Tough to Close Complex Sales? It’s Your Thinking.

Complex selling, over the last decade, jumped out of its traditional skin and into a more progressive and personalized style that more closely parallels how prospects like to buy.

When an organization or an individual deals with a complex product or service, they undergo a process, not a single event. That’s why it is essential to adapt the marketing and selling process to match this specific buying/decision making process. What’s more, it’s especially important to learn exactly who has the power, directly or indirectly, to influence the prospect’s final decision.

Find a Need and Fill It

Before complex selling grew into the discipline it is today, one would assume the prospect had a need, and then create a discussion around how his or her product fit, then try to close the sale. Those days, if they ever existed, are gone.

Sales professionals take a much different approach today. First, they don’t assume there is a need. Instead, they do their research, and invest quality time with the prospect in a collaborative meeting, posing well-considered questions and, as the answers flow, they search for the ideal fit between prospect need and the solution offered.

What drives the unfolding of a complex sale should be a well-thought out, educationally based marketing and sales strategy. And here’s why:

How Prospects Think

Prospects go through their process at first by doing a great deal of online research on their own, ahead of meeting with sales types. Then, they begin their thinking process. We know there exists three styles of thinking prospects put into operation every time they grapple with a decision.

These thinking styles were differentiated several decades ago by psychologist J.P. Guilford in his book The Nature of Human Intelligence. His clinical research showed that human decision-making involves three distinct but interrelated thinking processes, which serve the decision-maker much like computer subprograms. Even though the subprograms are different from and independent of each other, they almost always appear in the same order or sequence.

  1. Cognition thinking enables decision-makers to understand the situation he or she faces.
  2. Divergent thinking helps the person to explore options and solutions.
  3. Convergent thinking guides the person toward selecting the best solution.

Robert Miller and Stephen Heiman, in their best-selling book The New Conceptual Selling, expanded on Dr. Guilford’s research. Later, through the Miller Heiman Research Institute, even deeper study was conducted to gain a better perspective on how the complex sale relates to business-to-business selling.

I have found in my 30-plus years of selling that when you study decision making, people intuitively think through complex subjects in this fascinating sequence of cognition—divergence—convergence.

So why should you care about this?

Because if you fail to step back, slow down and size up the sales situation and give your prospect ample time to fully understand the issues faced, plus lend a hand to quantify the impact on his business, you’ll lose the sale.

Hold Back on Features/Benefits

Unless the prospect recognizes and quantifies his own thorny issue, he won’t be motivated to move the sales process forward. Imagine how easily the pieces of a complex sale can fall apart: If you pitch product features and benefits in the cognition phase, you will unwittingly extend the sales process and, then, prospects typically continue with the status quo.

The cognition phase is so important to understand and honor; it frustrates me to see sales people ignore the research and strategic questioning required to move through this phase.

Once your prospect recognizes his issue and quantifies it, he then needs to think through the alternative solutions, the divergent phase. Again, if you jump in to talk product, you will frustrate the prospect, who then may go on the defensivehe’ll know you’re only interested in selling your product.

Beauty of Self-Discovery

If your product fits, the prospect will buy. No selling needed. But you must help the prospect look at all the solutions, including doing nothing, so he grasps what solutions are available to him. When you educate and inform during this cognition phase, prospects actually self-discover your solution.

If you follow this thinking, the convergent phase will kick in, and prospects will see your products and services as the best solution. It works. I experience in the field regularly.

Besides, this tripartite thinking gives the sales person much more control, and a lot more flexibility, because he’s viewed by the prospect as a trusted advisor. That means no selling needed.

Best of all, the approach creates long-lasting relationships with your eventual clients or customers.

See you on the upside,


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