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 By contrast, ROI platforms are centrally managed and maintained, and thereby eliminate version control issues, outdated data, field modifications, and unauthorized usage.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.

The Year in Value: What We Learned from Top Industry Trends

In our view, this was the year many companies finally started to understand a solid trend: if sellers and marketers want to be successful, they must speak the language of value with buyers.

If you’ve been following research and reports for the last few years from the major industry players, then the need to focus on value is no surprise. Consider the following key statistics that have influenced thought leadership in sales and marketing.

  • A CEB study of more than 1,400 B2B customers across industries showed that buyers have made up to 57% of a typical purchase decision before talking with a salesperson. (Other industry analysts, including IDG, DemandGen, and Forrester, have put this figure even higher, at around 70%).
  • Sales is consistently losing deals not to competition but to buyer inertia — a CSO Insights study conducted this year among 1,200 B2B organizations found that 26% of forecasted deals were reportedly lost to “no decision.”
  • In a survey of 230 decision makers, Forum Corporation reported that 33% of buyers would prefer to buy from someone who understands how to add value rather than from someone they already know and trust.
  • In a Gartner survey of about 500 IT buyers, the number one most influential marketing activity was proven to be “direct interactions with providers.” However, the report notes specifically that these buyers wanted to talk with “industry and technical experts” — and not with salespeople.

All of these trends highlight a common theme: buyers are looking for value. That means that sales and marketing teams must learn how to communicate value at all stages of the buying cycle. Before they can close deals, they must create engaging and educational experiences for buyers. These experiences have to be tailored to the prospect and must take into account the prospect’s business challenges and needs

This is something we’ve written about before, and is obviously a huge shift from the days when sales controlled the flow of information. Cold calls, meetings with customers in the field, and static marketing campaigns are all becoming examples of outmoded activities for salespeople and marketers.

We think it’s safe to say that the actual jobs of sales and marketing teams are not going anywhere. But the buyer’s journey has shifted, which means the job of sellers and marketers must shift as well. We’ll explore those implications more in an upcoming blog post about what you need to be successful in 2014.

What’s your takeaway about selling and marketing from 2013? Share your thoughts in the comments section. 

Strengthen Your Sales Pitch with a Business Case

During my conversation with Kevin Purcell of Hewlett Packard some weeks ago, we discussed the idea that a business case has become a staple of success in sales. Not only has it become a staple, but we also agreed that this is a permanent condition.

Here’s more context. When the economy was good, sales and marketing would generally expect to rely on deeper pockets and looser budgets. CFOs or other budget-minded decision makers were not necessarily as likely to be involved in every purchasing decision, unless it was a major investment. However, in a slow economy, a strong business case was necessary to get budget allocated even for smaller investments. Without solid numbers to support their position, sales and marketing didn’t have a lot of leverage to close deals.

What I see happening now is a permanent shift toward needing a business case. Whether the economy is soft or strong, everyone is thinking like CFOs and scrutinizing projects for indication of a measurable ROI. For example, this recent blog post, “Six Steps to Building a Better Business Case,” on Inc.com takes for granted that a business case is a necessary component of a successful sales pitch. The very first question they advise asking when assembling a business case is “What is the potential value in this situation?”

“A strong business case begins with a logical financial and strategic foundation for value creation.  If you are selling a product, this is as simple as explaining why the product creates more value for the customer than any alternative. If you are selling the idea of a business partnership, you’ll want to focus on why the partnership will create a high return on investment.”

The days of being able to “wing it” and close deals without a compelling economic business case and cost justification are over.  The new normal requires that we all help customers to cost justify our solution to be included in the business case portion of their budget authorization.  If you aren’t doing that, then chances are you aren’t closing as you should be.

What are you doing to help customers cost justify the investment in your solution?

Three Qualities That Will Win a Buyer’s Business

Why does one sales team win a customer’s business, while another sales team finishes in second place? According to research announced in this blog post, New Sales Research: What Sales Winners Do Differently, three simple selling behaviors separate winning sales teams from their competition.

The findings of the study, published by RAIN Group, are based on an analysis of more than 700 B2B purchases from buyers representing $3.1 billion in annual purchases. Let’s look at the top three factors that buyers attributed to sales teams that won the buyer’s business:

  1. Educated me with new ideas or perspectives,
  2. Collaborated with me,
  3. Persuaded me we would achieve results.

Now let’s look at these same factors and see how buyers ranked second-place finishers in their ability to demonstrate these attributes:

  1. Educated me with new ideas or perspectives – 42nd place (dead last),
  2. Collaborated with me – 26th place,
  3. Persuaded me we would achieve results – 41st place.

Obviously the second-place sales teams were not trying to lose the deals on purpose. I think the likely problem is their failure to adapt to changing buyer behavior. For the second-place teams, unless they recognize what has changed (see the top three factors above), their only chance for success is if the winner is not in the deal and they are only competing against the third-and fourth-place vendors.

What I found encouraging was the behavior of sales winners. The three main verbs from their success factors (educate, collaborate, and persuade) are the building blocks of the approach that I advocate (aka, ROI-based selling). The keys are for salespeople to help prospects:

  1. Better see the magnitude of their problems,
  2. More clearly imagine how things could be better,
  3. Work with them to project measurable results, and
  4. Deliver a business case to overcome internal objections.

There are different types of tools that can help salespeople accomplish each of these four points and communicate value at different stages of the sales cycle. Regardless which tool you use, the fundamental approach remains the same: educate, collaborate, persuade. By shifting their focus to what buyers really want, I believe that second-place finishers can become sales winners.

Do you use tools that help you educate, collaborate, and persuade buyers? Do you agree these are key selling behaviors to win with buyers today? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Helping Prospects Visualize the Need for Change: The Halogen Story

Sometimes the earliest stage in the buying process isn’t when a prospect realizes he or she has a problem. It’s a nagging feeling they have about the status quo. Even though things are going well, they still feel they could somehow be better.

This is an opportunity for sellers and marketers. Your job is to paint a vision of what “better” looks like (including, hopefully, the idea that your product or solution can help them get there).

One of my clients, Halogen Software, decided to help its target market of HR managers identify ways they could improve their succession-planning strategies. The challenge for Halogen’s typical prospect is: how can we identify, develop, and retain a talented workforce? Halogen’s succession planning software solves this problem by easily allowing users to:

  1. Understand their workforce’s potential
  2. Develop internal talent pools,
  3. Recruit successors from within.

We worked with Halogen to create a succession planning assessment tool that would give prospects an idea of their status quo, and show them areas for possible improvement.

The tool essentially asks prospects “How does your succession planning strategy stack up?” by taking users through a 20 question self-assessment. Each question elicits rankings, ranging from “Not at All” to “Very Well.” The tool then provides a score to show users how well their organization is doing in succession planning (scores appear in four areas: identification, assessment, development, and management). Users can download a report that features their scores, plus tailored recommendations for improvement based on best practices extrapolated from Rothwell & Associates research.

Use an assessment tool to help prospects visualize the need for change

When prospects understand their shortcomings, they respond more urgently to invitations to try new solutions and find new ways to improve. Because Halogen offers this assessment tool on its web site, the company paves the way to have more effective conversations with prospects that now have an idea about how they can go from good to better.

What’s your biggest challenge in getting prospects to engage with you? Do you use assessment tools to paint a vision of success? Share your thoughts in the comments section.