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How to sell complex products to non-technical prospects

The last time I went to get my oil changed was a somewhat odd experience. For context, the way it usually goes is this: 

  1. My car notifies me to change the oil
  2. 2-3 weeks after seeing the message, I finally go to a shop
  3. They ask me questions about my car I can’t answer
  4. They change the oil

The first three steps were the same as always, but on this last trip I was subjected to what I will refer to as “sales performance art.” One of the employees, who I assume was working on my car, came into the waiting room and said, “look at this.” He showed me a dirty piece of metal while having a concerned look on his face. 

For someone who knows things about cars, that may have been very impactful. I’m, however, not a person who knows things about cars. I can drive a car (assuming it’s an automatic). I know where to add windshield wiper fluid, but beyond those very basic things, I’m pretty ignorant. 

He made a critical error in assuming my level of knowledge, and by extension the level of impact the show would have. Whatever he was trying to sell me, I wasn’t buying. 

The same can easily happen when selling a technical product. When working with something day-in and day-out, it’s easy to assume everyone else has the same level of knowledge as you do, but that’s rarely the case unless they work in the same industry. 

In this article I offer four tips to help you avoid those mistakes, and better sell complex products to non-technical people. 

Get to know them

When you make a recommendation to a friend, you tend to personalize it to their tastes. For example, maybe you ate at a restaurant that serves a dish they really like. So, you’d lead with that. Were it a different friend, you’d probably lead with something else.

You’re able to do that because you have a relationship with those people. You know them. Why would a prospect be any different? Though it’s standard practice to get to know any prospect, when you’re selling a more complex product, your discovery efforts may need to dive a little deeper than normal. 

Gong analyzed over 500,000 sales calls and found that top performing reps asked questions about specific business problems, or goals, the prospect was trying to solve. So, be sure you’re asking thoughtful questions and listening intently. That way when it’s time to show how your product can be useful, you’ll have plenty of context. 

And remember, in order to get the most out of the conversation, you also need to be actively listening to your prospect. In fact, poor listening skills is often cited as a top complaint about salespeople. So, switch off any distractions and make sure you’re giving prospects 100% of your attention.  

Make it relatable

Have you ever noticed how the better you know something, the more specific the things about it that excite you are? For example, a designer might notice a button placement or shape that the rest of us overlook. 

As we regularly work with a certain product, we can have the same thing happen. Maybe there’s a specific feature that’s really innovative, but is only something an early-adopter would be excited about. Since we’re in that world, it can be difficult to see outside our bubble. 

For someone less technical, those more specific details probably won’t resonate, and could instead serve to intimidate them. It would be like if you started someone’s first guitar lesson by trying to teach them a Jimi Hendrix solo. They would, most likely, leave that lesson feeling totally overwhelmed.

Instead, you need to show the basics of the product and how it applies directly to their use case — which is another reason why the discovery period is so needed. The more you get them envisioning themselves actually using the product, the better. 

In fact, one study found 72% of those surveyed would only interact with personalized messages. It makes sense. Personalization takes time and effort. It shows you’re thoughtful and not just trying to make a quick sale. The more relevant you make your pitch to them, the less intimidating your product will seem, and the more likely you are to get them across the line. 

Be patient

My first sales job was at AT&T selling cell phones. It was 2009 and smartphones were becoming more mainstream, especially since people could now get an iPhone for under $200. I had these two customers, a couple in their 60’s, who came in probably once a week for two months to chat about smartphones. 

After about eight or so meetings, they finally decided to make the switch. Even after buying, they came in regularly to continue learning more. They were incredibly loyal customers, and eventually sent a ton of referrals my way further down the line. 

It can be easy to assume if someone doesn’t get something right away, that they never will. But, that’s not true. In fact, our capacity to learn new things doesn’t change as dramatically as most think. It’s never too late to learn.

By being patient with your prospect, you allow them ample time to get acquainted with your product and develop a deeper understanding. And if you thought eight sounded like a lot of touches prior to closing, it’s actually the average amount, according to research. 

Remember, all the knowledge you have about your product was gained over time. So, it’s only natural that it may take your prospect a little bit to get a grasp on your offering. Be patient with them, and it’ll pay dividends later on. 

Offer support

Did you know that as much as 86% of customers would be willing to pay 25% more for a better customer service experience? It may not always be something we think of as a key differentiator, or something to talk about as a selling point, but for those with less technical knowledge, it can be a game changer. 

When you’re talking to your prospect, be sure that you’re regularly confirming to them that there will be continued support after they purchase. Perhaps that comes in the form of an account manager, or through your support team. No matter the case, be sure to highlight those resources. 

Also, if your company runs webinars or something similar, be sure you’re reaching out to them proactively to let them know. You may even consider sharing relevant help center documentation to answer questions they have, as it’s something they can review at their convenience. 

It’s also very important you let them know that you’ll continue to be a resource for them. You may not be able to be as hands-on, but you should always be able to offer some level of support, even if it’s just pointing them in the right direction to find an answer. 

Final thoughts

No one person is an expert on everything (but it does seem we all have at least one friend who acts like they are). Though your “sales performance art” may land sometimes, it’s not always going to resonate with everyone. 

In the cases where a prospect is coming in with less previous knowledge than some, it’s important to modify your approach to meet them where they’re at. That may mean a longer sales cycle, or the need to do some things outside the norm, but it’ll all make you a better salesperson, give them a better experience, and help you move more deals forward.

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