Evolving Thoughts on Transactional versus Complex Sales

Here is a shorthand for thinking about the differences between transactional sales and complex sales:

  • Transactional sales have a high frequency and low significance, which means when a prospect makes the decision all the time without any real trouble, it remains transactional.
  • Complex sales are the opposite, with a low-frequency and high significance.

The reason this simple framework is useful is because you see both of the variables from the view of the person buying.

High Frequency, Low Significance

When someone buys the same thing over and over, the high frequency tends to push that sale towards a transaction. This can be true even if the solution they buy is complex, high volume, or measured in millions of dollars. When the significance of what a client is buying isn’t great, it also leans towards being transactional, especially when there is little risk, or where there are a lot of acceptable substitutions.

Low Frequency, High Significance

When the frequency in which someone buys is low, that sale tends to be more complex. The person or people making the decision need to explore a lot more, build consensus around the right answers, and spend more time deciding. When the decision is significant (or strategic), there is less room for mistakes, making the process more complex.

And here is where salespeople and sales organizations get themselves into trouble. Because the sales organization or salesperson believes that the sale should be transactional, based on factors like the value of the solution, the low investment, the ease of installation or execution, they treat the contact as if the sales is transactional. Even with all those factors being true, if the client makes this type of decision infrequently, they can view it as complex. More still, if the decision is significant, even if the investment is small, if it is going to change their business in some meaningful way, the buyer may see it as complex.

We become disconnected from the clients we serve when we assume that what we sell is an easy, transactional sale when it is a low frequency, high significance, making it a more difficult decision for them.

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