One of the steps towards sales success is creating and following comprehensive guidelines. No matter the industry, employees need to understand and follow a set of principles that define how to perform in their roles.
The team needs to understand how to work in sync in order to win customers and close deals and how to perform in the hundreds of possible scenarios and situations they could face. Thankfully, there are sales methodologies that can provide the foundation for these guidelines.
Establishing a guiding plan isn’t easy, of course, and must align with your mission, goals, target, and needs. In this guide, you’ll learn how to use a sales methodology to set yourself up for success. We cover what sales methodologies are, how to implement them and the five most common you can evaluate today.
What is a sales methodology?
Where a sales process is a specific map for how to perform a task, a sales methodology is a set of guiding principles for how to act within and between the sales stages.
One of, if not the first methodology was developed by Xerox in the 1970s and dubbed the ‘Needs Satisfaction’ approach. It was designed to provide their sales reps with a roadmap to navigate the highly competitive printing and copying space.
It became so successful that Xerox ended up selling their methodology to other companies under the name “Professional Selling Skills”. These companies, as well as individual contributors, began promoting their own iterations that built upon the original, and several of these methods are still used today.
Each sales methodology at its core is designed to empower reps to perform at their best using proven approaches to identify and solve problems. These approaches are usually based on substantiated psychological principles, as well as field-tested tactics conducted by the experts who developed them.
For example, one aspect of a sales methodology might help you convert more appointments into sales by giving you actionable approaches and responses to common objections. An inbound sales methodology, meanwhile, could help you develop messaging and campaigns that attract prospects to you.
To put it simply, sales methodologies are the actionable, how-to “guides” behind a sales process. These activities keep prospect and buyer needs in mind, bridging the gap between each stage of the sales cycle.
In order for a methodology to be effective, you must ensure it’s well adopted across the entire sales organization. This means having efficient training that empowers reps, managers and even director-level salespeople. Most importantly, training must provide actionable and scalable advice to help reps build their skillset.
Should you adopt a sales methodology?
The short answer to this question is: yes. There are many possible sales stages, and using a methodology as a guideline of how to approach and navigate each stage will give your team a better chance of success.
But instead of relying on simple anecdotes, let’s explore real-world benefits of adopting a sales methodology (or several) as part of your sales process.
A sales methodology will improve hiring and training
Even high-performing salespeople are more likely to succeed if they’re given a framework that’s proven to work with your buyer personas. While it’s attractive to hire high-quality salespeople with a solid track record using a different approach to yours, allowing them to stick with their familiar approach could slow them down.
Therefore, an example of a sales methodology for new hires could be a manual that helps them navigate the stages within your process, instead of immediately giving them in-depth training on your product, sales cycle and process.
By focusing on high-level processes and methodologies, you will create a richer knowledge base and more impactful training material that truly empowers salespeople. The message should be clear that these methodologies may differ from the methodologies your star new-hire is used to, but that this is what’s proven to work with your buyer personas.
Only after they’ve grasped these overarching methodologies should you introduce them to the detailed sales processes and tasks they’ll be undertaking in their day to day duties.
Sales methodologies also give you the principles to provide better one-to-one coaching. Sales managers can look at the areas that reps are doing well, and which need addressing. You can then tailor existing training to help reps improve on these sticking points.
A sales methodology will clarify your process
Adopting new sales methodologies helps optimize the entire sales process. In the world of marketing, the concept of A/B testing helps marketers to experiment with a single element of a marketing message, landing page or advert at a time. If several elements were tested at once, marketers couldn’t see which change contributes to an increase (or decrease) in results.
The same principles should be applied to your sales process optimization. By investing in sales methodologies, everyone on your team will be applying the same activities. Measuring changes in deal flow, deals closed, etc. become easier to manage. Tracking and pinpointing the root cause of these changes is easier due to your team’s correlative activities (or set of activities).
How do you implement a sales methodology?
Before we look at some of the different sales methodologies available to you, let’s look at how to effectively implement them into your sales organization.
There are four things you need to consider:
1. Map your entire sales process
Methodologies can only be applied to the steps buyers take to become a customer. Therefore, the first step is to map out the existing sales stages.
Here are three steps to help you map your existing sales process:
- Define each process stage: Understand the goal of each stage, who manages each area and where those roles are located. You should also be aware of how many reps are within each team.
- Use a structure: Process maps are visual in nature, so you’ll need a structure to bring yours together. Use something as simple as pen and paper, or a specialized tool like Lucidchart. Define what different shapes mean within the process. For example, rectangles could illustrate an “action”, while diamonds stand for “decision”.
- Map your existing process: Interview stakeholders from your sales, marketing and demand generation teams in order to uncover each stage of the sales process. For example, ask SDRs questions like “how do you prioritize leads?” or “how many activities do reps execute a day?”
Here’s an example of what your process map might look like:
We cover the mapping process in more depth in our sales strategy guide.
2. Understand buyer needs
With your sales process mapped out, you’ll need to bridge the gap between your sales messaging and customer needs. Questionnaires can be an effective tool for this, but we recommend you talk to customers on the phone to understand the pain-points your product solves.
Buyer needs can be segmented into three buckets:
- Technical needs: These can be outlined clearly in a request for discussion (RFD), but you’ll need to dig deeper with qualifying questions.
- Financial needs: More accurately, this means the value your product or service delivers to your buyer. For example, your solution may help alleviate recurring manual tasks and makes the customer more efficient in their job, which in turn helps then save on time and budget and increase revenue.
- Personal needs: Get an understanding of your buyer’s personal motivations. If they want to advance in their career, your solution will help them to look good in front of their boss.
On top of these needs, there are several buyer motivations. These are often relevant to pricing but can include more nuanced reactions like fear and affinity. For the former, a buyer may be scared to take the leap due to a tight budget. With the latter, a buyer may lean towards working with you because of a personal or emotional connection they feel with your brand. Take these into account when collecting information on buyer needs.
3. Adopt or develop methodologies for each stage
With each stage of the sales process mapped out, you’re able to select the methodologies that support them. Each methodology should guide reps on what to do at each stage, even going as far as telling them what to say in order to move the deal along.
You can either adopt existing methodologies, such as SPIN Selling or The Challenger Sales model (which we will explain in detail below). Or, you can develop unique methodologies based on your understanding of your customers.
Adam Hawes, CRO at GatherContent, says that it’s often best to adopt elements of several methodologies to suit your needs:
“Sales methodologies are like items in your wardrobe. You need to choose the right one for the right occasion and you should be comfortable combining different methodologies to meet your ‘buyer’s needs’.
“Everything needs to start with the buyer journey and what will lead to the least amount of friction. At the moment, my team uses a cocktail of inbound, consultative and customer-centric methodologies.”
4. Create training and coaching materials
The final and most important part of methodology adoption is creating the right training. There needs to be a universal and continuous understanding that these methodologies hold importance.
Start by documenting your new methodologies. Create guides and playbooks that salespeople can get their teeth into. You must also create hands-on training to supplement this, holding regular sessions to help improve your reps’ skills. We’ll cover this topic in more depth towards the end of this guide.
6 common sales methodologies and their role in the sales process
With the adoption and training process covered, you may be wondering what sales methodologies are available to you and which are right for your business.
After all, not all methodologies serve the same purpose. You must not only consider the needs and communication style of the buyer, but also the cultural fit within your organization. Here, we’ll explore five of the most common sales methodologies and which scenarios you might use them in.
First conceptualized by Neil Rackham in his book “SPIN Selling”, this methodology is the result of the analysis of 35,000 sales calls to figure out why high-performing salespeople get great results. The acronym stands for:
- Situation questions: Help you understand the current situation of the prospect’s day-to-day job, project, etc.
- Problem questions: Are designed to understand the problems your prospect is facing and their true motivations for solving them.
- Implication questions: Gets the prospect thinking about the consequences of not taking action to address those problems.
- Need-payoff questions: Gets the prospect thinking about how solving the problem would change their situation for the better.
It’s a simple framework designed to uncover prospect pains and illustrate how your solution can best serve them. Jamie Stiff, Head of Sales at Lyvly, is an advocate of the methodology for how quickly it gets to the point:
“You really get to the heart of the problem, and it eliminates the ‘nice-to-haves’ while getting into the real needs of the client. This allows the seller to operate with genuine care and authenticity, which builds credibility and trust.”
SPIN Selling is a methodology best used at the discovery/qualification stage of the sales process. It focuses on understanding the needs of your prospect first, instead of jumping head-first into a product pitch.
Which is why the situation and problem questions are so effective. It helps you gather information about the prospect’s role, organization and strategic goals. Of course, you should do your research before every call, but these questions help you dig deeper into the mind of the prospect.
Situation questions might include:
- What does your current project management process look like?
- Which tools do you use to manage your projects?
- How long have you been using these tools?
The answers to these questions will give you the context to guide the rest of your conversation. Before you can sell your product, you need to understand which problems the prospect has that it can solve.
Problem questions include:
- How reliable is communication between team members during projects?
- How often do tasks and milestones slip through the cracks?
- Are there any points of friction between tasks?
If you’re selling project management software, these questions will help uncover gaps in your prospect’s existing workflow or solution. They’re tied directly to your product, but they don’t talk about features just yet.
Once you’ve identified the challenges your prospect faces, it’s time to dig into the implications of those issues. Your prospect might not see these problems as critical, so your implication questions should shine a light on the true pain.
Implication questions might look like:
- How much time does your team waste on ineffective communication?
- What impact do missed milestones have on your projects?
- You mentioned unclear dependencies are a point of friction for completing projects. How often does this cause delays in getting projects wrapped up?
Finally, need-payoff questions tie all the above together, guiding the prospect to the conclusion that your product or service can solve their problems.
Need-payoff questions include:
- Would a platform that removes this friction help you and your team complete projects faster?
- Would a project management platform that centralizes communication make your team work more efficiently?
According to Marc Wayshaw, 19% of non-top performers pitch their offering while only 7% of top performers report reaching the pitching stage. This seems like a contradictory stat, but what it actually means is that top performers are closing deals before they even reach the pitching stage; they are engaging prospects by asking pointed, conversational questions to uncover problems and provide a solution.
If you’ve done the groundwork correctly, and uncovered the most critical problems, then positioning your product as the solution will be a breeze.
The Challenger Sales Model
The Challenger Sale methodology uses an approach that aims to teach the prospect, tailor the sales process to their needs and take control of the conversation. Written by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, “The Challenger Sale” outlines how sales reps fall into one of five different profiles:
- The Hard Worker: Doesn’t give up easily, has an interest in self-development and is self-motivated.
- The Lone Wolf: Follows their own instincts, delivers results but can be difficult to manage.
- The Relationship Builder: Takes a consultative selling approach and builds relationships with prospects.
- The Problem Solver: Detail-oriented, responsive and aims to solve all the problems they face.
- The Challenger: Has a unique outlook of the world, enjoys challenging their prospect’s views and has a strong understanding of the business.
According to Dixon and Adamson’s findings, 40% of high-performing salespeople use a Challenger style of selling. Furthermore, only 7% of high-performers use a relationship-driven style, which happens to be the least effective approach.
This is why the authors put their focus on The Challenger profile for a book that has earned them a huge following. Paul De Barros, Sales Manager at ChargeBee, explains why they adopted it themselves:
“What I like about The Challenger Sales methodology framework is the idea of ‘Teach, Tailor and Take Control’. The ‘Teach’ section is a big one.
“At ChargeBee, we try and help clients by showing them new ways to think of their pricing plans and ways to streamline their revenue operations.”
In the book, it’s made clear that, with the right training, any sales rep can learn to become a Challenger. It just requires a blend of the right skills and organizational capacity to foster that change.
Solution Selling is an approach that outlines how your product or service can help prospects overcome a problem. Similar to SPIN, Solution Selling helps reps uncover the challenges or problems the prospect faces, and suggest areas of their product that will solve them.
Unlike other methodologies, adopting Solution Selling can easily be implemented into your current sales process. It simply requires you to reframe how you present your product or service to prospects, taking a more consultative selling approach.
There are six steps to the Solution Selling process:
- Prepare: Instead of simply researching your prospect’s organization, you research what their biggest problems could be before you speak to them for the first time.
- Diagnose: During the initial call, ask questions that get to the crux of their problem and uncover gaps in their processes.
- Qualify: Use qualifying questions to figure out if your prospect has an interest in what you have to offer, and has the power to make a decision.
- Educate: Provide insights on how their business will benefit from your product. Use statistics, case studies and client results to outline how your solution will solve their biggest problems.
- Solve: Show them exactly how your solution will solve the problems they outlined in step two above. Use the same language and framing as the prospect.
- Close: Address any objections by circling back to the benefits, guiding the conversation towards the sale.
This process adopts many traditional sales stages. The difference is that Solution Selling aims to educate the prospect with relevant materials, case studies and insights before moving on to the product (the solve stage). This is where having a strong sales enablement library can be invaluable.
The Sandler Selling System
The Sandler Sales Methodology aims to treat the salesperson and the prospect as equals who are both invested in the sales process and come to a mutually beneficial conclusion. Trust is built by acting as an advisor, which is a key principle during the objection handling stage.
Sales reps following the Sandler Sales Methodology raise common objections, such as time or budget, ahead of time, aiming to solve them proactively. If it appears that the prospect isn’t a good fit, the rep will let them go.
While this is an uncomfortable thing for salespeople to do, it’s an important trait to foster. As James Condon, European Growth Director at VanHack, says:
“I always prioritize transparency over anything. This means understanding if I have the solution for what a client needs, and being comfortable with letting go if they’re not a fit.
“I’d rather sell something that I know is going to be of value to a buyer and provide a service that will truly work for their business, rather than waste both our time.”
The Sandler Selling System is built up of three stages, each with steps underneath them:
- Stage 1, Build and sustain a relationship: This involves building rapport, having a desire to solve the prospect’s problem and controlling the selling process.
- Stage 2, Qualify the opportunity: Understand the fit between your solution and the prospect’s pain, determine if they’re able to commit (budget) and who is involved in the decision-making process.
- Stage 3, Close the sale: These activities only happen if prospects pass the qualification process. Presentations should focus on the pains raised during stages one and two.
Focus on qualifying the prospect early on, as well as communicating value. Don’t be afraid to let an opportunity go if it’s not a good fit.
Conceptual Selling, created by Robert Miller and Stephen Heiman, is a methodology that addresses the perception that people don’t buy products or services, they buy based on their concept of your solution.
Instead of selling a pitch, Conceptual Selling instructs reps to first understand a prospect’s perception (or concept) of their product. Miller and Heiman encourage reps to ask questions within five categories:
- Confirmation: Questions that reaffirm information
- New information: Understand a prospect’s concept of your product and what they’d like to achieve
- Attitude: Understand the prospect and their connection to the project or problem
- Commitment: Understand how invested the prospect is in finding a solution
- Basic issue: Uncover any issues or potential problems that could stop the sale
Conceptual Selling focuses on listening. It provides a framework for reps to generate information, give information and get a commitment from the prospect.
Developed by Jill Konrath, who wrote a book on her concept, SNAP Selling recognizes that buyers have busy lives and often have little time to be taken through a long sales process.
The acronym SNAP stands for:
- Keep It Simple: Make your proposal and process as simple as possible for customers
- Be iNvaluable: Make sure that your customers rely on you
- Always Align: Always link back to your customers’ objectives, challenges and needs
- ۠Raise Priorities: Ensure that they focus on what’s most important
Aaron Browning, VP Sales at FrontSpin, is a proponent of the methodology.
“Without question, the mantra of ‘Keep it Simple’ is the root of why SNAP selling is so effective,” he explains. “We tend to get overwhelmed by our offering, buyer needs and the many players that we forget to keep it simple.
“Our job is to become the buyer’s trusted guide, then everything flows from there. Prior to SNAP, I had already incorporated a very similar approach, so the marriage made sense. But the SNAP selling methodology provided a repeatable template that I incorporate into every deal today.”
How to choose the right methodology for your business
Any sales methodology will be a foundational element for your team, so it needs to fit into your business comfortably.
Choosing a methodology that doesn’t align with your buyer personas, customer needs and business goals may have a negative impact.
The best way to evaluate which methodology is right for your business is by identifying your needs first. If your business struggles to identify what your prospect’s pain points are, and therefore cannot easily convey how your product is a viable resolution, you may want to pick a methodology that focuses on identifying prospect’s problems early on.
However, if your product is easy to understand and it doesn’t take much effort to turn a lead into a prospect, perhaps it’s best to choose a methodology that helps make it easier for your prospects to buy your product during their busy day.
First, identify what your needs are; then, identify what methodologies can help solve your problems in the best way.
“My first response would be to use a methodology that will get used consistently,” observes Paul Dudley, Director of Sales at BrightEdge.
“Having a consistent process ensures that everyone in the business is speaking the same language as it relates to deals. I’ve personally used the Sandler method, or variants of it, for most of my career.
“Sandler provides a great structure for establishing control and a mutual agreement around what you are trying to achieve in meetings and the sales cycle overall. It then frames the conversation around buyer needs and sales opportunities to establish a proposed solution, which a customer would agree to justify a purchase.
“Then, it’s up to you to prove you can deliver on that solution. Once you do, you already have an agreement around the criteria for purchase.”
Sales methodology training to empower your team
As mentioned earlier, the key to adopting a new methodology is in the training. In fact, SiriusDecisions found that high-performing sales organizations are twice as likely to provide ongoing training as low-performing ones.
No matter what methodology you’re adopting, your sales training must include the following:
- Evaluation of current skills and results
- Training material development and testing
- Application of new skills
- Feedback and accountability
Let’s explore each step in more depth:
Evaluation of current skills and results
Ideally, your chosen methodology should either a) solve a problem or b) improve existing results. Therefore, the first step is to understand:
- How your team is currently performing
- The results you’d like them to generate
- What needs to happen to bridge the gap
This requires an assessment of your reps. Start with a self-assessment, where reps are asked a series of questions to evaluate the perception of their own skills. Encourage them to be honest, as it will help you develop training in areas where they need it most.
As a manager, you must also assess their strengths, weaknesses and the results they bring. Do this through regular one-to-one meetings, by analyzing their sales calls and email activity.
Finally, collect sales pipeline data to create benchmarks. You can then use these benchmarks to set new goals and sales objectives.
Training material development and testing
Before you start developing your playbooks, slides and other materials, it’s advised that you test your new methodology on a small scale—especially if you lead a large sales team.
By selecting two to three of your reps to experiment with your chosen methodology as part of a short-term project, you can begin looking for bumps that will need ironing out as part of your training. Most importantly, you’ll be able to see early signs that your chosen methodology contributes to better results or a faster sales cycle.
Sales training development can be segmented into three categories:
- Playbooks: Manuals, video tutorials and a central knowledge base that reps can refer back to and study as part of their learning.
- Group training: According to the SiriusDecisions State of Sales Onboarding Report, 73% of sales professionals use classroom training as their primary onboarding mechanism. Classroom-style training can guide reps through new methodologies. These sessions should cover both high-level principles, as well as the day-to-day application of techniques, activities and approaches.
- One-to-one coaching: As a sales manager, it’s your job to ensure each rep is growing, and any sticking points are being addressed.
Application of new skills
With initial training complete (as well as continuous scheduled training), it’s time for reps to execute on the new methodology. These new habits will stretch them outside their comfort zone. Encourage them to play around, reassuring them that things don’t need to be perfect from the beginning.
Regular one-to-one coaching will play a big part in this phase. Reps will inevitably come across various challenges, so take a hands-on approach during the first few weeks a methodology is implemented.
Feedback and accountability
As your team begins to internalize the new methodology, the training wheels can come off. This is where you can begin to encourage them to have accountability over their own development.
To maintain the new habits they’ve developed, reps should partner up with their peers to help them keep on track. Assign reps into groups of three, allowing two of them to maintain their training if one is on vacation.
Of course, as a manager, you must continue to schedule one-to-one coaching sessions. But this level of ownership encourages reps to take action of their own accord. They also have the chance to get a fresh perspective (and ideas) from their peers.
Sales methodologies shouldn’t be confused with sales processes. Your sales process is built up of the individual stages that guide prospects to become customers. Your chosen methodology is the approach and group of activities used within those stages.
The methodology you choose will depend on your product (complexity and price), as well as how your customers prefer to buy. It should serve both your sales reps and your prospects to achieve a mutually-beneficial outcome.
Look for methodologies that provide prospects with value. Education and providing information is one of the best ways to establish trust and improve performance.