ROI vs. ROE -I did not do a good enough job selling social media.

I had my biggest challenge of trying to sell ROI for a social media project this past week and I lost. Passion lost. Clarity of message lost, and the power of the conversation lost out to the following unspoken sentiment, “I can’t pay for something where I can not see a clear 1:1 ratio of money spent and money earned.

I’ll be honest, my my own private little thought cloud right then and there was,”Oh yea? What did I spend? Hours of work, sweat equity if you will, on learning everything I could on why social media would make sense for you, mister client, and the irrefutable argument that went with it, and you can’t see it?”

On a side note: There is not a social media practitioner, marketer or evangelist out there, who would not agree that this person and their current business model would not have benefited from a solid injection of web 2.0 sensibilities.

Not only did I do my homework but I also spent hours on the phone with the conduit/project manager, who not only had bought my vision, but had also in the same process, drank the social media Kool-ade. I educated him to the extent that he totally got what I was saying. He GOT IT. Which to a lesser degree is a huge win. Why? Because we met through a 140 character conversation on Twitter. That’s right, this whole process and opportunity came about because of Twitter. The conduit in Austin, me in Naples, and the client in Phoenix.

At the end of the day though, after the nearly 2 hour Saturday conference call with the prospect, it became painfully obvious that he was not willing to spend what it would take to transform his personal brand and what he does for a living, into something more viable, accessible, and transparent- he wanted solid ROI. Not the hope of notion or perceived ROI. His thing was, “lets sell something that makes money, and I’ll pay you if I make money”.

All was not lost. First, I made a friend in Austin, who has passion, vision, and Get’s it. And whenever you meet someone who gets it- the potential for more opportunities like the one mentioned above will always exist.

Second, I learned some more lessons. I say more because I’ve been learning a lot of them lately. Failing forward if you will. I’ve been given some great indirect lessons from my peers through blog comments and tweets, individuals like Jim Storer, Paul Chaney, Valeria Maltoni and Jason Breed. Some lessons that are human and tangible. Lessons learned on the client side and lessons learned from the community. A win win..

So here’s the thing- Ultimately, I have to ask myself, did I do a good enough job of presenting tangible proof on why social media makes sense? I don’t know. I may be too close to the subject to answer that objectively. But The question does arise and will arise again; and this was a concern Friday night when I had completed the proposal and had attached a dollar value to it. Did I show enough proof? A proof of concept to justify the cost that would eventually increase ROI through engagement?

The bottom line is I guess not. Because the bottom line right now is very prominent, very front and center. Managers want to see ROI. They need ROI. I think what they don’t understand, is that if I’m going to embark on a social media campaign for a client, it involves a time suck and a commitment from the client and the person rolling out the project- the cost is labor and time, both of which I think are measurable and ultimately can be charged for. I’m sorry but I value my knowledge and my time and I’m going to charge for it. Ok… I’m starting to get a little fired up again so I’m going to stop here. But here are my parting words-

When you pitch the social media project of any scope and scale, Be thorough, and understand that all managers are going to really, really focus on the investment and the return, no matter how well YOU get the big picture. But you know what? One loss does not define a season. They’ll be more and I’ll do better.

14 thoughts on “ROI vs. ROE -I did not do a good enough job selling social media.

  1. Marc, I love the honesty in this post. Encouraging the long-term commitment that social media demands is often tricky. While I believe that 1-1 measurements of ROI are not possible with social media marketing strategies, more sophisticated measurements of ROI ARE possible.

    I also think social media engagement can mean a lot of different things and it’s difficult to evaluate where things went wrong for you from this vantage point. Something else to consider is that ROI is sometimes used as a scapegoat for companies that choose not to engage. From this perspective, you may have been spared. There are a lot of examples of companies who want the benefits of social media without having to make themselves vulnerable to do so. As an outside vendor, that sort of client relationship has the tendency to become a nightmare.

    Only you can know whether or not you did everything you should have done. Sometimes our best really isn’t good enough to win the battle. The war isn’t over — maybe, just maybe it simply wasn’t the right time.

  2. @shannon, thanks for the encouraging words Shannon, You’re right though, it’s just one battle, maybe even just a skirmish, but in the end, hindsight allows me to see what I might have been able to do better. Great examplae by the way, of companies that want it, they just don’t to pay for it or make themselves vulnerable-but vulnerable in this case would be a good thing. guess they’ll never know. But they can thank me for educating them and planting the seed.

  3. Thanks for writing this post as I think all of us in this industry are facing these issues when we talk to people that are not as involved. I agree with what Shannon said. When you evaluate if you had done a good enough job, you have to take into account who you were talking to and that there are also other aspects that you may not be aware of that influence a decision. Each encounter will help you in your evaluation and will help you define which is the best way to present your offering. Better luck next time.

  4. Great post Marc! Appreciate the shout out.
    We are in a spectacular time in history, 20k people layed-off this month in the tech industry alone (Source: Techcrunch), new president elect paving a road to office promising more interactivity than ever imagined and we could go on. The fact is that people in companies are not going to “take a flyer” on anything that does not have a direct return on any investment. Measurements have to be strong (either increase revenue or decrease costs).

    It’s time for all of us to get beyond the toolsets of our trade and get creative in how we can apply them to help businesses solve real problems. Every prospect we call on today requires this and the creative ones will get it figured out. I know you are one of the creative ones, Marc.

    Deliver value not tools and we’ll all move this industry forward especially in this period in time.

  5. @Jason, thanks for the advice. It was clear to me after we had talked and tried like hell to sell the roi in the form of value for the work I was doing to raise the awareness of his intellectual capitol. Not a transaction in the purest sense, but still a type of transaction. A transaction on the conversation that we were going to help him create.

  6. I do feel for you. Considering a while ago, I was just discussing with a fellow communicator from a statutory board on the challenges of measuring social media ROI. Beats me, how we’re ever going to measure conversations and rapports between customer-customer or customer-brand.

    But then again, it did open up another can of opportunities in figuring what visions companies are lacking in and how they can be educated towards intangible assets of their brand. I see it as a complete re-education from “do-nothing-but-still-win” to “get-involved-or-lose” for conventional business model.

  7. Sounds to me like I need to get busy and get the “What Works and What Doesn’t” wiki (or whatever we’re going to call it) up and running. We need a litany of social media success stories (failures too) from which we can discern replicable, implementable principles.

    The days of touchy-feely, warm-and-fuzzy are over. We have a case to make that is irrefutable.

  8. @Ed the deal is that we have people who have bought in and won- and the problem is, as Paul mentions we just need some solid evidence to present when we sell the premise. Peter Kim has a few examples and so does Geoff Livingston

  9. @Paul. I agree, we have to get beyond the why it works blog post and get to the what works. As much for those of who are pitching as for those who are catching. Thanks a lot Paul.

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  11. Hi Marc–GREAT post! I wrote my first blog entry of the new year on this topic, with pretty much the same sentiment–and in the 2 days since posting, I’ve come across at least three other blogs discussing the very same topic.

    Seems like its at the forefront of most of our minds.

    I came across a brilliant blog (and can’t find the URL, dammit!) about the difference between ROI and Value. The summary is that ROI is measurable, Value isn’t. (yet) We’re selling value, the customer wants to buy ROI.

    As a social media practicioner, I know the value we provide. As the advocate for the client tho, I’m also in alignment with their point of view.

    It’s a very tough economy right now, and thousands of people are being laid off daily. Online community and social media is largely being funded by marketing dollars, so I get it.

    If it’s a choice between spending time, money and effort on a ‘thing’ (social media), then what is the return? Because I (the company) just had to let a *person* go, and I KNOW what they did for me.

    Or they can no longer fund that print or media campaign…and they KNOW what kind of results they could generate there.

    We’re the low-budget, cost-effective solution…but the question still remains–what kind of results are they going to get for their investment?

    There are many creative, brilliant people in our field. We MUST create metrics to demonstrate ROI. It’s the most pressing issue in our field, imo.

  12. Mark thanks for the reply. Since that post I’ve had at least 10 more client meetings where I was able to sell the value of what my company does and how we do it. What it came down to is that some will get it and some will not. The more we understand the subtle nuances of what the customer really wants and to not necessarily lead with social media as the panacea for what cures your business, the better we can implement components to the clients pleasant surprise. Its just one piece.

  13. Hello and thanks for an very open and interesting post!

    I Came a cross some very interesting research from Avanade that showed some very interesting figures.

    around 60 % of the employees think that social media isn’t incorporated within organizations due to apathetic senior decision makers close to 60 % of the CRM decision makers are of course seniors.

    Close to 70 % think that SM will come in stealth to the companies, witch will make it a dual problem. this is an important factor to show when implementing social media because the loose control in the social media sphere.

    If they are to lazy to adapt to new technologies and times why not ad some pressure!

    I have just started to write my master thesis in the subject above at stockholm university Sweden and I would love to discuss it further.

    Thanks and best regards Hampus Landelius

  14. Hampus, those are some interesting data points, feel free to engage me anytime to discuss further. I think you bring some interesting points to the table.

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