Winning complex sales – the fundamentals are more critical now than ever!

By Richard Ruff, Co-Founder and Principal, Sales Horizons

There are performance fundamentals required for winning the complex sale, ranging from core performance skills like: asking questions and active listening; to competencies like: identifying and qualifying leads. 

There are performance fundamentals required for winning the complex sale, ranging from core performance skills like: asking questions and active listening – to competencies like: identifying and qualifying leads.

In this post we examine why the fundamentals are more important than ever and put a spotlight on three high payoff areas that warrant increased emphasis.

Given the extensive nature of the Book of Knowledge for a sales person engaged in a complex sale, why the big fuss about developing the fundamentals? After all, there are a lot of advanced selling skills and bodies of knowledge requiring attention. Yet four reasons stand out for emphasizing the fundamentals:

1. Fundamental and simple are not synonymous. It’s true in sports; it’s true in leadership and it’s true in selling. There is nothing simple about the fundamentals. Plus, when it comes to winning, whether it is an NBA game or a major sale, good is not good enough – mastery is the standard. Go on field visits with top performing sales people engaged in a complex sale – observe how they plan and execute the fundamentals of each call. Both what they do and how they do it is not simple but it is masterful.

2. Frequency matters. It takes a long time and a lot of effort to master any complex skill. So, it makes great sense to commit to making an investment when the skill in question helps out in all kinds of places – in all kinds of ways. One of the characteristics of the sales fundamentals is high frequency of use. Take, for example, core sales skills like asking questions or active listening. Regardless of the purpose of the call or the person on the other side of the table, these two sales skill sets are a part of the formula for success.

3. Fundamentals enable advanced skill development. Let’s take another difficult discipline to master – mathematics. Like sales, the skill sets in mathematics are hierarchical – leaning more advanced skills can only be accomplished after the fundamentals are in place. For example, you can’t master calculus without trigonometry. In sales, getting good at an advanced skill like negotiation requires being very good at asking questions and the ability to build and maintain customer relationships requires a number of the fundamentals including objection handling.

4. Transformational shifts are occurring. In many markets, like health care, transformational shifts are occurring in the buying environment. The buying processes involve more group decisions, senior-level involvement, keener competition, and more price pressures making this complex sale even more complex. To succeed even the most successful sales people have to adjust and adapt what they do to the new reality. The list of fundamentals skills don’t change, but how they are applied do.

These four reasons suggest companies should consider developing sales fundamentals as a candidate for the short list. If that argument rings true, what are some specific areas that deserve the spotlight? Three stand out:

1. Launching new products. In many cases the sales team needs sales skills training to adjust and adapt to selling the new product. The greater the extent to which the new product is different from the existing product portfolio, the greater the necessity for revisiting the application of the fundamentals to the new product sale.

2. On-boarding new hires. If one could return to earlier decade, on-boarding for sales people in sales fundamentals could be a relatively straight forward process at the time of hire. Today, if you want a world-class sales team that can win in the complex sale market, training in the sales fundamentals needs to be an on-going process, not a one time event during boot camp. This is particularly true if the new hires have less than five years of sales experience.

3. Building a superior strategic account group. As you move from a complex sale at the territorial level to one at the major or global account level, the nature of the sale changes qualitatively. Clearly additional skills and bodies of knowledge must be learned. Equally important, the fundamentals must be revisited. This is a training challenge ideally suited for sales simulations customized for the application of the fundamentals to the realities of the major or global account sale.

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff has worked with the Fortune 1000 to design and develop sales training programs that make a difference. To learn more about Sales Horizons, visit our web site at or join the conversation at our blog:

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