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  • Writer's pictureBlaž Mertelj

Complexity Kills Your Sales

We waited with anticipation, like so many millions, for the announcement of one of the greatest discoveries of this century (perhaps any century).

A distinguished scientist took centre stage and said a few scientific sentences. He concluded with the following words:

‘…they combine to give us a significance of 5 standard deviations…’

The audience broke into applause. That is how – The Higgs Boson (or God Particle) was announced to the world. You can see the video on YouTube.

Great science, but poor communication. But then it is a mistake that is made by many sales teams and buyers too.

Do You Keep It Simple?

The key thing to remember is, you are NOT selling features, but solutions to people's problems.

The question for sellers is: Are you driving for complexity when your customers really want things kept simple? We all do it for our own area of expertise – adding complexity and creating confusion in the following ways:

  • Focusing on features and feature related benefits, rather than exactly what the customer wants to achieve.

  • Getting into too much detail too fast and using technical language that most customers don’t understand or doesn't care about (yet) – we fail to check what the buyer wants to know.

  • Complicating the customers stated needs by proposing extras and add-ons that the customer didn’t ask for – we fail to measure exactly how much the customer needs the extras.

  • Failing to provide simple explanations, including visual representation, customer case studies – we make the dangerous assumption that the customer gets it.

  • Failing to find out how much the customer knows and understands and tailoring the solution and how it is communicate accordingly – we fail to test the level of sophistication of the customer and pre-qualify customers appropriately.

Selling too low down in the organization where the focus is on the features of the product, or solution being bought, as opposed to the results that are to be achieved.

Vendors are not perhaps the best placed to judge what level of complexity, or sophistication their customers need or want. All too often vendors are product, or technology led. There needs to be a change in sellers' way of thinking - and it's not as simple as telling them to simplify.

To turn a product driven person into a good salesman, they need proper sales methodology, sales tools, and perhaps most importantly, guidance through the change in mentality.

Buyers Can Over-Complicate Too

A key question for salespeople – are your prospects driving for complexity when they should be keeping it simple?

High involvement buying process and cross functional buying teams – have the potential to drive complexity up as opposed to down.

Buyers typically want more for less. That can lead to demands for the latest technology, the full list of features and a wish list of requirements.

Making assumptions about what the end user wants can be costly. Ask the end user, you may be surprised at the results.

It is the sellers job to ensure that the buyer does not over-complicate things.

Complexity Eats Competitive Advantage

The reality is that competitive advantage is rarely feature driven, it certainly is not complexity driven.

Keeping it simple should give the seller an edge. It means clearly demonstrating to the buyer the results that the solution will deliver . All else is secondary.. This means that most of the sale is done before actual technical specifications are discussed.

One of the most effective means of doing this is by means of credible customer success stories to which the buyer can relate to. What customer stories are you using to engage potential buyers?

Sell To Laggards, Not Innovators

A key mistake made by many sellers is to treat customers and prospects as early adopters and innovators. This flies in the face of the reality that most people are laggards when it comes to embracing complexity and technology.

In any respect most organizations don’t want early adopters and innovators making vitally important business decisions around technology, the risks are often too great.

So, the lesson for buyers as well as sellers is to treat end users as laggards, rather than innovators. That means putting a priority on reducing complexity.

Features Drive Complexity

Sellers try to outdo each other on features. But more features means more complexity and that isn’t necessarily a good thing - especially not in a sales process. Complexity can:

  • Cloud the results that the customer wants to achieve

  • Increase buying, technical, and other forms of risk to your sale

  • Slow adoption or implementation

  • Drive cost (direct and indirect) and increase the total cost of ownership.

Even if you do sell a complex solution, the key question is: ‘Just how much complexity does the customer want, or can the customer cope with?’

The ‘S’ In Selling Stands For Simplify

Making the complex simplified is the job of the salesperson. That means managing the level of complexity and adjusting it to the profile of the customer.

Here are some tips that will help you to make a make a virtue out of simplicity in selling:

  • Your solution is more complex than you think it is. Complexity is in the eye of the beholder – as seller we all too often underestimate the level of perceived complexity of our solutions.

  • Engage more effectively with the customer in understanding needs and exploring solutions.

  • Meet the customer where he or she is at by measuring the customers level of sophistication/complexity/maturity.

  • Simplify the decision, break it down into its component parts and explain it more clearly and more slowly.

  • Let people play with your solution, providing trials, phased implementation, etc.

  • Provide a solution that grows with the customer in terms of level of complexity, but start simple.

  • Simplify the solution for the buying team – break it down into its components, strip it back and focus on selling the solution before selling features.

  • Analyze needs by buying team member end user usage scenarios.

  • Align your solution with the people and processes and systems of the organization. You need different approaches for buyers, users, deciders, etc.

Don't lose customers because your think your solution is too complex to be simple!

Sourced from John O' Gorman: Are You Selling Like A Scientist? from

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