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    Do You Say “Complex” When You Mean “Lazy”?

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    Although my company explicitly serves the “complex B2B sales” market, I’ve never really liked the word “complex.” In its correct definition, “complex B2B sales” is an accurate description of a particular type of selling. But I also see people use it as an excuse:

    “I haven’t reached my targets because these deals are so complex”

    “I don’t have a lot of activity in my calendar because it’s complex sales”

    “My pipeline is slow because I'm working on complex deals”

    I was speaking with a recruiter recently who echoed these concerns. He said that he sees a lot of salespeople with good-looking CVs, but when you start talking to them you find out they’re not having many customer conversations, and they’re not engaging proactively with prospects. He said they often use “it’s complex sales” to excuse their lack of action and activity, but what it comes down to is that they aren’t really professional salespeople: They’re order takers.

    Saying “it’s complex sales” is not an acceptable excuse for lack of action and activity.

    A complex sale doesn’t mean fewer activities. In fact, sometimes it should mean more activities with more individuals per sale.

    Why Some Salespeople Use “Complex” As an Excuse for Lazy Sales Behavior

    The word “complex” is a convenient excuse for salespeople who sit by their phones and wait for them to ring. But why are these “salespeople” not taking action, and why are they reluctant to provide transparency into their activity levels?

    1. Fear of accountability
      Many people get into the sales profession because they want to make money and do it on their own terms. If they get lucky and get hired at a company with a strong market presence, they can sometimes skate by as an order taker, make their money, and not work very hard. People with this mindset don’t want accountability, because they’re afraid of what it will reveal about them.
    2. Lack of knowledge
      As an industry, we do a terrible job of training and mentoring salespeople to do a good job at complex sales. We call it “complex” and then hire people hoping they’ll figure out this “complex” thing that we don’t even fully understand. Then we set them adrift. Without a roadmap or a clear process, salespeople may not know what to do, so they do nothing or very little.
    3. Valuing rights over responsibilities
      Culturally, in many parts of the world, there is a tendency to value an individual’s rights over their responsibility to the team. This shows up as salespeople thinking they have a right to do their job the way they want to do it, without oversight. They fail to recognize that they also have a responsibility to do their job well and to act on behalf of their company while they’re on company time.

    How Sales Leaders Contribute to the “Complex Means Inactive” Problem

    The word “complex” leads a lot of people to think of phrases like:

    • Difficult
    • Complicated
    • Hard to understand
    • Impossible to navigate

    In complex sales, this shows up as an attitude from some sales leaders that because their sales environment is “complex” you can’t really understand it. Then they develop “strategies” based in this misunderstanding that amount to:

    • Find and hire (and fire) people who instinctively understand “complexity” and just know how to navigate it
    • Don’t bother structuring our approach because it’s “too complicated to apply a process”

    With this attitude, sales leaders create a sales culture that relies on superstar salespeople, fails to hold them accountable, and ultimately is impossible to scale or improve.

    Why Complex Sales Should Never Mean “Less Activity”

    It is true that complex sales often have longer sales cycles and a lower number of actual sales. This is due to the size of the deals, the perceived risk of the investment, and the number of stakeholders involved in any given sale.

    However, this does not translate into fewer activities. Here are some reasons why a complex sale may actually mean more activities:

    • Multiple stakeholders multiplies the number of meetings
      Not only must you meet with each stakeholder separately, you often also need to meet with them in groups.
    • Higher risk means more trust and collaboration is necessary
      In order to build the trust necessary to close a high-risk sale, you must take the time to understand and collaborate with all of the stakeholders and to help facilitate their movement through the buying experience. This requires more conversations per stakeholder, not fewer.
    • Longer sales cycles mean more time in each workflow
      From prospecting to active pipeline to managing and growing accounts, salespeople need to spend time with prospects and customers in multiple contexts, helping them with different stages of their relationship with the company. Again: More meetings, not fewer.

    Furthermore, a complex sale needs more structure, not less. Creating effective structure (i.e., strategy, process, training, coaching, playbooks, and enablement) helps salespeople become more active with their prospects, and more effective in their activities.

    Thus, activity level alone is not an accurate measure of effectiveness, but it is still a necessary metric to determine that a salesperson is doing their job. At Membrain, we measure “conversations in market”–not just conversations, and not just activities, but conversations with people who are qualified potential customers or existing customers. It is one of several measures we use to help our salespeople track how they are performing on a daily basis, and help them stay accountable to a target so that they can ultimately meet their goals.

    One of the goals of the Membrain platform is to help you help your sales teams to be more active, and more productive, by creating a structured approach to how you sell… which becomes why you win. Replacing “busy” with “productive” and reactive inactivity with proactive and effective activity. We’d love to show you how.

    George Brontén
    Published May 17, 2023
    By George Brontén

    George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills, and processes. George is also the author of the book Stop Killing Deals and the host of the Stop Killing Deals webinar and podcast series.

    Find out more about George Brontén on LinkedIn