ERP Guide for Marketing and Advertising Agencies: 7 Software Must-Haves

BY MARK VAN LEEUWEN, ON FEBRUARY 8, 2021

Let’s start with the bottom line. 

Without ERP, marketing and advertising agencies lose out on benefits other services industries are increasingly leveraging to grow, thrive and profit. 

To name a small handful: 

  1. Control of project profitability,
  2. Real-time (i.e., actionable) reporting of company and project health,
  3. End-to-end automation of your critical Quote-to-Cash process and, pretty significantly,
  4. Unification of sales and project teams (finally!). 

All of this lets you tap into unrealized growth potential, deliver better results to clients and dominate your industry.

Which all sounds great—until you’re diving into the murky depths of the ERP world trying to figure out what ERP is, who ERP is for and what software modern digital and creative agencies, including your competitors, are taking advantage of to stay ahead of the curve.

This is where we can help you out.

Treat this article like a compass. It will point you toward your destination: How to find the ERP solution your agency needs to thrive. 

What is ERP and how does it work?

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software streamlines the daily, monthly, quarterly and annual business activities of your organization. Everything from CRM, to project and resource planning, to time tracking, to billing and reporting are functional areas of ERP.

It works by centralizing your business processes and data, typically in a cloud-based system, which allows it to automate critical areas of service delivery like sales quoting, accounting and resourcing. This in turn improves your organization’s efficiency and billable time. 

As widely known as ERP is, many services businesses are still working with siloed software tools in their sales, project delivery and accounting departments, which handicaps collaboration. If your projects suffer from critical handoff interruptions and decision-makers are swimming in spreadsheets but still missing the “big picture,” your business is a candidate for ERP software.

What ERP system is used in marketing and advertising agencies?

Here’s something a lot of people don’t know about ERP. In services, it’s called Professional Services Automation (PSA), or ERP engineered exclusively for services firms, such as marketing and advertising agencies. 

Specifically, it’s targeted to your needs revolving around selling, resourcing, fulfilling and invoicing for projects and services—in short, the Quote-to-Cash cycle. 

If you want to know more about this particular type of ERP, its features and its unique advantages to your business, you may be interested in my article on how to choose ERP for professional services industries.

Benefits of ERP software for marketing and advertising agencies

Marketing, advertising and other types of creative agencies live and breathe data. They understand that data is what helps them track campaign success, opportunities and customer relationships. 

For starters, with Professional Services Automation ERP, agencies have access to: 

  • Real-time project tracking information
  • Granular project and company financials, including estimated vs. actual budgets and margins
  • Employee and company billability data
  • Revenue forecasts

All crucial information you need to hit the bullseye on projects in terms of scope, budget and schedule and keep the business running profitably and predictably. 

In fact, having these insights at their fingertips saves teams precious time to work on the creative stuff that is the bread and butter of the agency business. 

What’s more, making these data accessible across the entire organization allows sales and project teams to work together in a more tight-knit fashion. As a result, they’ll be able to throw off problems that strangle marketing projects like overdelivery, under-delivery, resourcing droughts and underprepared project teams. More on this below.

How to find an ERP platform for marketing and advertising agencies: 7 software must-haves

Let’s get down to brass tacks. If you’re a marketing agency, digital agency or advertising firm, the following eight ERP features are going to make your life and the lives of your colleagues a lot easier.

1. An optimized Quote-to-Cash flow

According to a recent Adweek survey, 40 percent of brands may be seeking new agencies to partner with this year. This is a salient reminder to ensure you’re properly staffed with the help of good resource planning and forecasting—so you’re always ready to cash in on incoming opportunities.

This can’t happen if you don’t start with a fully integrated Quote-to-Cash system. It should integrate resource planning, project planning, timesheets and holiday schedules so that you have a bird’s eye view of resource scheduling and availability. As well, forecasting will always be realistic since it’s based on factual information that starts at the proposal stage.

2. Real-time budget and margin tracking

Marketing projects are difficult enough to keep on course. As you’ve no doubt experienced, profitability can nosedive quickly as teams battle changing project scopes due to incoming client requests on multiple unique projects.

So, you’ll need real-time budget and margin numbers to alert you when projects stray from the estimates. Otherwise, you’ll have a hard time catching the culprits in time. 

Take a retainer for example. It’s OK to go over budget every now and then for a good client. You’ll make up for it next month. 

You do need to know what you did in terms of budget burn for the last months, what that meant for your margin on the month/quarter/contract and what track you are on for the upcoming period: “In the first two weeks we went over slightly, how many hours are already prebooked and can we actually do this profitably or do we need to renegotiate?” Not an uncommon scenario.

3. An attractive, user-friendly interface

Most of the people who make your agency hum are likely not techie code writers. Don’t make them work in visually flat, boring digital environments that are cumbersome to get around and work in.

Your ERP should be easy to understand and use. VOGSY’s design is based on G Suite and is immediately familiar to all your teams.

After all, design is not just for your customers. It can either make the software make sense to agency teams or make their lives miserable. In which case, they won’t use it.

4. Templates

The easiest way to make projects predictable and, in turn, increase your revenue? Productize services. For the uninitiated, this simply means turning your services into repeatable, out-of-the-box “products.” 

To accomplish that objective, you’ll need to be able to reuse one or more deliverable templates, or indeed an entire existing project template, to kick off a new proposal or project. Your system should allow you to build a catalog of services with well-tuned monetary and time budget estimates based on what has worked well in the past in terms of customer satisfaction and margins. 

By doing this, you can minimize your teams’ time and effort and scale billable work.

5. Timesheets

Choosing software with built-in timesheets is vital to stay diligent about time tracking. Without this diligence, you’ll lose accuracy in invoicing, resource planning and real-time budget and margin data.

With ERP, you can (and should) expect more than just timesheets, however. This software has the ability to sync the information on timesheets with billing to auto-populate time and material invoices, but it can also automatically create invoices from retainer projects. This way, you can set up a billing schedule for retainer projects, and you get faster, more accurate invoicing all around.

6. Client profitability tracking

Right now, can you name which clients are making your agency money and which ones are dragging your revenue down? 

If you want to push the margin needle up, this type of reporting will clarify the relationships to build, or let go. It can also point you in the right direction in terms of your most lucrative markets.

7. Integration with G Suite

The truth? Agencies are already running their businesses with G Suite because it’s fast, light and offers real-time collaboration.

As our client Wilderness Agency’s Founder and CEO Richard Kaiser says, “G suite is the foundation of a marketing business. Collaboration is the name of the game, and only G Suite offers it.”

Hence, the importance of choosing an ERP solution with G Suite integration. In fact, the VOGSY PSA platform is built for it (and is the only PSA built for G Suite). It’s a significant reason marketing agency teams love using it—it feels like home. This is fundamental to ERP implementation: using software language your current (and incoming) workforce already knows.

Here’s what work could look like with…

  • Google Drive: VOGSY creates and maintains a Drive structure for you around your clients and their; opportunities and proposals, projects and invoices and any other documentation that you want to add. You can access files directly from VOGSY projects, opportunities and client accounts. No more confusion and loss of time.
  • Google Docs: Teams can easily edit, manage and redesign Docs-based quote and invoice templates with version history intact automatically.
  • Google Sheets: Reporting is instant, real-time and reconfigurable to let you shape the data any way you need for decision makers. The VOGSY Add-on for Sheets allows you to update reports with the latest data from projects, clients, opportunities, employees and tons more.
  • VOGSY’s G Suite Add-on for Gmail: Teams get actionable client, project and opportunity information from VOGSY in their Gmail inbox. You can allocate tasks, save the emails to appropriate VOGSY records and communicate with team members in context. All without having to click away from customer emails.
  • Dynamic email: VOGSY sends your work to your Gmail inbox. Management can perform time-sensitive approvals and all team members complete workflows from company emails.
  • Single sign-on (SSO) and security: Your existing G Suite login gives you secure access to VOGSY. And speaking of security, Google’s world-class infrastructure keeps all data and communications private and safe.

Conclusion

Marketing and advertising firms are unlocking previously unobtainable productivity and profit levels in Professional Services Automation software (ERP for services firms). However, many have yet to find the right solution.

Certainly, finding a solution that covers foundational areas of an agency’s production cycle and financial visibility are the building blocks of success. This means giving your software analysis the benefit of factoring in how well the system runs the entire Quote-to-Cash cycle and well as user-friendliness and even G Suite integration.

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