Leadspeak Episode 10: How to Market & Sell Complex Products

Episode 10: How to Market & Sell Complex Products

Selling inherently complex products are services is, well... complex. It's not easy. From selling engineered products to cybersecurity, it's a great skill to be able to communicate the value effectively, navigate purchasing, and satisfy all the stakeholders. Here at Leadfreak, our history is in complex sales for large organisations and we look to blend multiple strategies into one effective marketing and sales strategy.

In this episode of Leadspeak, myself and Luke Thomas (Leadfreak Services Director) discuss the elements of our complex selling strategies to help you consider how best to communicate your value to your target market. We go deep on Root Financial Value, ABM, and how you can implement into your own business.

We've included a transcript below in case you can't listen at this moment in time.

In this episode, you'll learn:

  • 2 strategies that when brought together are super powerful when selling complex products.
  • What makes a complex product so complex.
  • How to navigate the myriad of stakeholders in the complex product purchase process.
  • What global companies like Shell, IBM, Cisco and GE use to drive sales of their complex products.

Thanks For Listening!

Thanks so much for joining us this week. Be sure to join us in episode 11.

Have some feedback you’d like to share? Leave a note in the comment section below.


Alex: Welcome to the "Leadspeak" podcast hosted by me, Alex Thackray. I'll be bringing you sales and marketing insights from the world of big business so you can implement and drive your own growth.

Hello, and welcome to Episode 10 of "Leadspeak on this beautiful 1st of April date, nice sunny day. I'm joined by Luke Thomas. Luke Thomas is our service director here at Leadfreak. Welcome to "Leadspeak", Luke

Luke: Thank you very much. Yeah, my first ever podcast. So, looking forward to this. Yeah.

Alex: Good. So tell us, you know, just give us a brief introduction of what you do at Leadfreak, working with us and the rest of the team.

Luke: Yeah. So as Alex said, Service Director here at Leadfreak. So, look after all of the clients, project manage everything that we've got going on, and really trying to drive that service side of things, you know, which is something that I know that we're trying to push this year.

Alex: Yeah, super keen to make sure that, you know, the customer service that we deliver to our clients is exceptional, as well as, you know, looking at the strategies that we bring in that get results. So if we can deliver results and customer service, then, you know, that's hitting the nail on the head for us.

Luke: Exactly, yeah.

Alex: So, we're in Episode 10. You know, we've really been doing a lot of work at Leakfreak in making sure what we deliver in terms of value to our clients is, it's at the highest level. We don't just wanna work with small businesses. Our past experience is all about enterprise, is all about large organizations. So we want to bring some of our experience working with these large organizations to the market and, you know, using the skills that we've got, and the experience that we've got to deliver results. For this episode, we're gonna be looking at how to market and sell complex products. So, without further ado, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

Luke: Okay. So I kinda see myself as the Quizmaster here today, Alex, so I'm not gonna try and cut you out, but I'm gonna try and drag as much information as.

Luke: Yeah, try and drag as much as we can out of you to obviously help the listeners out, but how to market and sell complex products. So, let's start with complex products. So you might say, "Well, it is," you know, or, "It does what it says on the tin." But can you elaborate a little bit more on what a complex product is?

Alex: Yeah, of course, you know, it doesn't apply to every business. Some businesses, you know, it's as simple as you buy a piece of fruit in the market. That's not a complex product, you go and buy an apple. Now, a complex product for me, coming from an engineering background, it meets certain criteria. So technically complex. So it's hard to communicate the value of the product in, say, your 32nd pitch in the elevator. If you got 30 seconds to really talk about your products and the value it delivers, okay, you can narrow it down to 30 seconds, but really, if you were to get into the nuts and bolts of what that product is, you're gonna be there for a lot longer.

If we look at, you know, as an example, power control systems for power generators, now going to power stations, if I want to talk about the complexities of power management systems, it's gonna take more than 30 seconds. It's a complex, it's technically complex. There are generally many people involved in that purchasing process, so you might not just be speaking to one person. If it's a cyber security software for financial institutions, you might be speaking to an IT engineer, an IT manager, IT director, at one level, to talk about the solution that you've got.

But then, you've also got to consider that they've got purchasing departments that they need to run through. They've got, you know, CFOs or financial directors that you need to get the budget allowance for in order to have that solution. So there are a few people involved in the conversation, generally, as a matter of cost.

One of the way to identify if it's complex is if you're using proof of concept processes when you are looking to make a commercial agreement with a client. So it's not a case of this is a one size fits all product. Actually, there's some modification, there's some design element to your product before you can fully install and implement into your client infrastructure. So if we look at those elements, that, for me, is what a complex product might be and why you might want to deploy some of the systems that we're going to talk about into your sales and marketing process to help you generate those deals and close those those opportunities.

Luke: Okay. So I guess that kind of explains what makes up a complex product, but could you give us a few examples of some complex products that are out there at the moment?

Alex: Yeah, absolutely. So, if you're looking at, you know, we do work within engineering and manufacturing businesses. So, if you have a product that is to be installed, say it's a valve and it's going into a process control plant, a chemical processing plant, and there are certain conditions that have to be met as to why they need to use your product. So, pressures, temperatures, you know, you've got to take all those Fleur dynamics into consideration when you're looking to install a new valve into a pipeline. So that might be a complex product.

We also we've said, enterprise level software providers. So if you're looking at migrating your digital infrastructure into the cloud, you know, how do you go about doing that? It's not just you're gonna drag and drop it into Google Drive. It's not a simple procedure, as you know very well. You know, there are lots of things to consider in terms of cost, in terms of performance, in terms of delivery. So, that might be classed as a complex product. You look at, you know, cyber security elements. So, you look at providing solutions which improve an enterprise business' security against incoming attacks. But there's so many options available, and how those solutions integrate into your business makes a highly complex area. So those are kind of the three examples of what fits into that complex product environment.

Luke: Yeah. No, I think everyone will certainly now know what a complex product is, and hopefully they...because I'm sure there's people out there that are probably wondering, you know, do I have a complex product, and where does my product fit? So, I think, yeah, I'm sure you've cleared that up now.

Alex: Yeah. I mean, just going back to the one of the first points we made was, if you struggle to communicate the value proposition of your product, it's generally because it's quite complex. And also, what you've got to remember is, it depends on who's trying to communicate that value proposition. If you have an engineer who's predominantly engineering focused all points in time, when they start to describe a product, or the value it can deliver, they tend to go extremely complex. So they'll use language that nobody else knows. Only people within that specific industry who work on this product every day will understand. That's probably one of the criteria for being a complex product: if it has its own language, it's a complex product.

Luke: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. And we've dealt with plenty of those products. Certainly, yeah.

Alex: Getting our head around some of the language that's used for the industries that we're working, you know, it's a big part of what we do. But once you understand it and you can create materials that help you to understand, it just kinda clicks and you can run away with it.

But certainly, you know, that whole world is very complex. And we just need to make sure that, you know, we can communicate that complexity as simply as possible.

Luke: Yeah, okay. Yeah, I was gonna say either, with a complex product if you're struggling to explain it, it's either complex or you don't know enough.

Alex: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I've worked in engineering business before, and you look at certain elements of the product range or the service range, and it does get very complex. Because, you know, you narrow it down to a one-on-one solution to, you know, solution to operational element on the client side. So you can really be talking, if we go back to the pipes and flow process, it's very specific. It's like, "I need a certain pressure, a certain volume, a certain flow rate of a fluid in this pipeline to give me what I want." Now let's talk about you provide me with a solution. So, you know, you can get really quite specific in complex product environments.

Luke: So, Alex, complex products have always been around. And if you look at the likes of, you know, large companies out there like IBM, Cisco, and GE, they manufacture and sell these products. So, why are we now still talking about, you know, how to market and sell complex products?

Alex: Yeah. Well, those companies you mentioned, you know, they're some of the largest companies in the world, which really helps to explain how they've been so successful. They've got the resources in their business to deploy the kinds of marketing strategies and sales strategies that we're gonna touch on in this episode. It's not a case of, you know, they've just suddenly appeared and had this huge growth rate and become the largest company in the world. These certainly, you know, you look at IBM, they were created in 1911. GE, it's around the same time. You know, these are old, old companies. They've had a lot of time to develop products which were world class and industry leading, and then to use those resources to deploy strategies which generates more and more growth.

Now, with the development of technology, with development of software, you know, you look at, take MarTech, marketing and technology, for instance. You know, there's been in, you know, in the last four years, there's been an increase of around 7,000 new SAS businesses delivering marketing and technology. You know, those are complex sales, because, you know, if you go back to what we were talking about before, sometimes they're difficult to communicate the value. You're often dealing with multiple people to get the sale done. You might do a proof of concept or a freemium model to make sure that it delivers what the company is expecting.

So, there are so many of our businesses now that are trying to enter the market and, you know, they might not have the knowledge with regards to, you know, delivering a marketing and selling a complex product to get the growth rate that they're looking to achieve.

Even going back to, so that's SAS, and you know, and I'm from an engineering world from before Leadfreak, and, you know, you look at the state of play in engineering, generally you're very sales focused. So, when I say sales focused, is you have a sales team, you generally work on field sales alone. I don't think I've ever worked for an engineering business that has a marketing function that is effectively delivering what I'd expect now it to deliver in terms of qualified leads, you know, working with the sales teams to close opportunities and deliver what we need to, and communicate the value of the product and service. So yeah, the limited marketing support, you've got long sales cycles. You know, if you are relying on sales people to be driving every single opportunity within your pipeline, you know, some of those opportunities are gonna be delayed. If you look at a more scientific approach like we deploy, you're looking at helping and influencing the transition of buyers from one stage of their buying journey to another. So if you deliver the right materials at the right time, you can do that. So you can shorten the sales cycle down.

So there's generally a very long sales cycle. There's always a high pressure to close as with sales, it's just a matter of sales. So if there's always a high pressure to close, you're gonna be working on a limited number of opportunities at any one time point in time, because you can see the opportunity to close. Rather than saying, "Actually, I've got this bank of opportunities, and I know when they're gonna close because I can see what part of the journey they're on," rather than, "I need to rush this through because I need to get my revenue recognition for this quarter, because that's my target." It works a different way.

And you know, and sometimes in engineering, again, you know, there's always been a limited view of opportunities. So you become aware of an opportunity, and then you drive to close. Whereas you look at some strategies where you're involved in those primary discussions to create an opportunity. And therefore, you are in control of that opportunity before anyone else sees it. That's a rare case. QWhat it generally looks like is you're unaware of the opportunity until it becomes known to everyone. So, yeah, you've got a limited view of opportunities. And a lot of companies are very, you know, they're not influential in the creation of those opportunities, they just respond to an opportunity being present. So, that's how I view with the engineering world right now, based on my experience. And if you look at that, and if I'd have gone back to being in engineering and sales, like I was, and I had the support of the strategies that we're looking to deploy, then, you know, it'd been a different, completely different conversation. It'd been a completely different world. Which is almost business making or breaking.

So, you can work for an extremely large business, but once those sales stop coming and once being able to forecast opportunities within a large business like that, panic buttons are hit. You know, it's one of the main drivers of Leadfreak, right? It's, we want to do good in the world, but we recognize that as soon as sales targets aren't met, innovation stops. And that can be marketing innovation, it can be product innovation, but innovation stops, because the pressure to meet forecast and to, you know, meet profit forecast, so if you don't make enough sales, what do you have to do? You have to cut costs to get the profit that you wanted. So as soon as you're under pressure on sales, any other good work stops. So we're looking to deploy strategies which help to move away from that scenario, so that you can constantly deliver sales, you can constantly deliver leads and opportunities and close them out. And it takes a marketing and a sales function to do that.

Luke: Okay. So thinking about, you know, the big companies GE and IBM and Cisco, and everything, and you touched a bit about new companies coming into the market. Would you say, you know, would there be a difference between how both of these companies would approach, you know, the market? Because, obviously, IBM and Cisco have the name behind them as well, or would you say both companies should be approaching it in the same way with the same strategy?

Alex: Well, I'd say there is, definitely, with regards to the theory and the implementation of the strategy, that doesn't vary so much. There might be some intricacies that, you know, nothing is ever just copy and paste, it doesn't work. So there's some relativity to the business, to the markets, to the customers, as to, you know, the step-by-step approach within that strategy, but as a strategy at that higher level, you know, what we deploy, you know, would be successful in delivering what we need to deliver.

Luke: So I stick to the strategy and don't panic.

Alex: Yeah. And it's, we're not talking about groundbreaking stuff. So, you know, you look at, the two strategies that we blend together. We look at account based marketing strategies and we look at diagnostic selling approach. And what we do is we blend those together to make it far more effective. So it's not like we're uncovering this huge secret, how to sell and market complex products. You know, the strategies are out there and being deployed successfully by the likes of GE, IBM, Cisco, you know, these huge, huge companies. They've been deploying these strategies for years and years, because they've got the resources to do it. You know, what happens when a company doesn't have the resources to do it, or they're unaware of the strategy because they're not in the likes of GE or Cisco? So that's why I feel this subject matter is so valuable to the audience listening, because, you know, even if we open their eyes to consider the approach, the ABM approach and the diagnostic selling approach, that can help them develop their strategies to perform better in the market.

Luke: Okay. Now, you've mentioned ABM and diagnostic a couple of times now. So, could you elaborate on those, what ABM involves? Are there different levels to ABM, and same with diagnostic?

Alex: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So, you know, ABM, account-based marketing. In principle, what we're looking at doing is identifying the accounts that we want to work with. So, who do we want to be our customers? And then having a strategy that approaches those individual companies, and looking to work with that. So you'd be looking at, you know, setting the criteria for who it is that you want to work with. You'll then be looking at evaluating or, you know, creating a segment specific value proposition for your product which is matched to that segment. You'll then be looking at devising a campaign strategy which targets those segments over...in a continuous cycle, it's not even over a month. It's, you know, just one after the other. What's the strategy to engage with and communicate to that segment? Because you've already identified that those people are the companies that you want to be working with. So you've qualified them already. It's not like a lead comes in, and then you qualify a lead, you qualify the account, and then you target and approach the account. And then you look at delivering against, or executing against your campaign strategy. You look at, you know, tracking and reporting against metrics with regards to engagement with those accounts, and then delivering commercial opportunities through those accounts.

Now, with ABM, you know, it's relatively new in terms of...it's not new in terms of approach, but certainly as a classification of marketing strategy. Now that, you know, with the rise of technology, with the rise of expertise, automation, you know, it's now becoming more and more available to smaller organizations. You don't need a huge, huge resource bank to deploy ABM strategies. So that's ABM as an overall. You know, we've got lots of videos on YouTube channel going into a bit more detail on the light board as to, you know, specifics of ABM. Now, you break that down into different levels. So, you know, we have strategic ABM, which is we generally use it for working with existing clients more. If we recognize an existing clients, they've got a great wallet share that we can get hold of, and then we can see the potential growth, then we will create campaigns specifically for those singular accounts.

Luke: So that's important to note as well, you're not just going out for new clients, you can use this for existing clients.

Alex: Absolutely. Yeah, that's one of it's core concepts, it's, you know, you will look at bringing on a new customer and it's 10 times the cost of getting more out of an existing customer. Because you're not spending any money for them to become a customer because they already are. You've already spent that. So it's identifying where there is additional value that you can capture from an existing client. So you'd be looking at working on one-on-one strategies with existing clients. So strategically important clients. So, generally, our rule is they're a strategic client if they're a recurrent client, and you can see that potential. But also, if they are an influential player within your target market, you would look to target them on a strategic one to one basis. Because that's then gonna filter down into your other strategies, give you, you know, an increase in reputation and credibility because you're working with market leaders. So that's why you might use a one to one strategy with a new client. But generally, it's around working with existing.

Then we look at a programmatic ABM strategy, which is kind of like one to many, one to few. And that's where you would segment your industry or you would have a segment of accounts based on a certain criteria. It might be growth rate, it might be industry, it might be, you know, forecast revenue, it might be age of organization. You know, you'd look at a set criteria that you said, "Right, that fits the bill for who we want to be working with. And now we have 50 to 100 accounts that we're gonna target in our singular strategy." So, it's not all about one to one, you know, we can do the segmentation which allows us to target many at one point in time. So that's generally around ABM. So ABM is used as a marketing strategy, it's a very sales aligned marketing strategy. It's not just marketing, working in isolation, because they need to follow with sales to be backing up the campaigns that have been delivered through marketing. If you then go to the sales side and you look at diagnostic selling. And there's a great book by a guy called Jeff Thull, and I've spoken about him before. It's one of the the-books that opened my eyes in the complex sales world. And it's called "Mastering the Complex Sales". And he talks around this diagnostic selling approach.

Now, we use diagnostic selling as tools within our marketing strategies. And what the diagnostic selling method really boils down to, it's the financial root of value in your product or service, relative to your client. So, through capturing data from your client, and, you know, that might be one metric. It might be, if you're looking at efficiency improvements of a complex product, if someone is having to manage cyber security software and it takes them 10 hours per month to manage that product, and your product is a new cyber security product and you can drop that down to 5 hours per month that they're having to operate and manage that product, and you get the same result, then you've saved 5 hours a month. So that has a financial value on it. You look at cyber security engineers and professionals who are on £600 to £700 a day, £100 an hour, you save 5 hours a month, that's £500 a month that you've saved. As a complete pull out of the air, pulling out the air example, but you can see what I mean.

There's a financial root of value for every product and service. And it's trying to identify what that financial value is to your client in the sales process. What that allows you to do, if you can see that, it's going to save you, say, £50,000 to have this new product or service, because you've worked out through diagnostics. Then what it allows you to do is to link that to ROI.

So, if your client's business needs at least five times ROI for any purchase made, because that's the investment that has to be made in that program service, you know, if there's a big enough ROI on spend, you're gonna buy it. So, let's say it's 50,000 that you saved, and it has to have a 5 times ROI. So that determines your selling price at £10,000, because you need to times that by 5 to get the cost benefit. So, you know, and if that fits in with your product's pricing, then that's the price. It's non negotiable. It's not open for a discussion. Well, you say 50,000 and it cost you 5000, because that's...It cost you 10,000, because that's the metrics that we've determined.

So then that is what makes diagnostic selling so powerful. It's not a case of, you know, blindly seeing the value with any one product, it's actually looking at that financial value that is gonna deliver for your client, and then using that and leveraging that as a sales price. So it really makes it a non decision to buy. So, if you know that you're gonna meet your five times ROI, then why would...it almost makes it a bad decision not to do it. Yeah, so it's a non decision. It's just, it has to happen.

But one of also the more powerful things is if you go back to what we were talking about with regards to what is a complex product and there are many people involved, you have purchasing department involved, you've got financial guys involved, you've got engineers involved. You've satisfied the engineer by giving them a solution that they want, but you also satisfy the financial guys because you're meeting the ROI that they need.

And then you, you know, if we look at the role of purchasing, you know, people view them as a positive, people view them as a negative. They're a barrier to a purchase. And generally, their aim is to get the purchase price down of, you know, any product that they're buying, because their goal might be to make savings. Well, you can now negate that discussion, because it's all based on the value that you're delivering as your product. So then, you know, purchasing challenges the price, but the price is intrinsic in value and it's aligned to the value they're gonna receive. Then it, you know, it changes the conversation. And we've seen...you look at the likes of Shell.

Shell use value based diagnostic selling, both at the supply side and the sell side, because it's that effective. Because it just changes almost the powerplay within organizations like that. And you can build now with the tech, and it's kind of what we deploy in our strategies. You can build the diagnostic calculators to using the strategies.

So linking, you know, and if we go back to the ABM stuff where you are devising the value proposition specifically for that segment, or specifically for that one client, you can actually create those tools for that ABM room. So if it is for the one to one client, you can build a calculator and a diagnostic tool for that one client. And then you can build a diagnostic tool which represents the value proposition for the segment. So blending, I've never heard of anyone blending ABM and diagnostic selling to make it more powerful, but you can see how it would be. And we've certainly got the results to back that up.

Luke: Yeah, sure. Okay. So, we've spoken about ABM and diagnostic, both very powerful tools. But surely, they should always be backed up with brand marketing.

Alex: Yeah, absolutely. As a core element of the strategy, we always deploy a brand marketing strategy, as alongside an ABM strategy and a diagnostic selling strategy. But it's because, you know, if you look at the shift in marketing success, over the past year or so, brand is coming back.

So, you know, when all these new tools and techniques came out, with regards to digital marketing, brand took a back step because it was more around functionality and getting people to take certain actions. But that's kind of just everywhere now, it's no different from one to the others. So brand is coming back in and playing a big part in supporting the decisions that you make. Now, you know, we deploy brand marketing through content and communication.

So we create content, high valued, expertise-focused content on a weekly, monthly basis. And then we deploy that through multiple channels. So, it exposes the brand to the target markets that we're looking at. It creates brand stickiness so that when you approach them using one of the ABM strategies and the diagnostic strategy, they might already have seen it. It might be part of your campaign strategy. They've already seen some of the brand marketing that you're doing, so that it's not just a cold communication when you're looking to deploy the ABM stuff.

It's very much a supportive role, which then adds more value to brand marketing. But we're saying, if you go cold and it's just brand all the time, it's just brand all the time, then there's limited value in that. That's fine for some organizations, but it's a big investment to just be pumping into the brand, at least combining it with the ABM and the diagnostic selling approach, there's value to the brand approach as well.

So you deploy as many clever things through ABM and diagnostics however you want. As soon as someone steps away from the material that you've provided to find out who you are, a bit more about you, some of the work you've done, what do you provide? If the brand element isn't there, it fractures the ABM approach. It's almost like the brand is the foundation.

Luke: Yeah, and I guess you're building that sort of relationship and that trust, and you know, showing that you're a leader in the field with showing that your brand has these different tools available.

Alex: Yeah. If we're looking at creating credible experts in any industry, there's an element of brand marketing that goes into that. So, before we leave you for this episode, hopefully you've taken a lot from it. We've gone into quite a lot of detail around some of the strategies we use for complex sales. If you head to the Leadfreak website, you'll see a link on there where you can actually get your own bespoke marketing strategy which we bring in our ABM approach, our brand marketing approach, and our diagnostic selling approach based on four areas that we take based on the information you give us. You know, these are things like sales capability, so how careful you are in your organization to sell. The deal structures, so what do the commercial agreements look like? Who are your customers, your current customers? And then what does the target market look like? So we look at these four key areas, and that helps us to identify and define what your specific marketing strategy should look like. So, head to the Leadfreak website and you can get access to receive your free marketing strategy.

Luke: Okay, great. Well, hopefully everyone enjoyed the podcast as much as I did my first one. I made it through. If you do want any more information, then don't forget to go to the Leadfreak website, so leadfreak.co.uk, where you'll find all the information available there. And yeah, we'll catch you next time.

Alex: Speak to you soon.

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