Selling used to be easier. As a salesperson, you might have called on a decision-maker once or twice. Often, you and your contact were the only people in the room. If you performed well, your contact would sign a contract. While you could expect objections and a negotiation over price, selling was relatively straightforward. Over time, leaders decided that it was better to have their teams make buying decisions and hold them accountable for results. This resulted in complex buying behaviors, which have changed how we sell.
To improve your sales results, it's important to recognize complex buying behaviors and figure out how to address them. Salespeople who cannot address their prospective clients’ needs will have a tougher time winning new deals. The following sections outline complex buying behaviors in the order clients tend to demonstrate them.
Complex Buying Behavior 1: Identifying a Complex Need
The first behavior you will notice is that the prospective client identifies a complex need. This can cause problems for salespeople who cannot provide something that fulfills all aspects of a client’s need. Often, complex needs emerge in scenarios where you have the right product or service, but you cannot meet the client’s delivery requirements. In such cases, you may have to adjust how you deliver to a client with complex needs, or help them change how they use what you sell. Regardless of how the complex need could be fulfilled, this buying behavior creates a challenge for the salesperson and their company.
Complex Buying Behavior 2: Perceiving Risk
Because you sell every day, you know that you can help the client achieve the better outcomes they need. Your client doesn't have the same experience as you, so they often perceive a higher level of risk, whether it’s due to their own failure—or because you failed them. Your contacts worry about financial risks, execution risks that might disrupt their operations, and reputation risks should things go wrong. When this buying behavior comes into play, offering certainty can be the best approach.
I recommend doing so with a two-part strategy. Early in the sales conversation, you address the certainty of the negative results the client will face if they decide not to change. Use your experience to take a long view, so the client fully understands the risks and implications of continuing with the status quo. This will help them perceive the risks of their current situation, which can offer a new perspective of the risks they perceive as coming with change. Later in the sales conversation, you must provide certainty of positive outcomes. (You will find more on this strategy in Elite Sales Strategies: A Guide to Being One-Up, Creating Value, and Becoming Truly Consultative)
Complex Buying Behavior 3: Deliberating during Decision Making
One reason sales cycles are growing longer is because buyers want to get their decisions right. When the client's need is complex and comes with risk, people deliberate. They also talk to multiple sales organizations and explore their options.
Attempts to shorten the deliberation will often cause your contacts to look for someone who will facilitate their deliberation and decision-making. Your role as a salesperson is to help your prospective clients understand what factors they need to consider, how to weigh those factors, and what your contacts will need to do to succeed.
Complex Buying Behavior 4: Seeking Organizational Consensus
In Eat Their Lunch: Winning Customers Away from Your Competition, I described consensus as existing on a vertical or horizontal plane. Buyers used to seek consensus among the people in the department making a purchase. Soon after that, other departments were invited to help make the decision. Seeking organizational consensus can be a time-consuming and challenging behavior to work through.
Not only does seeking consensus slow the process, but it also causes your opportunities to stall as a diverse group of people with different opinions and needs can't come to an agreement. This is strongly connected to the next section in Complex Buying Behavior 5.
Complex Buying Behavior 5: Allowing Decision Criteria to Compete
When a department is buying something complex, the people making the purchase will have specific decision criteria to ensure they get the better outcomes they need. Once other departments join the conversation, new and competing decision criteria are introduced into the conversation.
The simplest way to think of this is that you have the product or service that your contacts need, but procurement wants a lower price. At a lower price you cannot produce the outcomes your contacts need. In another example, a department that is tangentially related to the one making the decision might suggest that your company is too small and it's safer to go with a larger company. It is difficult to navigate these competing decision criteria.
Complex Buying Behavior 6: Extensive Researching
When an organization recognizes that they need to change how they do something, different stakeholders research different companies and approaches. When different people look at different information, it can create greater complexity, making it difficult for the buyer and the salesperson trying to help their client. Because they lack experience with the type of decision they are facing, buyers often struggle to wrangle all the information and perspectives they find.
Your role is to help make sense of the information that your contacts have acquired by providing an education as to when and why something works or doesn't work. There are strategies you can use to provide this help without saying a bad word about your competitors.
Complex Buying Behavior 7: Using Long Decision Timelines
The more complex the outcome or decision, the longer it can take for a prospective client to reach a decision. No one wants to make a bad decision, so buyers often spend an excessive amount of time researching and deliberating. Despite this, there is evidence that buyers often make decisions they later regret. Long decision times do not typically result in higher satisfaction with the final purchase. A salesperson can help shorten long decision timelines only by helping with the buying process and removing some of the complexity for clients.
When a client is using a long decision timeline, you are better off investing more time in the deal than trying to speed a complex sale to the close. More time creates greater certainty, less time creates greater uncertainty.
Complex Buying Behavior 8: Worrying about the Impact on the Business
The more important the outcome, the more you can expect your clients to worry about the impact of the purchase on their business. As the stakes of a decision get higher, clients will need more help to work through their buying decision. This will ensure their decision will have a positive impact.
Why Legacy Approaches Fail with Complex Buying Behaviors
The legacy approaches were not designed to address the complex buying behaviors in today's B2B sales environment. Today, effective selling means having a greater recognition of the difficulties your client has when buying and understanding how to address them.
When we talk about the modern sales approach, we are talking about the new strategies and tactics we use to create greater value in the sales conversation, addressing the complex buying behaviors that are not going away soon. If you struggle with the challenges listed above, it's time to change your sales approach.