What Is Complex Selling? [+Examples]

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Flori Needle
Flori Needle


Understanding different sales processes and their methodologies is crucial to mastering the art of closing deals.

Whether you're new to sales or a seasoned salesperson, you know that sales strategies vary depending on the deal you're trying to close.

sales representative conducting a complex sale

While transactional sales are typical in dealing with small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), enterprise companies call for a different process. The cycle is longer, as salespeople spend a significant amount of time understanding the business pain points and providing solutions tailored to their needs.

Enterprise sales also involve multiple stakeholders, and the salesperson is typically in conversation with numerous people before deals are closed. These deals often come with a higher price point, so a lengthy cycle that goes in-depth with multiple people alleviates the perceived buyer risk from closing high-cost deals.

Because of the intricacies involved in this process, enterprise deals are referred to as complex sales.

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Complex sales are most common in B2B sales environments. They can also occur in consumer-focused settings, like deals made when purchasing a house, but this less common.

Overall, a complex sale is marked by three key elements: higher perceived risk resulting from higher price points, a longer sales cycle (6+ months), and multiple stakeholders.

Key Elements Of Complex Selling

Unlike transactional sales, closing a complex deal means convincing multiple stakeholders. Depending on the industry, the number of stakeholders and their position in the company can vary. For example, suppose you're selling technical software. The final decision-maker may be the Chief Engineering Officer, but that could change to the People Operations Executive if you’re selling a productivity service.

However, in this example, the chief executive is the last person you’ll have to convince, and there's likely a series of people below C-Suite that will be involved in the process. Gone are the days of needing to persuade one person to buy your product — now it might be five, or even 10. It's also possible that you may never meet all the people involved in the buying process.

A complex sales process is also longer than a transactional sale — it may last anywhere from six to 24 months. A longer sales cycle allows all invested parties to take the time to understand the product and its benefits. Getting multiple approvals ensures that various people have all agreed on the adequacy of the product you’re selling.

Similarly, having the time to obtain multiple approvals alleviates the risk involved in complex sales. Large companies stand to lose thousands, even millions, if they approve deals that don’t solve their pain points adequately. As such, most large companies face longer sales cycles to address all necessary factors involved in the deals.

You can think about it like this: someone buying a new microwave may walk into Sears, talk to one salesperson, and leave with their new appliance an hour later. They probably don’t need to call their boss or their neighbor for approval — it’s just a microwave. On the other hand, an employee at a large company searching for a new Content Management System has a few more decision layers to get through. Finance needs to approve the cost, the IT team needs to understand how to troubleshoot the system and whether it’s secure, and Marketing needs to agree on the usefulness of the service before signing the deal and handing over a check. A purchase that involves more stakeholders takes more time, thus becoming a complex sale.

The Stages of a Complex Sales Cycle

Despite their differences, the complex sales cycle typically mirrors the stages of transactional sales cycles. The cycle includes four stages: Discovery, Qualification and Diagnosis, Proposal, and Closing.

Discovery Stage

During this phase, you’ll familiarize yourself with the business you’re selling to.

Consulting with the business will provide you with an understanding of their pain points and expectations so you can get a clear picture of how your tool can address those problems.

You'll also want to use this stage to find out everything you can about the stakeholders and their relationships to the service you're selling. For example, are you going to be speaking to the IT team that will troubleshoot your software? This information will help you outline how the service you are offering will meet their needs.

Gathering detailed information from your client during this stage will make it easier for you to be successful as you move through the sales process and eventually close the deal.

Qualification and Diagnosis Stage

During this stage, you'll use the information gathered during discovery to begin diagnosing your prospect’s issues.

Understanding the business’s pain points and how your product can solve them will make it clear why your solution is the best option.

If you can convince your prospect that not addressing the diagnosis will negatively affect their future growth, they’ll be eager to engage with your solutions.

Proposal Stage

During this stage, you'll use your diagnosis to present stakeholders with detailed examples of how your solution addresses and solves their pain points. For instance, you may want to include testimonials or case studies from other businesses you’ve successfully helped.

You want to be confident in your solutions, and the stakeholders want to be confident in your understanding of their situation. You’ll need to convince the prospects that your service is the best option. Since these deals likely include multiple complex solutions, providing them with a detailed proposal accompanied by other visual aids and presentations will give them a well-rounded view of your offer.

Closing Stage

After you've convinced all stakeholders of the benefits of your service, you'll close the deal. What differentiates a complex sales closing stage from that of transactional sales is the final contract, which addresses significantly more solutions. A regular contract may outline one or two solutions, but your complex deal may address ten.

Maintaining contact with the client and presenting yourself as a resource after the deal is finalized shows them that you’re eager to help them should any issues arise. If this deal is part of a contract, maintaining a relationship can ensure that the contract is renewed.

Complex Sales Example

While there are a variety of industries in which they may occur, complex sales typically involve a significant change to the business’s structure or operations.

For example, commercial insurance sales are complex deals. A business must understand how the proposed policy will affect both its employees and ownership. Since all companies have different needs, commercial insurance can come in many various forms that become further customized depending on the complexity of the clients’ needs. As businesses grow, they need solutions that fit their need to scale.

In sum, complex sales involve higher price points and more stakeholders than transactional sales. While the outcomes of both sales cycles are closed deals, the complex sales processes require a lengthier process to ensure that all involved parties approve of the service being purchased and its benefits for all aspects of the business.

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