June 1

Presentation strategies for the complex sale


The complex sale provides unique challenges for salespeople in all stages of the process, and the presentation or demonstration is no exception. Products like technology, infrastructure, design and construction projects often involve a series of presentations and/or demonstrations. They are a major investment of time, effort and commitment on both your end and the customers, so it’s critical to understand the dynamics going into the presentation, including:

Multiple decision makers. Because of the large price tag, impact on the organization, and a high perceived risk, there is typically more than one decision-maker and multiple stake-holders involved in the process. To win the complex sale you must convince the majority of these decision-makers to buy your product − even though they may not all be at your presentation.

Presenting as a team. If you’re involved in a complex sale, you are very likely part of a sales team. How you communicate and interact as a team during your presentation shows your customer what it’s going to be like to work with you as a partner. Unprepared or uninvolved team members, interruptions or discord can make your customer hesitant to move forward with your company and leave room for a competitor to sneak by.

Working with an RFP. Often in a purchase of this magnitude the customer has established their buying criteria and outlined what they expect to see in a presentation and/or demonstration through their RFP, or request for proposal. It’s extremely likely that the “script” they ask you to follow does not show your product or service in its best light. Instead it is an easy way for your customer to check off features on a list or give you a score and compare you to your competition to arrive at a decision. How you handle – or don’t handle – this can greatly affect how your presentation is perceived.

Competing with the status quo. Doing nothing is often your greatest competitor in a complex sale. Large, whole scale change can be frightening for a more risk-adverse organization to embark on. Many sellers are caught off guard when no one wins the deal because they have built their entire presentation around the question of “Why buy us?” instead of the more accurate “Why buy?”

Presentation strategies for the complex sale

Good presentation strategies for complex sales start at the beginning of the sales process. By thinking ahead you can put yourself and your team in a position to win with these 4 strategies:

1. Get an advocate. Finding someone within the organization who can provide you with insights into the decision-making process or help you gain access to other decision-makers is crucial in a complex sale. Make sure your advocate has the tools they need to carry your message internally to decision-makers who won’t be at the presentation.

2. Do discovery. The stakes are high so don’t settle for a cursory on-line discovery process. Determine who you need to speak to in your customer’s organization to get insight into the current status and the impact of the problem. Find out who and what is driving the change and what KPI (key performance indicators) they will be using to evaluate the change.  Find out the  5 things you must do in your discovery here.

3. Push back on bad scripts. If the script you’re asked to follow in your presentation or demo is not going to give your customer a good or fair understanding of your solution, don’t just grumble about it to your team members. Keep in mind your prospect may not have experience buying your product and you are in a position to provide some direction in this area. Propose a better script and provide your reasoning behind it to your prospect. Yes, it’s a bit more work, but it’s worth it to have a structure that shows your product or solution in its best light and makes it easier for your prospect to make a more informed decision.

4.  Don’t forget “do nothing.” Many salespeople get so focused on competing with other vendors that they forget to address the often larger contender in the race – the status quo. Digging into this area when you’re doing discovery will help you prepare for this common challenge. Find out what would keep your customer from changing. Typically it’s a fear of change, out-sized perception of risk, or a belief that the current solution is “not really that bad.” Discovering the real underlying issue that may keep your customer from moving forward and addressing it in your presentation is of utmost important in a complex sale and can speed up the sales cycle and avoid a lot of disappointment down the road.


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  1. Some very solid tips for presentations here. It’s often a challenge to explain ideas to someone who knows little about it, especially when it’s a very complicated topic. Thanks for sharing your advice!

    1. Thanks Jordan. I think it’s easy to fall under the “curse of knowledge” – salespeople are often so familiar with their solution it’s difficult to go back in time and remember what it was like to be a beginner!

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