Hey, Sales Folk – bored of the ‘ROI Conundrum’?? Who isn’t! Maybe it’s time for a different approach

“That’s great Tim, but I really need to be able to demonstrate the Return on Investment (ROI) to my bosses internally. So how can you guarantee me ROI?” said……well, every marketeer/buyer I’ve ever sold to.

R.O.I – If I had a £ or $ for every minute I’ve sat in boardrooms trying to work out how to either prove it to a client, or create a sales technique to work around the fact the product or service I’m selling is almost impossible to prove ROI for, I’d be on holiday somewhere hot right now rather than freezing my rear off, sat here in London.

The ‘ROI Conundrum’ - It’s an issue that a lot of sales people have to deal with and the cause of constant frustration.

We’ll get to why in a minute, but stick with me, as I have a technique for both marketeers and sellers that reframes the whole ROI conversation.

Let’s put this into an example to explain the ROI conundrum:

You want to sell the client a sponsorship package to a conference where they will have a speaking platform and exhibition space.

The client however says: ‘How can I guarantee ROI on the spend?”

You are now stuck, because the simplest ROI would be – client meets new prospect at event, prospect buys big new shiny products or services from client. The marketeer can demonstrate the spend at the event yielded a positive ROI.

Well hold on a sec...

Had anyone, who wasn’t at the event, ever met someone from the prospect before?

Was the prospect going to contact the client anyway?

Was the prospect at the event the only decision maker? (unlikely).

Now, what happens if we don’t get the ideal scenario as above? Let’s say the prospect does buy from the client, but the sales cycle is 2 looooooong years, as it’s a complex product and involves 15 decision makers across 3 geo’s, some of which, at the time of the event, don’t even work for the prospect yet.

The sales person is now stuck with not being able to prove the ROI. The marketeer can’t prove the ROI internally and the deal either goes no where, or the client doesn’t re-sign to do the event again because they are waiting to see if the event generates any revenue which is 2 years away…

If you work in Sales, don’t kid yourself into thinking for one second that you’re the only one who gets frustrated with the ROI conundrum. Marketeers and buyers spend a lot of time trying to prove ROI to their internal management.

So what can be done? We know that proving ROI in most sales is extremely hard and lengthy in terms of time.

I sat in exactly the above situation about 3 years ago, and decided there must be another way of thinking about ROI – so I said to the client:

“Given that you have an 18-24 month sales cycle, with multiple stakeholders involved, either of us trying to prove ROI is going to be a serious challenge. So instead, let’s talk about a different kind of return.

A Return on Objectives (ROO)

We’ll agree a set of objectives around sponsoring the event such as; met x number of people; gave a well received presentation; all elements of branding appeared as they should etc..

This way you can report internally that you gained demonstrable return on objectives and we, as the supplier, can be held accountable to the pre-agreed objectives”

The conversation we were having at this point moved away from both of us trying to deal with the ROI conundrum. It moved forward in a collaborative, practical way where we agreed a set of objectives that, as supplier I could be judged on, and as client they could report positively back to their management.

The Marketing Director I had this conversation with phoned me a fortnight later to say that by simply reframing the ROI conversation, to be an ROO conversation they had been able to get their management team to think in a whole new way about marketing spend. It also meant they were no longer wasting time trying to deal with the ROI conundrum and justifying their budget, they were spending time actually getting their job done.

As the seller, it meant that when it came to resigning the client after the event had taken place, I was not waiting months to ‘see if they did any business off the back of it’. Instead, we had a practical conversation about the pre-agreed objectives and whether these were achieved and the client resigned on the back of successful delivery.

Ultimately there were too many factors outside of my control as to whether the client did any business off sponsoring the event – from the quality of their sales people to the strength of their product etc…

Obviously there will always be clients who insist on sticking with ROI over ROO, but I’ve been using this simple reframe now for 3 years and it has transformed the ‘value’ conversation and led to increased sales.

If you or your sales teams like this technique, then get in touch:


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