We all talk about complex sales, but how do we define it? After asking around, I discovered that everyone has an opinion, but nobody really agrees on a definition.
One thing that makes a definition difficult is that complexity lies on a scale. At one end are pure transactional sales that operate in the thousands or millions per minute, such as day trading stocks. At the other end are massively complex sales that take years to develop, such as major government contracts for region-wide telecom infrastructure.
In the middle is a wide spectrum of sales types. Where on this spectrum, exactly, is the line between simple and complex? Some sources will tell you that a sale crosses into “complex” territory the moment it involves more than one decision maker. I find this definition to be rather extreme. After all, it’s not unusual for a buyer to inquire with their spouse prior to making a purchase on Amazon, but that is hardly a complex sale.
So what, exactly, does define a complex sale?
I define complex sales based on three key factors:
A complex sale involves multiple stakeholders, a longer sales cycle, and a high degree of perceived risk on the part of the buyer.
A complex sale can involve a number of other features that are often included in the definition, such as being business-to-business (b2b) and/or involving a high dollar amount. But these features do not have to be present for the sale to be complex. For instance:
It’s important to note that within the category of “complex sales,” there are additional levels of complexity, such as cultural differences and corporate politics. Like complex versus simple, these distinctions lie on a spectrum, and they depend on the same three criteria, in greater degree:
Thus, these three criteria can be used to place almost any selling environment in its position along the simple to complex to extremely complex sale spectrum.
The complexity of your sales environment has far-reaching consequences for how your organization should be structured and operated. Those consequences touch everything, from your people to your processes.
A complex sales environment requires a different type of salesperson and a different type of sales manager.
Additionally, salespeople in a complex environment often need to:
Sales managers must possess these same skills and characteristics, plus:
A complex sale calls for a more granular sales process than a few stages that came pre-populated in your CRM’s drop-down list. The more complex the sales environment, the more critical the sales process - and the methodology to progress through it - becomes.
Complexity also requires:
For a complex sales team to be truly effective, their entire process and way of working must be approached as a system, and optimized for continuous improvement across the organization - very similar to how medicine and other professional fields are evolving. More structured teamwork, less individual heroism.
Find out how Membrain helps sales teams in complex environments optimize their people and processes for greatest effectiveness. Book a demo today!
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.
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