Complex Selling Made Simple

Many, many years ago a colleague and good friend of mine, Dr. James B. Anderson were discussing the complexities of mathematical equations and theories as it pertain to Electro-magnetic Physics. I should mentioned that Dr. Anderson has 2 B.S. degrees, 2 M.S. degrees and a PhD….all technical degrees. He currently works as a chief scientist for a very well know high tech wireless company.

Now, I don’t remember how we go onto the topic or why, but I do remember telling the good “Docta” how in college I had a great professor who had the wonderful ability to explain complex subjects like calculus in a way that I understood. Dr. Anderson then made a simple, off-the-cuff statement that has stuck with me through the years.
“The sign of a great professor (or teacher) is the ability to take the most complex subjects and break them down in their most simplest forms so anyone can understand it.”


Up until that comment, I always felt guilty or responsible for not being able to understand complex things. In short, I felt like an idiot. Many of us have been in a situation where something is being explained and we don’t understand it. We look around to see if we’re the only ones who are lost in the fog.

Wade’s Rule: If you’re confused, chances are, someone else is also…so don’t feel stupid.

The above statement by the good Dr. allowed me to go easier on myself and begin to analyze, not so much the student (me), but the teacher. At seminars, product presentations or training courses, I began to put more responsibility on the teacher for explaining the solutions. Instead of slinking into my seat when I don’t understand, I then started asking more questions. And if the answer was still too difficult to understand, I asked for more clarification. I started to notice something funny when I asked for more clarity…some were able to break it down into simpler components, others couldn’t. Dr. Anderson’s statement above helped me understand why.

What does this have to do with sales? In selling you are both Teacher and Student at any given time.

Scenario 1: As a salesperson in the high tech industry, how many time are you explaining something during a presentation and notice that you’re not getting any questions or feedback? Could it be that your solution or explanation is so complex, the customers are too afraid to ask any questions so they won’t look like idiots? A salesperson should be able to take the most complex solution they have to offer and break it down into its simplest form.

Scenario 2: As a salesperson, how many times has a customer explained their problem to you, but you couldn’t quite grasp it? And how many times were you too afraid to ask a question for fear of looking stupid? Let me take it one step further; you don’t ask questions and then you propose a solution that is off the mark. The customer then accuses you of not listening to his or her needs and rejects your offer…that’s if they’re kind enough to let you know at all.
In both instances, the problems could’ve been solved by simply having the courage to ask questions.

Wade’s Rule: Don’t assume or presume; verify.

In scenario 1 you’re the teacher. Don’t assume the audience understands what you’re talking about. Ask questions and solicit responses that confirm your audience’s understanding and their ability to follow your presentation.

Here are some probing questions during a presentation:

• Having said that, give me some applications for your company?
• Does this solution remind you of (fill in the blank)?
• What’s missing from this plan?

In scenario 2, you’re the student and you have to ask for clarification if you don’t understand. Keep in mind that people love talking about themselves and their company….so don’t be bashful when it comes to asking for more clarification.
Here are some clarification questions during a customer visit:

• So if I understand what you’re saying, then (fill in the blank)…
• I’m not clear on the application, can you give me a specific example?
• How does this compare to (fill in the blank) solution?

Whichever the case, teacher or student, don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you’re not understanding something, you can be sure there is someone else in the room who doesn’t understand it either.

If you want make sure others understand you, test them. Ask them questions you know the answers to. The objective is not to make them feel stupid, but to make sure they understand what you have to say, and offer.

Final sales note: There’s nothing worse, if not sadder, than a salesperson who travels to a customer premise and at the end of the meeting both parties are still unclear of what the other does or has to offer. The client didn’t understand your products/services and you didn’t understand their current needs. That’s a lose-lose situation.