An excerpt of Selleration CEO Nick Rini’s interview with sales enablement expert, Don Mulhern.Before starting his own firm, Don rose through the ranks of Verizon’s sales organization to become from account manager to VP of Sales with several sales leadership positions in between.
Don’s experience isn’t limited to the corporate world. He has also spent time as an in-demand consultant and led sales teams at startups. Currently Don is Lead Partner, Sales & Marketing Performance at PVG Solutions where he focuses on transforming B2B sales teams.
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NR: “What is your definition of a complex sale?”
DM: “That is a great question. Different people define that differently. Let me define what I think is confusing for folks, and that is the difference between transactional and consultative selling. Some people would argue that a complex sale is a consultative sale. That is usually the case. But a transactional sale can also be a consultative sale. So I like to differentiate that.
To me a complex sale is first and foremost defined by the buying process. If the buying process is complex, than it’s a complex sales process. Now what do I mean by a complex sales process? There are a couple of characteristics of complex sales. First, the number of people involved (we’ll call them stakeholders) in influencing, or making the decision to purchase.
So, in a complex buying process you have more than one - the corporate executive board keeps upping the number, it was 5.7 on average now it’s 6.8 - stakeholders involved. I have worked in complex selling environments where there have been more than a dozen folks involved in making purchasing decisions. So, since it is complex in that regard, it makes the selling complex.
We have to understand each person. Their personal needs, business drivers, and political aspirations inside the company. We have to make sure we have a sense of how well each will support - or not support the sale. It takes time and skill to navigate.”
NR: “Do you see a complex sale as this big thing you have to manage, or do you break it down into microsales?”
DM: “I think it is both, Nick. I always look at a sale as a single sales process. It all has to come together and coalesce into a single buying decision of your service or product by that company.
However, I think your term “microsales” is very interesting and appropriate because you are dealing with different stakeholders with different perceptions of what you are bringing to the table, and there are different elements of value that they expect. Therefore, you have to pay attention to each one of those. You’ve got those microsales as you’ve named them inside the overall sales process. Bringing them all together is where the magic is.
So, I can go meet with stakeholders to find out whether they are for me, against me, or neutral and all those great things that we as salespeople should do during discovery and qualification of the complex deal. But if I can’t bring it all together and affect a purchase that actually brings value to the business, and isn’t chipped away by compromise along the way to satisfy all the different stakeholders, it’s a wasted effort. I don’t win. I don’t close it. So the magic isn’t just in those microsales, but in making it all come together around a solution that brings value to the business.”
NR: “With so many parties involved, you can have one that is going to be a foot-dragger and is just not going to be on board. How do you handle that?”
DM: “Carefully. It happens more often than that. It’s rare that everyone loves what we bring to the table in a situation where there are many stakeholders. So, when you talk about complex selling strategies, we obviously can’t ignore this stakeholder. They are not going to go away.
There are a few ways that we do that. One is understanding where the real power lies. Typically, people bring different levels of influence. So, who are the real power holders in this sale? The people who can influence, swing, or even do the deal if others are against it? That is one option.
If the naysayer has some power, you have to do your best to neutralize them and do something within the sales effort that helps them understand the value we are bringing to the business and to them professionally, and sometimes even their personal needs. At this point, it’s time to have some frank discussions about why they dislike your product or service, or even why they see it as a threat. It’s called resistance. We manage resistance or objections. If we do that effectively they will come around.”
Hear more of our discussion with Don Mulhern on navigating complex sales, on Sales Acceleration with Selleration on iTunes.