Why Good ROI Isn’t Enough to Save Your Product (But What Is)

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David’s article originally published on Salesforce.com blog


Nestled inside the Paris hotel on the Las Vegas strip is Le Burger Brasserie. A French twist on the American burger experience whose menu boasts their famous 777 burger. For the bargain price of $777 you get a Kobe beef patty, with pancetta, goat cheese, seared foie gras, arugula, Maine lobster, 100-year-aged balsamic, and a bottle of Dom Pérignon. While I sense the restaurant’s sales statistics tip slightly in favour of their standard $14 burger offering, few people would argue that the investment in an indulgence like the 777 should be based on its intrinsic value. It’s all about the experience. That’s why if you were to ask one of the high rollers who opted for the 777 if it was worth it, you probably wouldn’t get a detailed breakdown of its ingredients, their preparation, flavours, or freshness. The response would emphatic, yet simple; “Hell yes!” (as they headed back to their favorite winning slot machine) or, “No way!

But how do we evaluate the value of purchases whose return on investment (ROI) should be much more tangible?

Consider thousands of miles away from the Las Vegas strip in a modest midtown New York City office, the Vice President of Sales at a high growth start-up is meeting with her operations staff. The conversation turns to the status of their technology stack. “That system we implemented last quarter to help decrease our response time for new leads…how’s that working?” she asks her team. “Alright” says one of her team members. “Our business development reps say it’s helpful.” “Great. And what about that business writing tool we bought to help our team craft more effective prospecting emails? It was supposed to help drive higher conversion rates. How’s that working?” Her team members stare blankly at each other. “A few people are using it but it hasn’t been a game-changer for us”, adds one of them. “Ok, let’s cancel our subscription.”

Sound familiar?

Why is it that when it comes to assessing the value of our company’s technology investments, do we often reduce the business cases we so rigorously crafted during the buying cycle to a binary, yes or no, sentiment? Is it working? Yes or No. Do people use it? Yes or No. Is life with it better than it was before? Yes or No. Can we get along without it? You get the idea.

Here are three big reasons why:

  1. Status quo bias: We saw value in it at one point and now it’s just the way of things. Reevaluating it would be too time consuming or it’s simply too ingrained into our operation at this point. This can be especially true for expenditures that “fly under the radar” or are otherwise too small or deployed in limited scope to warrant greater scrutiny. Ironically, it can also be true for larger expenditures as anyone who’s been through a legacy ERP deployment or home renovation will tell you!
  2. Time to value is uncertain: Are we using it correctly? Have we tried it for long enough to see the impact? Was this solution supposed to be fast acting or long lasting? (a sentiment equally applicable to enterprise software, gym memberships, or nasal spray) In some cases it may indeed be too soon to tell. In others we may not have used the product or service correctly.
  3. It’s too hard to measure: As customer buying habits become more complex, assessing the impact of our discrete sales and marketing efforts becomes much more difficult. For example, a buyer may click an ad for your product on social media, but only make a purchase after hearing about it again at a conference and reading an online review from another customer.

While this binary paradox of ROI may obfuscate the true value of your solution for a period of time, it doesn’t mean your solution will be safely entrenched forever. In other words, just because your customers may not be able to easily assess your product’s value, doesn’t mean they’ll keep it. However, there is one force that, in many ways, is more powerful than ROI. One that can keep the hatchet from falling on your solution prematurely. Advocacy. That is, someone, or better yet, a cohort of people who are willing to stand up and defend the value they get from your solution.

To appreciate the power of advocacy in action, let’s say you sold an online knowledge base product that one of your customers was debating whether to shut down.

“Claire, I’m wondering if we should shut down or replace our online knowledge-base? Usage is looking generally low.”

Here’s what powerful internal responses rooted in advocacy could sound like:

  • “I understand, but the Sales team seems to love it. They say they send prospects there all the time and it gives them a great sense of comfort about the level of support we provide.”
  • “I know usage is low but I’ve heard from some of our customers who’ve used it that the content they’ve found there has saved them tons of time and aggravation.”
  • ”That’s strange. That platform was rated as the best product in its class. They have some amazing reviews on G2Crowd from some high profile companies. We should should probably look at how our implementation compares to theirs.”
  • “Really? I have a VP of Customer Support friend who used it at their last company who said it was great.”

While these sentiments are compelling and can be protective of your solution, they are amazingly not rooted in hard numbers.

To be clear, advocacy isn’t a panacea. It cannot save a crappy product or widely propagate false value. In the end, your customers need to believe they are better off with your product that without it. However, in a world where the number of technology solutions is exploding and where ROI is getting more complex to measure, nurturing and mobilizing a community of customer advocates is highly protective strategy and can be your ROI’s BFF.

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