ROI (Return on Investment) is the basis from which informed investment decisions are made.
The ROI formula only requires two numbers; the cost of your venture and the return made from that venture. But there are inputs that go into each. For many, this is where the simple gets complicated. But it doesn’t have to be?
Here are 8 surprisingly simple steps to calculate ROI.
STEP #1: START WITH A BASELINE
Return from a new venture has to first take into account what occurred before. So you have to establish a baseline. In our experience, there are only three baseline scenarios. In Scenario #1, the venture is just beginning so there is no baseline. There is a clean slate. In Scenario #2, the new venture is trying to change just one area of a company’s operations (e.g. digital, call center, human resources). The baseline in this case is the return in this area from prior period. In scenario #3, the venture involves a change or transformation in the company that likely to impact a number of areas. For example, a business generates revenue through a sales force, call center and website. They are investing in digital operations by upgrading the website, building a mobile app and improving the online selling infrastructure so they can spend less in other areas. In this instance, the baseline is the amount the website generates currently based on a total percent of the company’s operations.
STEP #2: DECIDE IF RETURN IS REVENUE OR PROFITS
Be clear at the outset how you will measure the return in dollars. Is it revenue (sales) or profits? The latter in many cases is the most desirable measure. But it is harder to understand and control. For example, a company produces a food product. Profits requires a knowledge of the cost of goods, shipping and retail allowances. These are often hard to know now and harder to predict in the future. Because revenue has more factor within a company’s control, it is generally easier to forecast. While some insist profits is the way to go, in our experience, revenue is also is a good indication of success and basis for decision making.
STEP #3: DETERMINE THE TIME FRAME
Before you can determine the return, you have to know how long it is going to take. In most cases, the time frame for ROI is between one and two years. This is due to: 1) Functional activities like the time it takes to create and build new assets (e.g. website, data center and buying infrastructure) and 2) customer uptake for awareness, consideration, trial and repeat purchases. To help understand customer uptake, it helps to know the buying frequency and Annual Customer Value (ACV).
STEP #4: DECIDE INPUTS FOR THE RETURN
The return is a prediction or forecast of what will occur by the end of the time frame. Use real company data, not norms or averages, unless you want normative or average results. Basics that are usually included in returns are how many new vs repeat customers are expected? What is their Annual Customer Value? If there is a digital component, what are visits and conversions rates to the website? If a company transformation is expected, operating costs in other areas that will decline as new capability are built can be a factor. There can be a few to many input. Confidence in the data means reliability in the return.
STEP #5: IDENTIFY THE INVESTMENTS
In some cases, this is self-evident. But not always. Let’s say a major investment in infrastructure is occurring that will take a couple of years but the ROI time frame is one year. The investment is based on cash flow and what is spent in that year.
STEP #6: CALCULATE THE ROI
The ROI formula is: Return – Investment/Investment X 100%. The ROI is expressed as a percent. That’s it. Here is the formula and a sample calculation.
STEP #7: GUIDE WITH KPIs
An ROI is a forecast of a result to occur in the future, a scorecard of key metrics is developed to keep ROI on track. These are Key Performance Indicators or KPIs. A Key Performance Indicator is a measurable value that demonstrates how effectively a company is achieving key business objectives. Organizations use KPIs at multiple levels to evaluate their success at reaching targets. To keep the ROI on track, KPIs are an actionable scorecard. Variables that figure into the return like returning customers, new customers, annual customer value and conversion rate might also be KPIs. Here is what a KPI scorecard looks like for a new digital marketing venture.
STEP #8: ALIGN WITH DESIRED GOALS
ROI is key to evaluating how realistic is the business objective and financial goals for a company. In the ROI calculation above of 238%, the company is expecting a return of $2.38 for every dollar invested. The company has to decide how if realistic this is. It is if the company has the commitment and deliver on their plan and measure success. It probably isn’t if they don’t. But now they have a basis for evaluation. Otherwise, the company is just guessing.
Do these steps to calculate ROI sound simple and sensible to you? Do you need help figuring out ROI at your company?