For this blog, I am returning to a favourite subject of mine - that of helping articulate & recognising the value of investing in a business management system (BMS).

I was speaking to a Canadian partner of ours just recently & wanted to share a customer story of theirs with you. I met Calvin O'Driscoll from Atlantic Data Systems  a few years back at the sales boot-camp (Articulating the CRM Proposition *)  I was running in Montreal. Since then, I have watched ADS' growth with interest: it's been growth that is founded upon delivering integrated business management systems, specifically around Sage 300. Calvin is a staunch advocate of helping uncover, document & run projects along measurable dimensions of return-on-investment (ROI) for customers.

Having recently completed a first phase of a Sage 300 CRM project for a new customer, I was interested to know how ADS use ROI concepts in real life - specifically the lessons they have learnt as a business & what they would say to other Sage partners & their customers around the world.   I started out by asking why does ROI matter to a business?

[Calvin O'Driscoll] When I began in the consulting business at the turn of the millennium, customers were usually just interested in functionality. Often they had to migrate from old systems or they had a specific business need that wasn't catered for in their current package - so functionality was key & people weren't bothered about having an ROI discussion. Today, with many products doing most things for most companies, buyers are now interested in what advantages they can obtain from moving to a new product:  be that increasing revenue, better customer satisfaction, stripping away costs & the like.  Essentially, our customers are looking for an "edge" with a system that makes them more "effective" and becoming a better business.

[David Beard] How do you approach the idea of having ROI discussions with prospects?

[Calvin O'Driscoll] It differs from prospect to prospect: some people know they need to produce a good requirements document so, for them, we help them validate their documented thinking against our product & project knowledge. However, most of our customers don't have that level of documentation. Instead, we ask the business owner to engage in a chargeable "discovery" exercise, aiming to turn their business needs into outline requirements.  This exercise delivers a document they own  - they can then either walk away or use it towards embarking on a BMS project with us.

The exercise is all about listening to challenges & business timelines. It is important we understand *exactly* how their business operates (processes that happen every day, week, month, quarter & year). By doing that, we can structure a better conversation about the VALUE that they can expect to derive from embarking on a BMS project. We tell customers that we want them to achieve a ROI within a 12 - 18 months period. And we usually find the sources of the return very quickly - be that in identifying silos of data & processes --- duplicate processes, data entry, multiple reports, and more.

[David Beard] So, how do you manage the ROI discussion? In particular, thinking about the questions to ask, who to ask, how to capture the data – along strategic, cultural & systemic levels.

[Calvin O'Driscoll] In our initial conversation with the business owner, we make it very clear we need to speak to key people in the "front line".  Of course, we talk to key stakeholders as well BUT we need to speak to users across areas of finance, inventory and more. We ask lots of open-ended questions ("how do you do X ...") as well as deeper conversations with more exact detail ("how long does this report take & how many people are involved")  and importantly we document that time & link it to an average personnel cost by role.

[David Beard] How do you report it back to your business owner? I am thinking about the type of response, how you present it & how to use this to effect a movement in the customer - avoiding a “no decision” paralysis that people find so frustrating.

[Calvin O'Driscoll] Thinking about the conversations on processes & costs, we first talk among ourselves about the key findings for this customer,  aiming to identify "top challenges" as they align with their key stakeholders.  We also consider experiences from past projects on "what matters" & "what would be best" based on product, budget & this customer's needs. Plus we think about challenges around "the cost of doing nothing" as we believe that is one of the biggest obstacles - for all parties - compared to similar projects from 15 years ago. Once we've talked internally, we present our "data rich" findings back to the customer's key stakeholders - framing it in terms of "Bob told us about process X..." and why it matters to do this in a better way, etc. At that point, most customers, say "I see what you mean, I totally agree" - using this evidenced approach gets the buy-in from the business because their own people shared the information. It truly is a tremendously powerful way to move a project from "consideration to action". Often, the remaining challenge is financing the deal but, through our partnerships with local finance options, we can help move the project along for everyone's benefit.

[David Beard] How does it work in supporting the initial delivery + subsequent phases for the customer’s business?

[Calvin O'Driscoll] As I noted earlier, part of the initial discussion is the generation of a business requirements document. We present this to the customer as a "phased project document" with costs of software, our time to configure, user training, etc. This helps us both illustrate the process & manage the steps - it's all about keeping the customer informed about what is being done & when as well as keeping an eye on outcomes that we are all managing towards. Based on our experience, we are 100% convinced that asking the customer to pay for a requirements analysis prior to any sale of software & services keep everyone focused on the changes the business needs to make.

[David Beard] How & why did you come to the decision to make ROI discussions a core part of the overall ADS proposition?

[Calvin O'Driscoll] We wanted to make sure we provide value to our customers. It's a core strategic value to us and, as I say to my team, "if the customer doesn't get that value for their business, what's the point in taking them on?"  It has also meant our own sales process have become more focused - we don't get caught up in just showing software.  We want to work with business' that have an identified need for change & that keeps us thinking about industries we work in as well as the benefits customers can gain from our knowledge.

[David Beard] How have you driven that thinking inside the ADS business?

[Calvin O'Driscoll] What really drove it home for us was attending your sales boot-camp in Montreal all those years ago. The focus on taking time, through scenario role plays, to practice uncovering, and talking to, value of a software change project was really worth doing. When we returned to the office, we appreciated that while we "sort of" worked like that internally, ADS as a business did NOT put that thinking in writing to the customer.  We needed to commit to that ROI approach all the way through the customer's life-cycle with us, so we adapted our sales approach, our project documents & the way we talked to customers. We did struggle to get some sales team on board (some said "it slows sales cycle down") but we believed as a business, we would have more success if everyone followed the same structured process. Over time, as we let each sales team member experience the approach & "saw the proof", the new practices became completely embedded in the core ADS proposition.

[David Beard] What benefits have you seen to you & your business (thinking about how you measure that success)

[Calvin O'Driscoll] For ADS, we have seen bigger, better and (honestly), more interesting business. It really does reduce the sales cycle for us & the customer.  Once you get all the requirements documented, customers can see all the benefits & that there is a project to be getting on with. And, for those customers who maybe aren't as ready as they thought, the requirements exercise becomes a question of what & how much to do instead of being forced into a binary "everything or nothing" decision - which we know, as with most things in life, is not usually the case.  It focuses customers and it focuses us on the right business.  I say that a lot to my team: "Let's be sure we do the right things" and that sets everyone up for success.

[David Beard] Where would you take your business from here & why? Thinking about how your business gains from working in this way and how it improves your business’ strategic success.

[Calvin O'Driscoll] Our own internal processes are well defined & now we know this has our helped our success. We are investigating more work within industries we know because, the more we learn, the better skills we develop & the better advice we have to offer customers. Working this way has also lifted our business' competencies: for example, our technical consultants now have more business' acumen & that knowledge has directly influenced our account management approach. Based on those two points alone, I would offer this advice to other Sage partners:  If you are not taking a structured, business value approach with your customers, you need to be doing it.  More & more business' are expecting it & your own internal skills need to step up to that demand. 

Finally, although you might feel paying upfront for business analysis is odd, I'd urge all parties to think again - it works very well for us and our customers,  We know we do a good job with that process & that translates to successful outcomes for our customers. Success breeds success & I know many of our customers talk about their success with us inside their own business network - that, I know for sure, brings us more business. 

My thanks to Calvin & the larger ADS team for sharing the story with me and, thus, to you.


David Beard

CRM Principal 
Sage CRM

* The concepts presented as part of the "Articulating the CRM Proposition" now form part of our eLearning Sales Stream