What’s ROI?

In 2008 after a nine-year run selling GIS software, it was time for me to move on. I received an offer to head the western region sales team for a GPS company competing in the difficult fleet management market. This career move was based on my belief that GPS applications have a lot in common and that my learning curve would be gentle.

My first trip to meet my sales team was a real eye-opener. After a grueling two days of “death by PowerPoint,” I asked Jon, the sales manager for Colorado, to arrange for a visit to a potential customer in the area so we could do a joint visit.

The very next day we drove to an industrial part of town. The driving got uglier by the minute and the warehouses on both sides of the road got dirtier and more somber as we approached our target, a plumbing company.

Where I’d Come From

Let me interrupt with a bit of background on what I was doing a few months prior. I was the enterprise sales manager for Latin America for a GIS company. Our sales were concentrated on the IT departments, not the GIS departments; IT managers loved our solution and we normally won those bids in which the tender process was driven by IT.

These were multi-million, multi-year implementations that normally required integration with the CRM (customer relations management), the ERP (enterprise resource planning), and many other systems, so our sales presentations got increasingly financial and less technical as we climbed the power ladder all the way to the top.

I became an expert in all sorts of financial terms and hot buttons. One of the most pressing concerns in the priority list of these individuals was almost always the return on investment (ROI) of the expenditure and the time to reach it.

Back to My Story

In my immense naïveté I assumed that this new job with smaller fleet companies was going to address the same or at least similar financial concerns. The more we drove over bad asphalt and between rusty buildings, the more I feared my assumptions were about to be tested.

We parked in front of a small warehouse with a pale sign in which we could barely discern the words, “Joe Plumber & Sons.”

“How many trucks do these guys have?” I asked, in disbelief that this was the customer selected by my sales manager to visit on my first tour.

“About 10.”

“What? Why are we chasing fleets of 10 trucks?” I responded, furious.

“Well, we have larger fleets in our pipeline, but these guys were available to meet today.”

We had a debriefing on the plumbing firm while sitting in the parking lot, and when I felt I understood the issues at hand, we walked to the door and rang the bell.

After the usual pleasantries and introductions, Joe, the owner, asked point blank, “What can I do for you guys?”

Jon engaged in a much-choreographed sales speech that generated various technical questions from Joe. After a few minutes I felt it was time to go to the financial aspects of our offer.

“Well,” I said jumping in, “we want to ask you what your expected ROI for this investment.”

Joe looked at me and then looked at Jon and asked, “What’s ROI?”

I will spare you the pain of reading how this meeting ended; we walked out of there pretty unsure of our chances for success.

These guys didn’t even know the basic financial concepts of IT deployment.

The moral of the story goes well with the theme of xyHt: we are all involved in geosciences and location-based industries, but our uses for the technology vary immensely from precision agriculture to archeological locations to fleet management. At the end of the day we are all location experts, and what we have in common our audiences do not.



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