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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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The Right Way To Do A Software ROI Analysis

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On Monday we had a Foundry Group portfolio company sales summit. We are fortunate in that we’ve got a bunch of amazing sales execs in our portfolio, including several CEOs like Howard Diamond of MobileDay and Matthew Bellows of Yesware who have long histories selling and building sales organizations.

The “enterprise sales software ROI analysis” as a selling tool comes up over and over and over again. And most people blow it, or try to bullshit their way through it, or put together something that is clearly not credible. 

So I asked Matthew how he did it at Yesware. Following is his story. Oh, and if you are a Gmail user, check out Yesware.

After spending nearly 20 years selling startup software and services to big companies, I can safely say I’ve seen thousands of “Return on Investment” (ROI) slides. It’s the go-to slide for every enterprise technology salesperson, illustrated with a 4-8 table row, predictably showing that the service in question will pay back the required investment in 6-12 months. Never more (who can wait?), never less (unbelievable).

And like most startup business plans, ROI slides are almost always fake.

The salesperson or their marketing department has no experience to draw on or data from which to extrapolate. Moreover, there’s no accounting for the time value of money, the customer time required to deploy the service, or the risk of time wasted if the deployment doesn’t go well.

Occasionally, a few of the numbers on an ROI slide are based on a previous deployment of the technology. In the rarest cases, the slide has relevant and reference-able data that a potential customer can apply to their situation.

Because of the problems associated with software ROI analyses, we waited a long time to build one at Yesware. And we still failed the first two times we tried. Along the way, we learned that a decent, defensible and compelling ROI analysis requires two key components:

1. Reputable, reference-able customers: The first time we tried to build an ROI slide at Yesware, we anonymously evaluated the data of 40,000 salespeople across a six-month time frame. We were looking for evidence that the people who were using Yesware more actively were making more money than inactive users. Although we found out some great stuff about email open rates and times, and our ROI results looked great to us internally, when we talked to prospects, they were skeptical. Companies, products and industries are so different. No one felt good about applying a broad survey to their specific situation. Lesson learned: Unless a reasonably well-known company is willing to publicly testify to the specific numbers you are showing, you are skating on ice that’s too thin.

2. Identifiable benefits: The second time we tried to build an ROI slide, we worked with one well-known company, analyzing their email and Salesforce.com data. We were blown away by the results – a 40% increase in sales productivity between the active and the inactive Yesware users. It was almost too good to be true.

When we presented the findings to the partner company, they were ecstatic. Not because of our results, but because they just had the best quarter in their company history. They were happy to acknowledge that Yesware had something to do with their success, but a successful product launch also played a big role the 40% increase. Lesson learned: Accounting for your benefits should be easy for both the purchasing manager and the finance evaluator to measure. There shouldn’t be too many variables baked into the results.

We tried again, and this time we got it right.

In our most recent ROI efforts we compiled data from three separate companies to uncover the specific benefits their sales teams have achieved using Yesware. These are all well-known companies that our prospective customers can call to learn more – Acquia,Mimeo, Dyn, and WeddingWire. Each is a leader in building modern sales teams, and has offered to be a reference for Yesware.

With this kind of dataset, a simple survey can reveal incredible results. We discovered that on average, sales teams using Yesware:

  • Grew new business (including upsells) by 25%
  • Improved response rate by 32%
  • Improved overall call connection rate by 32%

There are certainly ways to make our ROI analysis better: We will continue to gather a bigger dataset both in terms of customers and salespeople. We will get data from companies outside the USA. And we will keep trying to better tease apart the various contributing factors to changes in productivity.

But overall, we’ve finally cracked the code on a decent, defensible and compelling Return on Investment analysis. I hope this guide helps you create your own.

Matthew Bellows is co-founder and CEO of Yesware, an email productivity service for salespeople. Follow him on Twitter @mbellows.

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