Winning Strategies to Succeed in Complex Sales

So, you’re playing in the big leagues now. You are involved in high-stakes, high-return, multi-faceted sales, but has something changed? Are you finding that the skills that won sales for you in the past just aren’t working as effectively today?

If you sell business-to-business or business-to-government, chances are your transactions involve long sales cycles and require multiple decisions from multiple people at multiple levels of power and influence. The days of presenting and closing simple, specified solutions to buyers making simple, low-risk business decisions are over. You have to juggle conflicting perspectives from a variety of people in several different companies, including yours, that may even cross national and cultural borders. You have made it to the high stakes world of the complex sale, and you are going to have to ratchet up your skills and disciplines if you are going to compete and succeed.

When salespeople use a conventional sales process in a complex situation, they are like major league pitchers hurling 90 mile-per-hour fastballs at batters who may be at the plate for the very first time. What are the chances that such batters will connect? In a complex sales situation, customers don’t get up to bat that often. Yet, salespeople continue to pitch reams of solution data at customers, leaving them alone to try to comprehend, sort and connect all of that information to their world, on their own. A salesperson wants the customer to connect. But if he keeps hurling those fastballs, the customer is going to just keep striking out. And a strikeout for the customer is a strikeout for the sales team.

What is required is a systematic approach to turning complex sales solutions into winning proposals. A system called Diagnostic Business Development® – that is based on over 20 years of observing top-notch sales professionals bringing in the high-stakes sales.

Diagnostic Business Development is a meta-process that can be overlaid on any complex sale. It provides a navigable path from the first step of identifying potential customers, through the sale itself and on to expanding and retaining profitable customer relationships. It is a reengineering of the conventional sales process and it directly addresses the challenges that salespeople face while trying to master complex sales in today’s marketplace.

The Diagnostic Business Development process encompasses four phases: Discover, Diagnose, Design and Deliver:

Discover. Every sale starts at the same place – identifying the customer. If you are going after the complex sale, the Discover phase is your opportunity to set the stage for a compelling engagement and a continuing relationship based on trust and respect. You push beyond the traditional boundaries of prospecting to create a solid foundation on which to build a long-term, profitable relationship. It is at this stage that the customer and the salesperson mutually decide whether the engagement should continue.

Diagnose. Unlike conventional selling, where the sale is made at the “close” and the needs analysis is more of a smokescreen for positioning your solution, the Diagnose phase is where the customer will make the decision whether to change/buy, and from whom. In the complex sale, the decision is more about should we change (the problem or lack of opportunity) than what should we buy (the solution). Diagnosis is meant to maximize the customer’s objective awareness of her dissatisfaction, whether or not that dissatisfaction supports the salesperson’s offerings. The salesperson assists the customer in understanding her situation and, as a result, reinforces his credibility by refusing to alter the customer’s reality to fit his needs.

Design. Design is where the sales professional helps the customer create and understand the solution. It is a collaborative and highly interactive effort to help the customer sort through her expectations and alternatives to arrive at the optimal solution. Solutions are addressed by introducing and exploring alternatives, including solutions offered by competitors. The goal is to create a solution framework that best solves the customer’s problems and manages her expectations. At the conclusion of this phase, a “Discussion Document” is created, which provides a pencil sketch of the solution.

Deliver. By now, the customer has a clear understanding of their problem and knows what the best solution will look like. She is the co-author of that solution; there are no “objections.” This phase begins with the preparation and presentation of a formal proposal and the customer’s subsequent formal acceptance of the solution. Next come the implementation and support of the solution and the measurement and evaluation of results. Finally, the Deliver phase includes the maintenance and growth of the sales team’s relationship with the customer.

Conventional selling simply doesn’t work in the complex sales environment. They must learn how to avoid common sales pitfalls such as becoming an unpaid consultant or engaging in never-ending dry runs, both instances where time is wasted and sales are never made. Most importantly sales professionals must learn how to make the transition from thinking like a salesperson to thinking like a businessperson.

The often ignored reality is that customers need outside expertise to help them understand the problems they face, and in designing the optimal solutions to those problems and in implementing those solutions. It is up to you to provide the expertise and guidance your customers need. See yourself as a project manager that guides your customer through a quality decision process. That is one of the secrets to succeeding at the complex sale. That is how to hit a home run for you and the customer.

© 2007 – 2014, Jeff Thull. All rights reserved.