Impact of complexity on sales

I read a good article today on McKinsey’s site. Their report 'putting complexity in its place' talks about organisational complexity, and makes an important distinction between individual and organisational complexity.

few executives have a realistic understanding of how complexity actually affects their own companies. When pressed, many leaders cite the institutional manifestations of complexity they personally experience: the number of countries the company operates in, for instance, or the number of brands or people they manage. By contrast, relatively few executives consider the forms of individual complexity that the vast majority of their employees face—for example poor processes, confusing role definitions, or unclear accountabilities.

Why complexity impacts the sales force

In a solution-sales organisation, the focal point for complexity often ends up with the sales force. The solution-selling teams need to invent new things, propose innovative solutions plus of course sell what’s already pre-designed and known. Sales people have the most personal  interface with the day-to-day reality of the company’s clients; sales people thereby can find demand for new offerings which are not yet standardised.

Further, in many cases sales people will care about the outcome and success of what they have sold. More so if they have a vested ongoing interest, such as an account-based commission structure, and less so if they’re a specialist who can move onto other clients the next day.

These factors mean that the obstacles of complexity which might jeopardise a sale or its successful delivery often need to be navigated by the sales force.

Process quality

At IBM, Apple and Cisco I have seen varying degrees of process quality in the sales function. I have seen different levels of dysfunction.

The McKinsey article suggests that you focus complexity in certain roles or company functions. It highlights the importance of understanding individual complexity in the first place, so that you can decide whether it can be fixed or not, or moved into a focus role or not. They provide a categorisation which I agree with.

Complexity model

I expect that sales processes such as solution design, approvals, scheduling and project handover could all be improved in most organisations. It just takes some attention and willingness to care about pragmatic execution.

If  solution-selling  is considered as a core value-creating process in its own right, then its efficiency and efficacy should also be analysed. It’s normal for a manufacturer of goods to improve their supply and production lines. It should also be so for services organisations.

Questions to ask are:

  • do the sales force have all the tools they need to get their job done?
  • are the people they depend on to envision, design, quote or approve readily available and able to commit the time necessary to deals?
  • how much rework occurs between interactions with the client and the selling organisation due to legal, accounting or quality assurance processes, and are those internal processes value-adding?