Problem: Mark was a high tech salesperson, selling complex hardware and software solutions to distribution companies. Relatively new to the job, his ability to close was frustratingly poor. But he was in good company, as the other salespeople in the company suffered from the same problem.
Diagnosis: Bernie was Mark’s sales manager, and was “old school.” He was a disciple of J. Douglas Edwards who, along with Dale Carnegie, were early pioneers in sales training. Bernie has been in sales for 30 years and had learned his craft well. He was proud of the fact that he had been successful selling a variety of products, starting with vacuum cleaners and progressing to aluminum siding, and then retail computer parts before landing a job with a hard drive manufacturer. Recently, he convinced the president of this company to hire him to manage the sales effort. He loved to regale his troops about his closing prowess, telling them that the best salespeople were the ones who could sell something to someone who didn’t need it. Of course, his techniques were highly manipulative but they worked well in vacuum cleaners and aluminum siding (remember the movie Tin Men?) He subscribed to many sales technique blogs and required his people to memorize the closes. The sales trainers he hired to train his people reinforced these manipulative techniques. “Tell them our story and then go for the close,” exhorted Bernie as he rehearsed his people in selling features and benefits. Of course, Bernie was the problem.
Prescription: Bernie, like too many other sales managers, failed to realize that there’s a big difference between the simple sale (vacuums, siding and other “commodity” type products) and the complex sale. A short selling cycle where quick decisions are made primarily on price characterizes the simple sale. It’s basically a transaction. The consumer knows the product well and is mostly concerned with price and availability. The salesperson brings little to the relationship, except the ability to agree to a lower price in order to get the order. The problem was that Bernie’s company sold complex solutions to a sophisticated customer. The complex sale is characterized by a longer selling cycle, multiple decision makers and influencers, a relatively large financial investment, and a high degree of risk for the buyer if a wrong decision is made. In a complex sale, the relationship between buyer and seller is key because it’s typically not a one shot deal; the seller will be involved well past the contract signing. For that reason, manipulative techniques simply turn off the buyer.
The complex sale must be consultative. The seller must be able to understand the buyer’s issues and then prescribe a solution. When a seller can do this, he brings value to the relationship. If you’re in a complex sale business and you treat the sale as a simple transaction, you’ll never reach your true potential.