here’s how many map views it’s driving, how many phone calls it’s driving. Um, so that got me excited to the point where I said, all right, I don’t understand the agency business, but, um, I’ll make a small bet. Um, from there, the agency for about two years, uh, they grew, it was a boutique agency with, with a handful of clients and just run, run by two brothers.

Um, the things that we learned in that journey of those first two years was a couple of things. Some of the challenges we faced, uh, was one the segment we were serving, um, back then around at that time that the 2011, 2012 was, you know, customer education. Working with auto dealers in the Northeast who were, you know, more traditional used to advertising in print and, uh, you know, radio and TV.

And convincing them they should be putting dollars into Google and Facebook, uh, was one thing. Then the harder problem was convincing them to do it again, right? Retain, expand, and spend more on these digital marketing channels.

So, um, we, we were making progress, and definitely, our unique technology helped us. Uh, but another challenge we faced was, um, that was pulling us back it’s just how competitive, um, we, we found ourselves in the markets that we were in. And so many agencies out there, right? From, you’ve got your enterprise agencies, your mid-market. And then you have your solopreneurs out there, you know, slinging, PPC, SEO services, some very qualified and some very unqualified.

And we were battling all of them and would just go walk into a dealer or for cheaper clicks. The dealers wouldn’t know what that meant. And then there was a battle to like, retain that customer. So it was okay. It just wasn’t going, it didn’t seem like it was on a trajectory to scale into anything, um, meaningful of an agency.

Thankfully, um, around the end of 2013, a competitive agency actually was trying to push one of our auto dealer clients. And, uh, our clients show them the dashboards that we were providing to them. Um, and that agency, uh, actually came to our team and said, hey, would you ever consider white labeling those dashboards? Um, I’ve seen them, you know, I’m in the business, but have you ever thought about that?

The team came to me and said Paul, what do you think? And that was really, uh, one of those true light bulb moments for me. It was like kind of everything going on at once. Like what’s our challenges here, right? One of our biggest challenges is, um, that the agency space is, is so competitive, right. And we’re fighting with, with everybody out there and the thought was all right, well, we have this unique technology, this reporting ad creation.

Who makes money in a gold rush, right? It’s it’s the gal or the guy selling the pickax. So instead of fighting with everybody, what if we became the arms dealer, right? And sold our unique technology to the agencies out there, giving them a chance to, to compete, uh, and thrive.

So, um, I got really excited about that thesis, went home, uh, executed a textbook execution of a lean market validation experiment. Created an Unbounce landing page. I just tested the reporting first, automated reporting from the ad creation. While it was cool, it really wasn’t delivering on all the promises of some of that, um, you know, automated ad creation. So I wanted to test out the value prop of, you know, automating report improved value to your customers.

One week I came up with a ridiculous name. Created the Unbounce page, uh, got the leads. And then I just did a bunch of discovery calls and found out where the market was being underserved. And what I kept hearing was like, the Acquisios, the Marins, these big black box algorithm platforms helped automate. But the biggest challenge I kept hearing was they were using those platforms for the reporting capability.

You know, they weren’t so much delivering on some of the promises of campaign automation optimization. But they were not… they were still paying for those tools, using it for reporting capability that was super limited in scope, not really designed for that use case. And paying a ton of money for it, like a large percentage of their media spend.

So I was like, wow, there’s, there’s an exciting opportunity here. There’s a crack in the fortress, right? For somebody to come in here and focus on a specific problem, be the best in the world at helping agencies prove their value, uh, to, to clients by just knocking client report out of the park. And then from there, there’s a grander vision of helping them take over some of the other jobs from reporting to monitoring, to contribution and such.

And we’ve grown since, but that’s, uh, I just made a long story longer. But that’s, uh, that’s our founding story of Ninja Cat. So we’ve been at it since 2014. Uh, we pivoted, I came on as CEO. After that experiment, we, we sold off some of those customers and have been, uh, just running, running for that sense.

Jason: [00:07:37] So I, I love that story. And I do believe that, you know, proving your worth is showing your clients reports. Now, one of the challenges I’ve seen over in, in the past is, you know, you’re… You know, we’ve all had these clients, like you’re giving them amazing results and then they come to you and they’re like, I’m switching. And you’re like, what the heck?

Right? And you’re like, I’ve been sending you reports. And they’re like, well, and what I’ve seen is they’ll check out the report for the first week and then they’ll ignore the rest. So what’s the best way that you’ve seen agencies present the reports? Or how do you, how do they, how does, how does the client understand the reports and the first off?

Cause a lot of times I’ve seen I’ve, I’ve seen reports from a lot of different tools and I’m like, man, I’m confused. So, what have you seen work for agencies? You know, that are using your platform for really kind of showing the client the value and then really taking it up a notch?

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Paul: [00:08:46] Sure. So some general things, uh, we’ve seen and we’ve done to help our customers elevate their client reporting so that they can achieve the objective of a better proving value. So they can retain and expand within those customers. I’d say the ingredients, the key ingredients is like… First and foremost, I would say, know your audience, right? Um, know their appetite for data, right?

Uh, and then deliver it to them on a silver platter a data story that says here’s what we did for you. Here’s the impact that had on your business. And here’s why you should not only continue doing business with us. But here’s why you should do more business with us.

Look at all these opportunities. High-performing campaigns limited by budget, whatever it might be. So it is not a one size fits all solution, but I think those ingredients of like knowing your audience and their appetite for data and delivering on a silver platter.

And if I, if I break that down, what does that actually translate into from like best practices is. You know, um, everyone thinks dashboards first for client reporting because we’re data geeks, right? We love dashboards. They’re sexy. They’re cool. I can access them on my mobile phones, whatever. We’ve been doing this since 2014 and we have stunning dashboards. Like you can recreate any dashboard on our product.

One of our first finding than we thought we were screwed as a company, cause we started off dashboard-only, was like, oh my God, less than 10% of clients ever logged into these dashboards on a given month. We’re screwed. We can’t sell this, right? We’re selling snake oil. You shouldn’t be doing reporting dashboards.

So I think that’s a reality. I think even Google is this data studio blog post published something similar. Like, you know, 10% of clients or something, uh, on average, uh, ever log into dashboards, right?

So, one, it’s a mix dashboards are critical and kind of table stakes. They offer a sense of comfort and transparency that I can access my data whenever I want and see where my dollars are going and you’re not doing anything shady.

But the reality is while you might be able to win them with a dashboard. With the transparency and building that trust that’s so essential to any client relationship. To truly then retain and expand it’s that deliver on a silver platter, right? It’s push methodology versus a pull methodology. Which means a push report, some form of a PDF or PowerPoint or web presentation that is less dashboardy, right?

Dashboardy is more kind of exploratory. Like data vomit, as I call it, meters and gauges and stick your clients into that and they’ll probably misinterpret that data, which I think is one of the big problems. So you give them a dashboard with meters, gauges, data vomit, leave it up to them, to interpret the data for you. To say that you’re doing a good job for them. And, you know, probably at least eight times out of 10, they’re going to misinterpret that data, uh, in that data vomit. And it’s not doing you any, any justice.

So it’s finding that balance of a dashboard that gives comfort and transparency mixed with on a silver platter, a data story that covers those bullet points. As I said earlier, here’s what we did and why you should continue doing business with us and more.

And it looks different, right? As an agency, you got to figure it out. You might have different, um, sizes of clients. We have some agencies and media companies that have thousands of very small span clients. And you’ve got to invest the appropriate amount of time to your client reporting for that segment versus your, your high spend, you know, uh, enterprise clients, right?

And what we’ve seen is you need to automate on the low end, right? But make it feel high touch. If it’s just a dashboard and expect them to log in, that doesn’t feel as high touch as I can log into a dashboard. Oh, and I also get this beautiful weekly, monthly PDF or PowerPoint with a very digestible story.

And then at the high end, right? Walk your customers through it. Or at a bare minimum, don’t just send a report. Like in Ninja Cat, and I’m sure you do this and other products, we have workflows that is either set it and forget it, fully automated. Or set up a don’t forget it, where the teams can come in at the agency, look at the data and then add their insights, their recommendations, and next actions. And then send it to the client.

So those are just some of the best practices. Don’t lean… My first biggest suggestion, be aware of data vomit, right? Uh, to be aware of dashboards as your primary, medium of communicating value to your customers. When statistics just over overwhelmingly show that, you know, they hired an agency because they want it to be white glove full service.

Don’t make them go find the data and expect them to tell you why they should continue doing business with you. You need to be the one telling your customers why they should be continuing to do business with you.

Jason: [00:13:09] Yeah. Yeah. I love that you said you got to know your audience too, right? Like really read them and be like, is this person really analytical? Is this person visual? Does this person just be like, I just care about the results. I don’t care about how you do it. Just go do it. Or like, you know, do they want to know all the details?

Like I think that’s so important. A lot of people skip that. And you should really concentrate on that, on the onboarding process of your clients.

Like, because I had a, we have our digital agency experience, which is at our house in Durango where our mastermind members come in. And I had, um, a keynote speaker come in, Joey Coleman and he talks about how the first hundred days is the most important if you’re going to keep this client for a long time or not.

And if you could put that in your onboarding process and really figure out that, like, do you want to know all the intimate details that we’re doing? Do you just want to know the results? Like how do you want me to show you that we’re working for you? And I think if you just do that, then you could use a cool tool, like Ninja Cat, where. You know, if they want just a basic report, automate the crap out of it, or if they want to meet every week. Okay. Do that. You know, whatever it is.

I think that’s so important that I think too many of us miss. We have a huge tool.

Paul: [00:14:29] One hundred percent. Yeah. That’s that’s, it’s like a report should have, yeah, layers to it, like an executive layer, more strategic layer than a more tactical. And if you’re excited about that tactical, but your, your audience isn’t, you show up to a meeting and you start overwhelming them with the details. You know, and, and they are like CML or somebody that’s high level that doesn’t care. They’re not actually paying attention to the thing they cared about the most.

Why did I spend time on that executive-level first page thing when I should have spent time on the first page? Did I sell more cars? Yes or no? Uh, should I continue doing this? Yes or no. Don’t spend an hour talking about negative keywords with me if I don’t care about that, right?

So, uh, more data isn’t always better, and it really…  Just ask the customer, what is the best way? What, what level of detail do you want? Uh, and then just, you know, deliver that to them.

Jason: [00:15:13] Yeah. Well, I think we covered a lot of the mistakes. Did we miss any mistakes that agencies do with reporting and upselling and growing those accounts or keeping them?

Paul: [00:15:25] No, and just… you know, aggregation. Um, it’s a really important thing, right? Is, uh, looking at things, making sure you aggregate. I know it’s hard, uh, when you have so many different channels. But making sure you really nail that, um, executive layer of a report, that should be the, the answer to the question that they’re, they’re seeking. The so what. And then backed up by the, the details under it.

But, um, we’ve seen that too common and it’s like, wait, you’re giving your client this 80-page report?

Jason: [00:15:49] Oh, my God. Oh, that hurts my head just thinking about it.

Paul: [00:15:52] Really, really. I, I, no. We, we’ve had a hundred plus, uh, and some of our clients today still do it. But you know what? They’re actually, to your earlier point, my earlier point, there are some audiences that need and want the hundred-plus page report, right?

Because they need to see the data broken out. Hospital system by department, by all these different things. If that’s what they need, that’s what you should deliver to them. So it’s not a don’t ever give a hundred page report. It’s, it’s know your audience, but, uh, tell that holistic the holistic story, right?

I think when you, you can’t fill in the blanks and you show up to a call. And you can’t connect, you know how all these different channels are impacting other channels. It’s not as good as if you can, clearly. So do your best, find tools, solutions that can really allow you to tell that holistic story and show how every channel impacts, um, each other, even channels that you might not manage, right?

Like, why am I ads not performing? Well, look at your reviews, like your reviews on Google. If people saw your reviews, they people probably aren’t clicking on your ads. So what impact are your reviews having on your, on your adwords performance?

Jason: [00:16:50] That’s awesome. Well, Paul, this has all been amazing. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you think would benefit the audience before we tell them about where to go?

Paul: [00:17:00] Uh, geez. Good question. Um, that you didn’t ask. No, I mean, that’s… I think that’s, uh, uh, I think we covered at least what we’re most used to helping agencies, right? There’s lots of jobs to be done. But, you know, the thing where we’ve focused on being the best in the world that is helping prove value through your client report.

And I think we hit a, at least the, the cliff notes and hopefully there’s a couple of actionable takeaways that everyone got out of this.

Jason: [00:17:27] Awesome. Uh, where can people go to learn more about Ninja Cat?

Paul: [00:17:32] Yeah. So, uh, we have a dedicated landing page for, for this podcast. Uh, you can go to

Jason: [00:17:42] Awesome. And, uh, and tell us, what’s the number one thing agencies love once they switch over to you guys?

Paul: [00:17:52] Uh, that they can focus on the meaningful instead of the monotonous, right? So, instead of data chaos and data wrangling and client reporting. When you can automate that at an effective level then that’s meaningful. Really, let’s spend more time actually optimizing campaigns and building client relationships.

But when you don’t have automated reporting and you spend 60 to 70% of your time, which we’ve seen is common, right? On client reporting because you need to do it. Well, what if you can automate that? What then will you do with that time shifted from, from the monotonous to the meaningful and, and see what impact that has?

Jason: [00:18:32] Awesome. Well, Paul, thanks so much for coming on the podcast. We really do enjoy. And, uh, for all of you guys that want to really improve the value that you’re doing and really streamline the reporting and just be able to run a better agency. I want you guys to all go to Go do that now.

And until next time, have a Swenk day.

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