What Is a Complex Sale?

Definition & Examples of a Complex Sale

Husband and wife shake hands with a salesperson.
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A complex sale is one that includes more than one decision-maker. To close a complex sale, a salesperson must convince at least a majority of the decision-makers, rather than needing to influence just one person.

Learn more about what's involved in complex sales and tips for closing them.

What Is a Complex Sale?

Complex sales usually involve a longer sales cycle (a year or more), multiple stakeholders and decisionmakers, and oftentimes a high purchase price. They're also often business-to-business (B2B) sales, though not necessarily so.

In a complex sale, the buyers may perceive the purchase to be a high-risk one, whether due to price or the stakes of making the wrong decision, and may require a lengthy process of deliberation.

  • Alternate name: Enterprise sale

How Complex Sales Work

Complex sales are especially common in large B2B sales environments. In B2B sales, the chief decision-maker is usually either the executive who controls the relevant sphere of authority (for example, the chief technology officer for technology sales) or the person in charge of all purchasing operations.

Other interested parties might include the chief decision-maker's assistant and gatekeeper. Or you might need to convince the product's intended users, the person or people who will be responsible for setting up and maintaining the product, members of the company's legal team, or others.

In B2B sales, you may be required to submit a proposal outlining your pitch for consideration by the stakeholders.

In consumer sales situations, the decision-makers may include a spouse, children, or roommates. One example of a complex consumer sale is in real estate. It's high stakes for the buyer, it involves a lengthy process of deliberation, closing the sale can take weeks or months, and the sale can require convincing more than one decision-maker.

Usually, there will be one decision-maker who is responsible for making the final decision, while the other decision-makers, who have a stake in the purchase for one reason or another, will try to influence the chief decision-maker.

Complex sales of any type are further complicated by existing politics and power struggles within the decision-making team. For example, a company vice president engaged in a power struggle with the head of another department might either support or oppose the sale based on factors that have nothing to do with you.

Similarly, if you are selling to a couple who have had an ongoing argument about what type of product to buy, you might be taken by surprise by their reactions to your pitch. It's likely their unexpected response is based on earlier discussions between them.

Using an Advocate

The best way to make these internal struggles work for you in closing the sale is to get an advocate on the inside. Ideally, this advocate will be one of the decision-makers, but you can make do with someone who understands what makes the decision-makers tick (for example, a decision maker's assistant).

An advocate can also clue you in as to who has the control of the purchasing process and who merely has influence. They can fill you in on the details of past sales and what issues will matter most to the decision-makers.

Often the ideal advocate is the gatekeeper—the person who controls access to the various decision-makers. This person can either make it easy or impossible for you to reach them directly. They also usually know all the stakeholders as opposed to being familiar with just one department.

Also, the gatekeeper usually has the least to lose if your product doesn't work out, so they are probably more willing to take the risk of helping you than other decision-makers whose jobs might be on the line.

Another useful advocate in a complex sale is the person who has the most to gain from your product's particular benefits.

For example, let's say that you're selling a cloud-based software package that takes the place of traditional on-site software. A little questioning uncovers the fact that the chief technology officer (CTO) is over budget and trying to reduce spending as much as possible.

You can then point out that your cloud-based system will save lots of money by eliminating the need for on-site maintenance and for hardware to host the package. Showing the CTO how your product can solve their problem can turn the CTO into your advocate.

With them on your side as you work with other decision-makers, you'll have an excellent opportunity to close the sale.

Key Takeaways

  • Complex sales are sales that involve more than one decision-maker.
  • Complex sales usually involve a sales cycle of several months to a year or even longer.
  • Complex sales also usually involve steep purchase prices.
  • Because of the high stakes of the sale and the perceived risk to the buyer, complex sales may require more involved techniques to close the sale.

Article Sources

  1. AA-ISP.org. "Gatekeepers: Six Things Not To Do." Accessed Sept. 24, 2020.