Shared Answers - Here's How You Get Them To Believe Your ROI Projections?

In my previous post, I posed the question:
Have you ever come up with a great idea and pitched it to customers and/or investors, only to have your financial justification picked apart like a carcass on the savanna?

Me, too!

And worse yet, if I was pitching to a group of people, they would each attack different assumptions or, worse still, they would propose conflicting values for the same variable!

And sometimes, what I was proposing was unprecedented, and no one could really say what the right numbers were.

This problem vexed me for years, until I came up with the perfect solution! Want to know what it is?

What I am about to tell you is a multimillion dollar secret!

How do I know that?

Because the first time I used it, my client decided to spend four times their entire IT budget on a single project, when I offered two lower-cost alternatives to them.

So I tried it again on something smaller, and that client loved it.

I tried it on entire business plans, too. In each case, the client thanked me for giving them insight where there had only been rancor. (okay, rancor may be a bit of an exaggeration).

Did you notice the spoiler in the previous post? If I hadn't put that link in the question, this is where I'd make the first ask for $79.95 for the "Secret of ROI" eBook. What I am about to tell you is one of the most valuable lessons (in dollar terms) I've ever learned.

The human brain is the most sophisticated pattern matcher and synthesizer ever created, but it's not perfect. I can't simply state a point of fact and know for certain that you will internalize it, even if I believe with all my heart and soul and have mountains of data to back it up. You will only believe the new fact to the extent that you can rationalize it with the entire set of existing beliefs/patterns in your head. [As proof, did you take that last sentence on faith to be true? Did you question it? But I digress...]

My ROI problem was an example of this phenomenon. I would present a perfectly rational model of the economics of a new system - one that I had internalized while creating it - and expect the customer to immediately "get it". Their natural reaction was to poke at it based on their prior experience, which usually included unrealistic ROI scenarios. Can you guess the solution yet?

Let's take a concrete example. A friend of mine wanted to get approval for a project to improve the usability of a some IT applications. How do you justify a project like that? By calculating the cost savings of the improved productivity. (Normally I'd prefer something more tangible, but this is a simple example) The number of effected employees is known, as is Accounting's cost for the current tasks. But what about the improvement in productivity? No matter what number you pick, somebody is going to have a problem with it, even if you pick something way below the expected return.

The solution. Don't pick one. Let your audience pick it. By building a simple model and letting them play with the assumptions, you provide a tool to help them internalize the dynamics of the decision. Here's the one we built for our example:

[Note: These numbers are smaller than the real-world ones]

Now, in the presentation to the approvers, my friend could ask them what they thought the percentage should be, and let the audience see what effect changing that parameter had on the total return. Want to pick a pessimistic number? How about an optimistic one? In my experience, audiences invariably settle on a number bigger than the one I would have proposed if I had to give one number. But the real value of the tool is that it allows the group to interact and discuss scenarios and the internal assumptions they each have, and that interaction allows group members to internalize the ROI of the system.

The example is a very simple one. Typically there is more than one variable involved, but the concept scales nicely. The key is to have one page that shows the key variables/assumptions as well as the bottom line effect. This allows people to immediately see the effects of changing the value of any variable. They see which ones have big effects and which ones have small effects. Each change helps them to build a new pattern of understanding of the ROI.

There are a few other nuances I've learned along the way, and those you will have to pay me for. But you can succeed brilliantly with what you already know. Give it a try; you'll be glad you did!

This post is an entry in the group writing project SharedAnswers07, hosted by Grow Your Writing Business and WritingThoughts. Click on either link to learn more or to participate yourself!

posted by Mike at 8:41 AM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The key is to have one page that shows the key variables/assumptions as well as the bottom line effect."

I think that sentence is the crux of your solution, am I right?

Well done. It's a well-thought out solution to your problem.

4:29 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:00 PM  
Blogger Mike said...


You have internalized the message, because you spotted the key to making the whole thing work, and appropriately labeled it the crux of the whole thing.

Stop by more often. I like the way you think! ;-)


5:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You certainly had the suspense building there, Mike...and worth the wait too. This is a brilliantly simple solution.

Thanks for joining in our Shared Answers Writing Project... and first to the finish line too.

7:00 PM  
Blogger Robert Hruzek said...

Mike, this is great! I've often struggled with quantifying ROI when it's such an intangible thing. I like the simplicity, too.

Thanks for the gift! :-)

6:50 AM  
Blogger Mike said...


It's usually the simple things that are the most profound...


8:03 AM  
Blogger Becky McCray said...

Mike, terrific post. Glad to have found it in the Carnival of the Capitalists this week!

4:40 PM  
Blogger Mike said...


Thanks for stopping by. Your post on internet marketing was marvelous!


4:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In other words, obtain buy-in and let them sell themselves? I like it.

6:10 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Odd though it may seem, it works.

9:40 PM  

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