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Where does the “complex” in “complex sales” come from?

At Every Turn TakeTurns Blog
|  by
Ken Brown
Ken Brown
Where does the “complex” in “complex sales” come from?

Many people are surprised at how complicated enterprise sales can be. On some days, it feels like the infamous Herding Cats Superbowl ad

The literature covers this extensively. For example, Gartner (with analysts like Hank Barnes and Michelle Buckley) has been writing about this for years. In fact, Gartner’s illustrative view of the B2B buying journey is one of the finest illustrations of how the journey to closed-won is often a long and winding road

The B2B Buying Journey, by Gartner Research

What makes an enterprise sale a complex sale? 

For purposes of this article, let’s use enterprise technology sales (software, hardware, telecom, SaaS, et al) as a model for complexity.  There are certainly other possibilities, but because so many corporate resources are devoted to technology, it makes for a broadly relatable example. 

While the reasons for complexity are legion, here are the top reasons:

Large Buying Teams

Recent research from IDC Foundry highlights this. When looking at buyers, IDC/Foundry found that, on average, a buying group consists of twenty-five influencers, with larger organizations (1000+ people globally) reporting team sizes as high as thirty-three. While these numbers are large, it’s worth noting that the total team size is larger than the core team of people who will work with your sales professionals on a day-to-day basis. Gartner pegs that number somewhere between six and ten, depending on the company's size (again, larger organizations have larger teams).

This means many account executives keep close tabs on a core team of about six to ten people. However, they also need to routinely touch a much broader audience of project influencers to connect the dots for the organization. 

Multifaceted Buying Teams 

Buying teams are not homogenous and they’ve become a lot broader over the years.  Continuing our enterprise technology example, long gone are the days when business stakeholders simply spoke to someone in IT or procurement to acquire a technology solution to a business problem. Today, these buying teams are cross-functional, with a nearly even split between the line of business and IT (between twelve users from the line of business and thirteen from IT, or sixteen from the line of business and seventeen from IT in larger organizations).  In addition, the breadth of IT buyers has changed over time as well. For example, today, nearly every deal includes cybersecurity professionals because security, privacy, and confidentiality are persistent concerns for many enterprise buyers.  

The addition of line-of-business buyers means sales teams must manage and navigate a business-focused set of perspectives and requirements and move beyond typical IT-centric concerns alone.  This is presumably one of the main reasons functionality and ease of use have joined the criteria organizations commonly use for selecting software. 

Organizational demands and scrutiny 

We also ought to remember the complex teams on the buyer side only represent half of the coordination and collaboration challenge sales teams bear. 

Sellers have a long list of people to keep informed about their progress in an opportunity, including, but not limited to, the sales management chain of command, partners, internal partner organizations, sales engineering, product, the list goes on. Depending on the size and nature of the deal, visibility could go all the way up to the chief revenue officer and executive sponsors if the deal is deemed especially important or strategic. 

But it’s not just status updates. Because of the increasing sophistication of their buyers’ teams, sales teams must collaborate with a far broader range of internal resources than before. This could include compliance (to respond to cybersecurity inquiries), industry marketing/vertical overlays  (to help position the solution for the business users), or even value engineering (to respond to questions around deal economics).  And of course, there remains the typical complement of sales engineering and services staff that will often help respond to the product functionality and technical architecture questions and execute critical technical proof points such as PoCs, pilots, and demos.  

Long deal cycles

To add insult to injury,  it’s now taking longer to close. 

IDC reports that the entire enterprise purchase process is now, on average, 6.5 months, with a quarter of their respondents reporting their deals are taking twelve or more months to close.  This is broadly consistent with Gartner's reporting. Gartner has found that about 82% of organizations report taking between one and six months just to evaluate the solution (e.g., RFx review, demos, PoCs, Pilots, etc.).

Many sales professionals are trapped on an interminable journey on a leaky boat between their prospects' unending, multifaceted questions and management's unquenchable need for revenue predictability.

What do sales professionals say? 

If all this sounds stressful, it is. In fact, sales professionals report high levels of dissatisfaction, with recent surveys finding that up to 86% of sellers report some burnout. This is an issue for sales organizations because sellers who are burned out typically fall short on quota and/or quit, leaving open headcount and unassigned quota—an expensive problem for the organization.

When asked about root causes, many sellers report struggling with the required volume of administrative work: 77% struggle to efficiently complete their assigned tasks (e.g., updating the CRM and any number of new RevTech tools), and 49% of sellers feel overwhelmed by the number of technologies needed to do their work. 

Common problems sales teams face

Administrative burdens and email

Given the number of people sales teams need to communicate with and given the length of many of these deals, is it any wonder many professionals exclaim: “I’m buried in my email inbox. I hardly have a spare minute to think about bigger priorities!” 

A big part of this is keeping up with the volume of emails and email requests from prospects. Shunting efforts towards these kinds of administrative tasks means precious little time to work with the prospect and focus on prospect engagement. For example, collaborating with the prospect on documents like joint success or go-live plans (or any of the other document methodologies like MEDDICC advise that sales teams work on with prospects). 

As the methodologies point out, these documents are valuable for building engagement with critical members of the buying team (e.g., coaches and sponsors), obtaining critical information to help your team assess solution fit, and creating documents your prospect team can use to advocate for their project, your solution, and its value internally

Challenges getting the internal team (everyone other than sales) on the same page

Remember, external stakeholders aren’t the only folks sales need to coordinate with. Another reason why sellers are “buried in their inboxes” is because they need to find important information correspondence, documents, and data from the prospect for internal stakeholders.  For example, sales teams might be combing through their inbox to find:

  • Copies of the Cybersecurity RFI for their security team
  • NDA and NDA redlines for legal
  • Demo/PoC requirements and success criteria for sales engineering
  • Technical architecture questions for engineering 
  • Questions about help, technical support for the support team, and customer success

And the list goes on, and can get even more complicated when you go to contracts!

Most organizations will claim their sales teams are extremely disciplined, loading these documents into the CRM and thereafter keeping it up to date.  When accurate, this might be useful for sales management or sales ops. Other internal stakeholders might not have access to the CRM, however. In addition, they won’t have the facts and data from the opportunity to fully understand the prospect documents. The upshot is that even having the world's most highly-curated CRM will still result in a situation where more emails are being sent by salespeople.  They’ll be forwarding attachments and email threads to all those internal teams that don’t have access to the CRM. And of course, email invites to Zoom meetings to explain the content since the other stakeholders typically lack context.

External collaboration tools increase sales efficacy

What if there was a way to address the complexity we find in sales today? 

There is! External collaboration platforms, such as TakeTurns, hold much promise in this regard. The TakeTurns approach does not require sales teams to replace their CRM systems. In fact, it bridges the gap between buyers, sellers, and their internal tools (ERP and CRM respectively).  

Consider that most sellers today use email to collaborate with prospects and customers. Traditional email communications can hinder sales efficiency. Emails are easy to overlook, often get lost, and can be hard to organize effectively. This creates significant challenges for sales teams when trying to maintain timely and clear communication with prospects.  

According to Amazon’s State of Procurement Study buyers want to spend less time 'trying to contact suppliers for information, updates, or corrections.' This is a clear indication that the disjointed nature of email communication can frustrate buyers and stall the sales process. The desire to waste less time chasing vendors is only going to get stronger as many procurement teams expect near double digit increases in workload without commensurate increases in either headcount or operating budget.

TakeTurns addresses these challenges by centralizing file sharing and communications, making it easier for teams to request reviews, share documents, ask questions, discuss issues, and track deadlines all in one place. This not only reduces the administrative burden but also significantly decreases the chance of miscommunication and delays that are commonplace with email-based interactions.

But it’s not just the admin issues. 

TakeTurns supports better prospect engagement by creating a secure, centralized platform that’s simple to use enabling both the buyer’s and seller’s teams to cooperatively define the project and its success metrics. The effect is a mutually deepened insight into the prospect’s unique needs and challenges, while also enhancing the prospect's understanding of how the offered solutions fit their specific requirements.

The reality is that buyers want to collaborate, especially with your product experts. In fact, Forrester has found that buyers rank discussions with your product experts as the most meaningful interactions in the sales cycle. They predict that sales organizations that can best foster meaningful collaboration will see an uptick in activity early in the sales process (freezeing out competitors) and more meaningful engagement late in the process. Using an external collaboration platform, like TakeTurns, increases the expectation of closing deals more predictably and more quickly.

Finally, having a single place to understand all the context about the opportunity saves time and energy for internal teams too.  Most organizations have tried to improve internal collaboration by adding many, many new tools—messaging (Slack, Teams), file sharing (Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive), etc. The challenge with all these tools is most don’t focus on that critical external collaboration between the buyer and seller, so sales teams still end up forwarding along attachments and email threads. 

With TakeTurns, sales managers have a place to verify the level of prospect/client engagement their reps are recording in the CRM.  And the other internal stakeholders—internal partner organizations, sales engineering, product, etc—have a place, not only, to see the opportunity and all its details, but also, to understand the opportunity in one place.   Above all, TakeTurns makes life less annoyingly administrative for everyone … and who wouldn’t want that?

To see TakeTurns in action, visit our demo page, or contact us to schedule a time to chat. 

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