Which Matters More to B2B Buyers, ROI or NPV?

We recently wrote about the correct usage of the term ROI in a B2B sales event. A great follow-up question we received was, “How do I know what to show my customer, ROI or NPV (net present value)?” Let’s take a look.

We’ve already looked closer at ROI, so let’s spend a moment on NPV. Net present value is important because it measures the incoming cash flow from an investment over time, and converts that cash flow to today’s dollars. To quote Investopedia:

NPV compares the value of a dollar today to the value of that same dollar in the future, taking inflation and returns into account. If the NPV of a prospective project is positive, it should be accepted. However, if NPV is negative, the project should probably be rejected because cash flows will also be negative.

Your prospects are concerned with the potential profitability of their investments, so if you want them to spend money with you, NPV is something you should be prepared to discuss. (As a side note, we’ve previously discussed why preparing a business case is critical to sales success. We also wrote about how to inspire confidence in your proposal. Those are two initial considerations before you even get to NPV.)

Now, let’s imagine your prospect is comparing your offering (Investment A) to an unrelated investment opportunity (Investment B). The NPV for Investment A is $3,760 and for Investment B it’s $2,949. Remember, NPV measures the cash flow over time from an investment and converts that cash flow to today’s dollars. (For those of you scoring at home, we used an eight percent discount rate in this example.) So, you’re feeling pretty good because your investment opportunity provides a higher NPV.

But what if I told you that the ROI for Investment A is 21 percent and the ROI for Investment B is 1,025 percent? ROI is a simple metric that suggests the rate of expected return for every dollar invested in a project. Now you are thinking, uh-oh, my offering’s ROI is much lower.

Let’s introduce a third metric, payback period. Payback period tells us how long before the cash flow from a project turns positive. In our example, Investment A has a five-month payback period and Investment B has an eight-month payback period.

Which Matters More, ROI or NPV?Present your business case and let it stand on its own merit. The evaluation of the financial indicators is going to vary from prospect to prospect. One prospect might focus on the payback period because they want to know how soon they are going to get back their investment. In this case, the prospect would favor Investment A. Another prospect may be risk-averse and focus on finding the highest ROI with lowest project costs because they are thinking how much capital they’ll lose if the investment doesn’t deliver the benefits. This favors Investment B.

The only guarantee is that if you don’t quantify the value of your solution for prospects, none of the above will matter because your deal will never merit serious consideration.

Do you always give prospects a business case? Are you comfortable with concepts such as ROI and NPV? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Test Your Credibility as a Sales or Marketing Professional

Last week we published some thoughts from RainToday editor Michelle Davidson, who offered three great points about what buyers want from sellers and marketers. The very first point she made was that buyers want to deal with knowledgeable sales and marketing teams. As she stated, today’s buyer has no need or patience for a sales pitch. They want answers, analysis, and advice.

Image via freedigitalphotos.net / samuiblue

Image via freedigitalphotos.net / samuiblue

This is a message we are passionate about and feel it cannot be stated often enough: trust in B2B selling and marketing is built on credibility.

In the past, knowledge mostly meant knowing everything about your product or solution (as well as that of your competitor). And credibility was about how you acted — prospects preferred to buy from vendors who were helpful, honest, and delivered on their promises.

Those things still matter, of course. But credibility today now encompasses knowledge of a more sophisticated nature. As I wrote in a blog post last year, I believe buyers now take for it granted that you’ll include a business case as part of your sales pitch or proposal. I believe credible sellers and marketers are those who can answer “yes” to the following questions:

  1. Do you understand your prospect’s business challenges and do you have tools to help you express those business challenges in financial terms?
  2. Do you understand how to highlight business/financial challenges the prospect has but might not be aware of?
  3. Can you demonstrate an awareness of how the prospect’s options (buying from a competitor, doing nothing, or buying from you) compare to one another?
  4. Can you talk about ROI knowledgably with the Chief Financial Officer and/or CEO?

Beyond looking for integrity in all the traditional realms, buyers today trust vendors who can demonstrate this level of business acumen. Today, you must help prospects see their problems, envision solutions, overcome internal objections to investing in your solution, and achieve measurable results. That is how we need to start thinking about credibility as sellers and marketers.

How well do you score on the credibility scale? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Fit your Business Case to Sell to Small Companies

During one of my recent client presentations, I got an interesting question: do you still need a business case when selling to smaller companies?

I’ll always be a big proponent of a business case. However, you need to adjust your approach if you’re selling to smaller companies (which I’d define as any company with less than $100 million in annual sales, that lacks a formal hierarchical management structure, and/or is owned by one person or just a few individuals).

We’ve written before about how it’s important for sales professionals to understand some key financial metrics so that they can talk about them intelligently, know how their offering improves their customer’s income statement, and make sure they present the right financial metrics to the CFO. However, a smaller company probably has a less formal and less hierarchical organizational structure. A detailed business case is still a critical component of the selling process, but be aware that the final decision maker may be the company’s founder or a group of family members rather than a CFO.

You also have to be careful about the implications your offering might represent to a small business versus a large business. For example, your solution might enable your prospect to reduce labor costs. However, if the business owner employs his brother-in-law, he may or may not be so interested in investing in a solution that would allow him to lay off a family member.

You still want to talk about how much it’s worth for the prospect to solve his or her business challenge. But you want to be sure you find out about the kind of trade-offs this person is prepared to make. In some cases, the small-business owner might want to allocate funds to buy his kid a new car rather than buying a system that might help his business. In this case, the decision is personal, so you’ll want to talk about the financial benefit in a way that takes those trade-offs into account. For example, you can talk about the payback period and show the owner the amount of time he would have to defer the car purchase if he invested in your solution now and how much he will be better off after the purchase. Another example is that the owner may be looking to make a sizable investment now to reduce his tax liability now in exchange for a longer-term benefit. You’ll have to conduct some discovery to find these trade-offs, but it will be well worth your effort.

This is what we mean when we say that value is specific to each individual customer. And, as we’ve said before, the way you talk about value fluctuates depending on where you are in the sales cycle. When a company lacks a structured management team, think about how you can narrow the scope of your conversation around value. When composing your business case, simplicity is probably better. For example, maybe you will get a better result if you focus less on a complex financial metric such Internal Rate of Return (IRR) and more on payback period, which is a concept that many people already understand.

The bottom line is that you need to realize that the conversation that tends to get traction with a larger customer might not be the same for a smaller business. Know your prospect’s needs, and tailor your business case accordingly.

Do you adjust your sales conversations based on the size of the company you’re selling to? What are the differences you notice? Share your thoughts in the comments section. 

Five Reasons Hosted ROI Calculators Trump Excel Spreadsheets

When prospects come to your website, do you make it easy for them to see how much money you can save them? Do you have ways of clearly showing on your website how much more revenue you can help them generate?

Moreover, when your sales reps actually get to interact with prospects, are they well equipped to show the value of your solution in dollars and cents?

Whether for lead generation or closing deals, many sales and marketing teams have generated spreadsheets using Excel to illustrate the value of their solution or product. However, spreadsheets pose a number of problems — in the worst cases, these problems result in prospective buyers moving on to the next vendor’s website or dropping out of deals altogether.

An online ROI calculator built using a dedicated platform can help you avoid these challenges. Consider the following reasons spreadsheets fail and why hosted ROI tools are typically superior.

1. Salespeople dislike overly complex marketing assets. Whenever sales reps think a spreadsheet looks too complicated or dense, they usually opt to leave it by the wayside rather than incorporate it into their selling process. This is a waste of marketing dollars and needlessly leaves reps unable to illustrate your solution’s value. Consider the complexities in the image below, which is from an internally-created ROI calculator shared with me by one of my clients, a $1.2 billion technology company. One of the reasons they came to me is they were looking for a simple, attractive user interface to overcome sales resistance, an example of which is also shown below.

Spreadsheet SummaryROI Tool Summary2. It is difficult to create compelling summary reports within spreadsheets. Again, from my same client, the images below show the difference in presentation. Prospects today expect reports that not only look professional but also are easy to share with colleagues.

Spreadsheet ReportROI Tool Report3. Spreadsheets are notoriously error prone and difficult to maintain. This is one of the biggest reasons spreadsheets tend to fall into disuse. By contrast, ROI platforms are centrally managed and maintained, and thereby eliminate version control issues, outdated data, field modifications, and unauthorized usage.

4. Prospective buyers question the credibility of spreadsheets created by vendors. Generally speaking, ROI calculators created by third parties are viewed as more trustworthy than homegrown spreadsheets.

5. Spreadsheets are not mobile-friendly. Mobile devices limit the user’s ability to access and easily view spreadsheets. Contemporary ROI tools are designed to accommodate all types of devices.

Changes in B2B buyers’ behavior and the ubiquity of mobile devices have converged to make spreadsheet-based ROI tools passé. What’s a savvy B2B marketing and sales organization to do then? Many companies decide they’ll build a tool on their own. However, based on my experience, this usually incurs internal costs that can be far higher than simply contracting with an established vendor that creates ROI tools. My recommendation is to find a vendor with an ROI platform that can easily deploy, maintain, and update your ROI tools. This will allow you to drive the most incremental revenue and to do so with a cost effective budget.

What are you doing today to show prospects the value of your solution? What are the pros and cons of your approach? Please share your experience below.

Five Steps to Make Labor Savings Real in Your Business Case

If you want to influence your prospects and customers, your best bet is to create a business case to show how they can reap value from your offering. However, if the business case includes labor savings as one of the value drivers, you will often get push back from your prospect. It’s sometimes difficult to get buy-in for a number of reasons:

  1. Labor savings are often spread out among many employees and, therefore, receive the label of “soft benefits” that delivers no real economic value.
  2. Companies can only realize labor savings by taking some action (e.g., reducing headcount, not hiring more employees, or reassigning employees to other duties) that requires them to overcome the status quo.
  3. Sometimes the labor savings you’re proposing might create special hurdles internally for the prospective buyer (e.g., selling a solution that reduces IT headcount to an IT department can be tough).
  4. Companies have been promised productivity gains before, but rarely have seen the results (usually due to not taking the required action described above or lack of measurement).

These factors don’t have to stand in your way, however. The approach I advocate enables you to have a productive discussion with buyers around labor savings and build a defensible business case. Here’s how I suggest you proceed:

  1. Don’t use a broad brush and say something like, “We can cut ten percent of your workforce.” Rather, be specific and appropriately categorize the labor savings by role or work process. It’s better to say, “Our solution can save you three full time equivalents (FTEs) in your billing department.”
  2. Make sure that the buyer understands the size of his or her problem (i.e., how much is the issue costing the company) before you show the anticipated savings.
  3. Don’t force projected savings on your prospect. If possible, use an industry benchmark or case study as a starting point. More important, spend time communicating with your prospect until the two of you agree on an achievable savings. Taking the time to commit to this deeper level of engagement can help you establish credibility.
  4. Use what we at Stratavant call a “productivity capture factor.” This factor is a percentage with a value between 0 and 100 percent. It is used to provide a conservative estimate of the projected labor savings. Here’s an example. If the total projected labor savings are $500,000 and the productivity capture factor is 80 percent, the “new” labor savings becomes $400,000. This adjustment acknowledges that even if one hour of time is saved, it doesn’t mean that the one hour will be used to reduce payroll costs, avoid hiring another person for an hour, or be spent on some other value-added activity. In actuality, some of that one hour saved may be used by the employee to surf the Web or engage in water cooler talk. The productivity capture factor helps you proactively address that reality. When having this discussion with your prospect, keep these quick tips in mind:
     

    1. A lower factor should be used when the labor savings are made up of a little bit of time saved per worker spread across a large number of workers. Though saving five minutes a day per employee across 1,000 employees may add up to a large savings, it’s hard for an organization to realize that entire savings.
    2. A higher factor can be used if the labor savings come from hourly or contract workers as it’s easier for an organization to achieve those savings.
    3. A higher factor can also be used when the labor savings are concentrated in one role or job class.
    4.  

  5. Implement a ramp rate factor if your business case contains more than one year’s worth of savings. The ramp rate lets you tell your buyer that labor savings don’t happen overnight. Companies need time to orchestrate employee separations or retrain employees, so it’s better for you to tell your prospect that labor savings take time to come to fruition than make a promise that’s unrealistic.

Below is an example of these five steps at work. The labor savings benefit is quite focused (i.e., sales/marketing labor spent preparing business cases). The size of the problem is shown in row [i]. Row [j] illustrates how much the solution in question can reduce the size of the problem. Row [l] is the productivity capture and row [n] is the ramp rate. (For a larger view, click on the image).

Labor Savings

By adopting these five steps, you will have a credible way to include labor savings in a business case. And with labor savings in your business case, your offering delivers a more compelling value proposition to buyers.

Have you ever tried any or all of these steps? Share your comments below.

B2B Sales Always Comes Back to Selling Value

I recently came across this insightful blog post, How to Sell Value to Your Customer, that outlines a four-step process on how to sell on value. I want to take the last two steps and point you to some real life examples that might help you better relate to the points and achieve sales success.B2B Sales Always Comes Back to Selling Value

Step 3 – Identify Specific Values

This step really comes down to finding, for whatever problem your solution solves, where and how that problem manifests in your prospect’s organization. Read The Hidden Cost of Office Printing and Scanning: The Nuance Story to learn how one of my clients successfully addressed that challenge.

Step 4 – Quantify the Value

I would like to take point this a bit further. I believe that you not only need to provide an estimate of your offering’s value that is conservative to maintain credibility but also that the estimated value has to be something your customer believes. Your conservatism does no good if your prospect is even more conservative. It’s always a good idea to start with an industry benchmark or proof point if possible, but don’t let the conversation end there. Spend time with your customer until he or she is on board with the projected value. Read Success Story: How One ERP Vendor Proved Value to Prospects to discover how one of my clients used an ROI calculator to do just that.

How do you sell on value? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

You Aren’t Preparing Your Reps to Make Sales Calls!

Recently Gerhard Gschwandtner, founder and CEO of Selling Power, gave a presentation for an audience of Ohio-based sales leaders in the technology industry. Here are some of the key facts from his presentation that struck me as particularly interesting.

  • 45% of salespeople frequently feel ill-prepared to have an initial conversation with a prospect (Selling Power research)
  • Only 13% of customers believe salespeople can demonstrate an understanding of their business challenges and how to solve them (Forrester research)
  • 65% of a salesperson’s time is spent not selling (Forrester research)

If these statistics apply to your sales team, then it should send a clear message to your product marketing teams: there is a disconnect between what you are doing and what you should be doing. It is clearly one of the roles of product marketing to ensure that sales is trained and given the tools and information to have a conversation with a prospect and demonstrate how your offerings can address the prospect’s business challenges.  Marketing should arm salespeople with a business case and equip them to cost justify your solution and talk economics with the customer or prospect.

If sales teams don’t feel prepared, everyone should be concerned — and that’s not limited to marketing. If 45% of salespeople never feel prepared, then sales management is probably not doing enough support as well (which could include coaching and/or training). In addition, salespeople should take personal responsibility for their own performance.  If you’re not getting proper support to do your job well, it’s up to you to ask for or find those resources.

I would also argue that it’s the job of both sales and marketing to have an open dialogue about how to help and support each other. According to data from IDC, 40% of marketing assets are never used by sales. Why? The assets are either difficult or impossible to customize, hard to find, or in the wrong format. If you’re in marketing and sales is not using your collateral, it’s in your best interest to be curious about that and dig for more information.

To win, salespeople need to be able to explain to a prospect they understand his or her business challenges. They also need to be able to prove, in clear financial terms, how they can help solve those business challenges. In most cases, strong assets from product marketing can help bridge that gap.

Does your sales team feel prepared to make sales calls? Do you feel your marketing team adequately supports your sales reps? Share your feedback in the comments section.