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Reveling In Complexity

by David Brock on January 6th, 2021

As we look at complex B2B enterprise level solutions, without a doubt, they are complex. When a customer talks to us about our solutions, we can always solve their problems, but as we look at proposing a solution we pummel the customer with endless questions, “How many people will need this, what are the other systems/processes we must interface with, how should we customize the solution to your specific needs, what are the average loads/utilization, what are the peak loads,…..” Then there are the implementation issues, “We need to do this, then this, but of course you might do that, or if you did this……..”

The customer is trying to solve a problem—a difficult one, but in our engagement process, we make the issues much more difficult and confusing. We make complex problems more complex than they really are.

It’s understandable. The solutions we sell are complex. The problems our customers face are complex. We live, every day, in the world of the complex. As a result, it’s human nature to address complexity by reveling in the complex.

Sometimes, we lose site of how we revel in complexity. If we are dealing with the same complex issues every day, they become less complex to us. We understand them, we understand how to deal with the complexity, we start taking it for granted, not realizing we may be confusing the customer.

Sometimes, we wear our ability to address the complex with a “badge of honor.” I remember when I sold mainframe computers and very complex enterprise software, I looked down my nose at minicomputers, PCs, and simple “packaged software.” This demonstrates how blind/arrogant I was. Customers voted for simplification with their decisions and spending on those systems.

But our customers don’t deal with these issues every day. They struggle to understand, they struggle to make sense of what they are facing and to determine a path forward.

We don’t help our customers by continuing to address these complex issues by inflicting more complexity on them, however well intended we might be.

We need to help our customers make sense of what they are experiencing. We don’t do that by continuing to focus on complexity, but rather helping simplify the issues, prioritize what’s most important, and develop strategies to address the complexity systematically. (As a caveat, we don’t help customers with simplistic responses to complex problem, but we do help them through sensemaking and simplification.)

Our job is not to make the complex more complex, but rather it’s to help our customers make sense and simplify the issues that stand in the way of their ability to achieve their goals.

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2 Comments
  1. Great article, David, and reminds me of a lesson I learned early in my career as a Consultant.
    At the start of a consulting engagement (which may equivocate to a consultative selling process) there is a need to work with a client (or prospect) to open up a problem in order to fully understand the cause and the range of options for solving the problem. The deeper the analysis and the wider the range of options the more fun it may be for the Consultant, though there comes a point in the process when the Consultant’s role is to start tightening the scope of the proposed interventions.
    As you point out, David, the Client is looking for a solution, and the Consultant is paid to find and probably to deliver one. Once the determined solution has been identified, all the other options need to be quickly shut down (even if they turn out to be more optimal). The Client needs reassurance that the Consultant knows what they are doing and that they are being taken down the right path (that they are investing in the right solution).
    It’s the divide between diagnosis and delivery, and knowing when to leave the first stage, and how not to re-visit it once committed to the second.

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