Selling Tips for Complex Systems

By James Carlini | Jun 15, 2016
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As we near the year 2020, which is supposed to be the pivotal year where many applications of the Internet of Things (IoT) appear as well as the impact of next-generation 5G networks, the need to be able to sell new complex solutions is critical. Electrical contractors, system solution providers and systems integrators all need to be able to sell their solutions if they want be successful in this new 21st century global marketplace.

Here are some observations on selling I assembled over the years.

The Four Levels Of Selling

Like anything else, there are low-skilled salespeople and highly trained salespeople, depending on the product or service. You should realize where your sales expertise is being used and where it should be focused. How good is the salesforce at your company?

You may have great products, but if your salesforce doesn’t know how to sell their value, you may be competing on an un-level playing field.                                             

The four levels of selling can be summarized by Chart 1-1 (above).

Commodity Sales are the lowest-level sales and require the least amount of selling skills. It also applies to many outlets, the product or service is easily available and the customer perception is, “I can get it anywhere. Who has the cheapest price?”

The people at this level are typically minimum-wage workers and are of low competence. They may get paid an hourly wage and nothing else. Some of the jobs at this level would be entry-level.

Services/Equipment is the next sales level, and it can pertain to small scale vendors or large scale vendors with many outlets. It may carry several product lines. The customer perception is, “I can find some competitive products.”

The people at this level are paid more because they need to understand more. They have more competence and probably have some formal training on the products. They could also be incentivized by a commission structure.

Applications/Project Management Integration is the third level of sales expertise, and it covers more sophisticated products and services. There could be several outlets and more specializations, and the overhead is greater. The customer perception is, “I can find someone to integrate all the competitive products together.”

The people at this level are more competent, moderately more expensive, and probably are incentivized for their work and ability to sell work.

Business Processes have both few outlets and experts at a high level, scarce, and well-experienced. The customer perception is, “I have to be in trouble to use this level, or I need some complex products and services badly usually within some
mission-critical or strategic setting.”

There are few people at this level to choose from, and they are highly competent and expensive. They could be a strategic visionary, a specialist or a generalist.

If you are in this market, there should be questions concerning the competition. From the salesperson’s perspective:

  • Are you selling at the right level?
  • Where do you and your product/service fit within this structure?
  • How do you sell against those within your level and those within another level?
  • Can you sell against a different level successfully?

Something You Should Understand

Some selling tips I used to discuss in a marketing and legal class for technology projects can be found in the next chart (See Chart 1-2). The good thing about these selling tips is they can also be applied to the real estate side.

In management classes, I used to ask, “Are you a salesperson?” Many people would almost look in disgust and say, “No way.” Then I would say, “You are wrong. You are ALL salespeople because every time you go to your boss and request funding and resources you better know how to sell yourself and your concepts, if you want to get anything.” This started to hit home. People realized that no matter what, you were always trying to pitch ideas and concepts within their jobs and their organizations.

This was a great motivational spark in the classroom to wake people up to the fact selling is not a negative skill set. In fact, just the opposite is true. How many times have you tried to convince your boss a new endeavor would be good for the organization and were shot down? Understanding how to present things concisely and write well is a good executive skill set.

Executive skills include knowing how to speak well and knowing how to write well.

Those who think they are experienced should read through this carefully. You can always learn new things. In this dynamic, ever-changing industry, no one is an expert. The best you can be is a good student—always learning.


About The Author

James Carlini, MBA, is a strategist for mission-critical networks, technology and intelligent infrastructure. He has been the president of Carlini & Associates since 1986. He is author of "LOCATION LOCATION CONNECTIVITY," a visionary book on the convergence of next-generation real estate, intelligent infrastructure, technology, and the global platform for commerce.

His “Platform for Commerce” definition of infrastructure and its impact on economic growth has also been referred to by the US ARMY Corps of Engineers in their Handbook, “Infrastructure and the Operational Art.” (2014)

His firm has been involved with applying advanced business practices, planning and designing mission critical network infrastructures for three decades.

He served as an award-winning adjunct faculty member at Northwestern University’s Executive Masters and undergraduate programs for two decades (1986-2006).  He has been the keynote speaker at national and international conferences.

He also appears in civil and federal courts as well as public utilities commission hearings as an expert witness in mission critical networks, network infrastructure and cabling issues.

He began his career at Bell Telephone Laboratories (real-time software engineering), AT&T (technical marketing & enterprise-wide network design support for major clients) and Arthur Young (now Ernst & Young, Director of Telecommunications & Computer Hardware consulting).

Contact him at [email protected] or 773-370-1888. Follow daily Carlini-isms at





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