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    How to make complex sales as simple as possible but no simpler

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    In science, according to a quote attributed to Albert Einstein, “everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

    This same principle applies to the sales profession. An overly complex sales system wastes time and money. But an overly simple sales system, ironically, does the same.

    This is true in organizations of any size, but the larger the organization, the larger the impact. So how does an organization, especially a large organization, create a system that is “as simple as possible but no simpler”?

    1. Understand how over-simplification leads to over-complexity

    It might surprise you to hear me say that most CRMs are actually too simple. I often talk about the complexity problem (which I refer to as the Hydra) with Salesforce. But at the root of that complexity is over-simplicity.

    Salesforce (and most other CRMs) was built to solve one problem: Maintain a digital database and make it accessible to salespeople and the organization. On top of that database, Salesforce over the years developed and acquired tools and created an application marketplace with thousands of different tools to fix all kinds of problems.

    The core “sales process” in traditional CRM systems consist of a dropdown box with a list of stages (sometimes visually represented as a Kanban board.) For large organizations and those operating in complex b2b sales environments, a dropdown list is inadequate as a process.

    As a result, plug-ins and custom coding must be built on top of the core product to meet those needs, plus workarounds on the side. Besides being inefficient for salespeople, this forced complexity leads to problems for management and above.

    In large organizations, multi-tiered organizational hierarchy means that divisions may report up to regional managers, regional managers to managers above them, to vice presidents and sales executives above them, with reports aggregating at the top.

    With so many layers of reporting, pipeline transparency becomes difficult, and this is more true the more complex the CRM system and its workarounds. With an overly simple sales process representation, sales teams may spend huge amounts of time inside workarounds such as spreadsheets and point solutions.

    ...and leads to inaccurate forecasts

    The data from these workarounds may or may not get aggregated to managers. Managers, in turn, spend vast amounts of time aggregating pipeline data and then compensating for what they know about their team: One salesperson is especially “happy-eared”. Another puts projects in the pipeline too quickly, while another sandbags.

    Once compensated and simplified, the managers then report up, and the managers above must attempt to make the same adjustments for their managers. And so on.

    It’s no wonder if, by the time the data reaches the CEO, it may not be entirely… accurate.

    Complexity forced by over-simplicity makes organization-wide change extremely difficult.

    In addition, this complexity that is forced by over-simplicity makes it almost impossible to institute organization-wide change within the system. Any small tweak can take months to implement, and layers upon layers of change management.

    2. Choose lightness, completeness, and accuracy

    The poet Louis Zukofsky, in speaking of Einstein’s principle of simplicity, described the goal as “lightness, completeness, and accuracy.”

    A good scientific principle will not be overly heavy with complexity, but it will be both complete and accurate. The same should be true of your sales system and the technology that underpins it.

    Just as Einstein had to revisit the foundations of scientific theory in order to understand the principle of relativity, so also sales organizations, especially large organizations, must review the foundations of their sales system in order to create a system that is “light, complete, and accurate” in its representation of what is happening inside your sales pipeline.

    Einstein was famous for seeking after a system that would explain the universe as simply as possible, that would unify all the observable aspects of the universe without leaving anything out. The unified field theory represents the ongoing work of science to achieve this goal.

    For large sales organizations, a “unified field theory” can be compared to the idea of bringing together strategy, process, methodology, training, management, execution, enablement, and technology into a holistic system that is exactly as simple as it needs to be–but no simpler.

    The technology that enables such a system must contain everything that salespeople and their managers and directors and executives need, without excess weight. It must be flexible and easy to customize without custom coding so that business people can configure it and not get caught up in lengthy IT projects. It must permit training, enablement, process, methodology, reporting, and optimization to be embedded directly into each salesperson’s workflow and easily and accurately aggregated up into useful reports.

    It must capture best practices and allow the native creativity and intelligence of field salespeople and their managers to be incorporated dynamically into the process.

    3. How Membrain and partners deliver simplicity (without over-simplicity) to large organizations

    Membrain was built to be light, complete, and accurate specifically for complex b2b sales. We have always been focused on complex b2b sales, and our technology was designed from the ground up to serve the specific and targeted needs of complex b2b sales.

    By partnering with leading sales training and enablement partners, we’re able to deliver a complete solution for organizations of any size. Our ClearPath Promise simplifies the process of system implementation and our partners focus on strategy, skills development, enablement, and coaching. (Some partners have even created pre-configured Editions with sales process, methodology, and enablement content embedded in the Membrain platform.)

    Our ability to align our executive team with yours means that you receive support at every level of your organization to meet the needs at every level. Our partnerships mean that you receive exactly the level of implementation, training, and coaching support your organization needs.

    Additionally: Our code is robustly simple without being too simple. To people with a non-technical background, this may seem a trivial detail. However, overly complex coding in the background is an enormous problem that leads to massive downstream problems.

    Many start-ups pull together products very quickly using existing code from other sources. While this makes coding fast, to begin with (to enable speed-to-market), it causes problems later, with speed and optimization limitations.

    At Membrain, we built our code from the bottom up, developing it to fit the exact needs of our complex b2b customers. As a result, it is elegant in its simplicity, making it easy to update and improve as we learn more about what our customers need. It is flexible and doesn’t break easily. And it's lightning-fast!

    4. Capture chaos and convert it to optimization

    Every organization must manage a certain level of chaos. Humans are human and have a tendency to behave in ways that defy simplification and strict process.

    This can be frustrating when trying to capture data and aggregate it in meaningful ways. But it can also be a powerful influence for improvement.

    Your top salespeople probably innovate on an almost daily basis as they learn what works for customers and what doesn’t, and as they explore new ways of engaging. This native intelligence and innovation can be a powerful force toward growing in sales excellence, but only if it can be captured and propagated to other salespeople. Instead of letting it remain locked inside the head and the process of one person, organizations of all sizes have the opportunity to capture it and multiply it across the organization–but only if the simplicity and completeness of their tools permit it.

    With a system built within Membrain, this process is straightforward. Reporting tools make it easy for managers to see what it is that a salesperson is doing that is effective. Those practices can be captured, for instance, in a video. The sales process can be quickly updated, and the video embedded as a training resource.

    Within a matter of minutes, the newly captured best practice can be propagated throughout the organization, no matter its size.

    The value of this has been obvious during these last few months of the Corona pandemic, where companies have had to change tactics quickly.

    This one change, across the multiplier of a large organization, can make a difference of tens of millions.

    Simplification, without over-simplification, is my passion. I would love to talk with you and your team about how our partners and we help. Contact me today to schedule a call.

    George Brontén
    Published August 5, 2020
    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.

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