In complex sales, the customer and the sales professional are entering an extended buying journey.
Pushing the sale through a complex sales cycle is difficult because quality is no longer the selling feature it once was. Instead, customers need solutions that go further. They need solutions that ease concerns about risk, address nuanced needs, and rise above commodification.
Understanding the Complex Sales Process
A complex sales opportunity can be defined as:
“A method of trading sometimes used by organizations when procuring contracts for a product or service. Complex sales, sometimes referred to as enterprise sales, involve a longer sales cycles with multiple decision makers. Complex sales differ from transactional sales in that they usually involve strategic partnerships between the buyer and seller.”
In today’s selling environment, more and more sales can be characterized as complex. There are three key factors driving this phenomenon:
- Customers are considering more alternatives
- Customers are more anchored to their beliefs
- Customer trust is decreasing
Customers Are Considering Alternatives
Selling is more complex because the playing field is becoming more aggressive. Customer loyalty is disappearing because customers experience constant engagement from competitors, and technology has made it easier to change solutions.
It’s not surprising to learn that leaders at Accenture call this the “switching economy.”
The good news is that today’s dynamic customers represent an estimated $6.2 trillion in available revenue for salespeople. The bad news is also inciting other sales professionals to bring renewed effort and strategy to the sales dialogue.
Customers Are More Anchored to Their Beliefs
The modern sales environment is more complex because customers are more risk-averse. Though customers are more likely today to switch solutions, they do so without moving from base assumptions. That is, they often consider new solutions using old beliefs.
This characteristic of buying is understandable. A new purchase carries risk. This risk is both financial and psychological. If outcomes fall short, the business will suffer a loss of margin. Additionally, the stakeholders will suffer the career impact of a failed strategy.
Therefore, customers need to gain comfort with new solutions by first uprooting long-held beliefs.
Customer Trust Is Decreasing
Selling is more complex because customer trust is low and on the decline. Sales professionals face a steep ascent early in the buying journey. Faltering trust explains why so many customers elect to conduct so much of the buying process independent of the sales professional.
Navigating the Complex Sales Cycle
To win complex sales, the sales professional needs to be able to shape their customer’s point of view throughout the sales cycle. To shape their customer’s perspective, sales managers must ensure their sales team is able to execute three fundamental selling skills:
- Asserting a point of view to shape customer thinking
- Building alignment among stakeholders
- Accessing senior-level stakeholders
Check out a short video where Richardson’s experts outline the three essential capabilities for winning complex sales taught in our High-Stakes Consultative Dialogues Training Program.
Assert a Point of View
Asserting a point of view often means the sales professional is tasked with reframing the customer’s thinking. They must widen the customer’s purview, revealing the full scope of risks and opportunities.
This conversation can be difficult to manage because the sales professional runs the risk of alienating the buyer. To effectively execute this difficult conversation, sales professionals should keep these tips in mind:
Make Observations Specific without Reliance on Jargon: Jargon and technical language often appear as an attempt to distract or overwhelm the listener. Clear, direct communication in accessible language is effective because it is honest and free of pretention. Specificity gives more direction, which helps the sales professional and the customer address challenges rather than vague issues.
Normalize Discussions of Risk: Sales professionals must help their customers understand that all decisions, even no decision, present risk. What’s important is that the risks are calculated and outweighed by beneficial outcomes. Rather than assure the avoidance of all risk, sales professionals should illustrate that the risks involved are acceptable, given expected benefits. Adopting a tone that allows concerns to be discussed openly will help the customer become more comfortable.
Balance Discussions of Risk with Expected Benefits: As discussions of risk surface, sales professionals must be prepared to propose a clear path through challenges. Discussions of risk without recommendations only incite more fear. The result is unnecessary delays that kill the deal. A common trap is to explain the risk associated with delaying a decision before fully addressing the concerns stalling the decision. The customer should know that the focus is to alleviate the concern, not push the sale through as fast as possible.
Use Reflection Questions to Shape the Customer’s Point of View: Reflection questions encourage the customer to think more deeply about the topic and fully consider the sales professional’s viewpoint. These questions serve both parties. The sales professional learns more about customer pain points, while the customer crystallizes their understanding of their challenges and goals.
Build Alignment Among Stakeholders
Typically, the complex sales process involves multiple stakeholders. Creating alignment among these groups is difficult because differing emotions are in flux.
In a complex selling scenario, it is the sales professional’s job to align all the decision makers. Some key ways to drive alignment include:
- Build an Understanding of the Source of Misalignment: Sales professionals often recognize delays, conflicting stakeholder messages, and silence as signs of misalignment. To uncover the specific cause, sales professionals must listen, observe, and read between the lines. Are the stakeholders expressing frustration with one another? Do meetings lack substantive discussion? After watching for these characteristics, sales professionals should ask directly. They should ask questions about where alignment is weak or strong, and what will prevent advancing to the next steps.
- Synthesize Different Perspectives into One Story: Sales professionals need to synthesize different perspectives and needs into one cohesive story for change. This approach is a good opportunity to reinforce common ground. Effective sales professionals lay the groundwork for this process in the early stages of selling. When sales professionals are learning and discovering, they can float ideas to gauge reactions and foster gradual buy-in. This approach also helps build relationships with each stakeholder.
- Manage Risk to Drive the Decision: There are as many risk profiles as there are stakeholders. Therefore, sales professionals face the challenge of understanding, then addressing, each decision maker’s concern. This step is critical because misalignment among stakeholders arises from fear of risk. Sales professionals must identify customers who feel most threatened by change. They must help them recognize the urgency around the issue. In doing so, the sales professional helps underscore the fact that risk is a two-sided issue. In other words, avoiding one risk will surface another.
- Recognize Alignment Is a Dynamic Process: Building alignment is a dynamic process because the buyer’s journey is a dynamic process. As the buyer moves through the decision process, they intensify their resolve to commit to a solution. Alignment is what moves this process forward. In the early stages, alignment is about learning and discovering. In the middle and later stages, alignment is more about coalescing and synthesizing. In the later stages, alignment is about driving the decision and managing risk. Simply put, alignment is a spectrum, not a spot.
Access Senior-level Stakeholders
A complex, high-stakes sale, by definition, will involve numerous stakeholders. Unfortunately, it will also involve challenges in reaching those stakeholders. Sales professionals often find themselves engaging procurement professionals before having a chance to speak with senior-level decision-makers.
Frequently, the initial contact is not the person who will make the final determination. Once the sales professional gains access, they need to understand the decision-makers’ needs, overcome their objections, and build trust. Following these guidelines will help sales professionals gain access to decision-makers during the process of pursuing a complex sale:
Build a Foundation for the Request: Requesting access to senior-level decision makers doesn’t mean bypassing the current contact. In fact, sales professionals should engage them. Doing so means recognizing the support they’ve provided so far. The sales professional must also illustrate a compelling case for a meeting with a senior team. The best way to do this is with a strong value statement.
Develop Resonant Messaging: The customer’s attention is fragmented across many responsibilities. Therefore, they need messaging that resonates early. Finding this resonance means sharing information that is relevant to the customer’s situation. Effective sales professionals do so by performing research in advance.
Build Trust through Transparency: Gaining access to senior-level decision makers requires trust. Building trust is difficult in selling scenarios because customers are aware that they are being sold to. Sales professionals can overcome this challenge by being transparent. They must show the customer their intent and the value it has for both parties.
Business challenges are becoming more complex. The result: Each buying journey is a new, uncharted path that must navigate financial and emotional barriers. Sales professionals need a stronger approach to overcome these challenges because, in a competitive landscape, every sale is complex.
To learn more about how to effectively execute complex sales and win more high-risk, high-reward deals download the White Paper: The 3 Keys to Winning the High-Stakes Sale
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