Simple v. Complex Sales
And why most salespeople you deal with seem "gross"
Many of you lawyers don't like sales because you've had bad experiences being sold to. At the same time you probably also noticed that the most successful rainmakers in your organization don't give off that same gross sales vibe. Today, I’m going to explain why.
First, there is a huge difference between simple sales and complex sales.
Most of your experience as a buyer involves the former. Like buying a home, a car, etc. One-time transactions with one decision maker (DM), where the salesperson has limited influence on the buying decision.
Let’s use buying a home as an example. The realtor (buyer’s agent) likely has little control over whether you purchase or not—it’s likely a decision you and your partner made elsewhere at an earlier time based on the actual property. So the only thing the realtor does have control over is how quickly you’ll buy.
That’s why many of them will say all sorts of things to get you to move fast.
There’s a huge incentive to lie, or at least stretch the truth. These lies can be about the state of the market or how many competitive bids there are for the property. Buying a home doesn’t naturally lend itself to repeat business—it’s generally a one time transaction.
So to the realtor, the risk of being caught in a lie is worth the upside of getting you to buy the home quickly. Not all realtors behave like this—but the incentives are strong. Especially if lying is common among competing realtors. As a result, as buyers, we can sense the realtor’s lack of candor intuitively, and often don’t trust what they say.
Complex sales are very different.
These transactions on the other hand, often involve multiple decision makers, and more persuasion. Lots of trust is required because if the buyer likes what you’re selling, they have to themselves pitch it internally to colleagues. Sales tricks have limited impact in this world.
Law firm partners are involved in complex sales but they’re not the only ones. Others include enterprise sales reps in technology who sell high dollar value products to large organizations. They both sell expensive things to groups of skeptical buyers. Many of us haven’t had the experience of being this type of buyer so we don’t realize how this kind of sales works. So I’ll use an example.
Imagine you’re a corporate buyer who’s responsible for selecting new software for your legal department. Even if you like the software, you still need to convince a group of approvers, like the CEO, CFO, or General Counsel, to sign off on the purchase. If you’re a law firm, maybe there’s a technology committee, or clients who need to sign off as well. Buying is a group decision.
Lies don’t work quite as well in this world.
The seller can tell all sorts of lies to trick you into recommending their product to that group of approvers. But it’s hard for you, the buyer, to effectively pitch those same lies to the approvers, who are often skeptical and well informed about what’s available on the market. If the lies are brazen and non-credible, that could lead to you losing credibility internally.
Effective salespeople in complex sales recognize this. So they are conservative in how they pitch their product to you. Many of them have done this for years, and built up a lot of credibility with their target buyers. These sales veterans would rather lose the deal, and even their jobs, than trick you and potentially damage their reputation.
Incidentally this is why law firm rainmaker partners and enterprise sales reps look and act the same. They don’t give off that “gross” vibe. They deliver sales pitches but they also make measured statements and avoid overselling. They are also great at listening because the buyer will often share important information to help craft the most effective pitch to the approvers.
Now let’s take you out of the buyer’s shoes and back into the seller’s shoes.
Let’s say you want to be an effective salesperson of complex sales.
If you can’t stretch the truth or trick the buyer, how do you improve results? What if you’re too blunt about the truth and lose the deal. We’ve all heard people claim they aren’t good at sales because they’re too honest. Does candor lead to zero revenue generated?
Not at all. I’ve written about this theme before, but the most powerful lever you have as a credible seller is to increase the number of conversations with qualified buyers. It’s not about saying “magic sales words” to a sales prospect. It’s about having as many honest conversations as possible. By doing that, eventually you will stumble across buyers who need what you’re offering so bad that they’ll immediately want to move forward and quickly. All without you having to lie or oversell
Incidentally this is why those successful with complex sales talk about the importance of relationships. This is true for both law firm partners and enterprise sales reps. These relationships, often built over decades, are shorthand for saying “I have a lot of credibility and trust with lots and lots of buyers.” Which enables sellers to quickly generate a large “pipeline” of conversations with qualified buyers.
Building relationships is hard though.
It’s not scalable. And it takes a really long time. There are other ways to quickly generate lots of conversations with qualified buyers. The B2B technology world has experimented a lot with these tactics. In fact I’m working on a long form article that describes some of the most effective strategies I’ve seen legal tech companies use, based on my 7 years doing sales & marketing to law firms and legal departments.
If you’d like to see a draft of the article, I would love to hear your feedback.
Fill out this form to get access.
Anyways. To sum it all up, your bad experiences with sales probably involve low trust, one-time transactions that incentivize “gross” behavior. That's not the only way to sell, and can actually be counterproductive in complex sales. Which is likely the type of sales that you need to move ahead in your career.
This Week’s News
Axiom has applied for a license to operate a “firm” with non-lawyer ownership in Arizona, which is quickly becoming an experimental lab on how deliver legal services. If these new Arizona firms end up delivering value to clients at low cost, I would expect more jurisdictions to follow. It’s a super interesting time for alternative legal services providers.
Meanwhile, large firms are still forcing their staff to return to the office. This week Sidley Austin announced that associate bonuses will be tied to their attendance at the office. Personally I believe this will keep Biglaw expensive, which provides a huge market opportunity for firms and providers who can deliver quality legal services at a lower cost.
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