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 answer the question “What is a methodology?”, share the six most common sales methodologies you can evaluate today and explain how to implement them.
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 sales 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, when asking “What is a methodology?”, the best answer is that sales methodologies are the actionable, how-to “guides” behind a sales process. These activities keep buyer and prospect needs in mind and bridge 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.
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.
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.
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 your sales force. The message should be clear that these methodologies may differ from the methodologies your star new-hire is used to, but, after much trial and error, data collection and data analysis, that this is what’s proven to work with your buyer personas.
Only after they’ve grasped these specific methods 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 sales coaching. Sales managers can look at the areas that reps are doing well, and which need assistance. You can then tailor existing training to help reps improve on these sticking points.
Adopting new sales methodologies helps optimize the entire sales process. In the world of marketing, the concept of A/B testing helps marketers to test hypotheses by experimenting with a single element of a marketing message, landing page or advert at a time. If their research process involved several elements being tested at once, marketers couldn’t see which change contributed to an increase (or decrease) in results.
The same type of research 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).
Before we look at some of the most popular sales methodologies, let’s look at how to effectively implement them into your sales organization.
There are four things you need to consider before implementing any sales methodology:
Methodologies can only be applied to the steps buyers take to become a customer (i.e. their buying process). Therefore, the first step is to map out the existing sales stages.
Here are three steps to help you map your existing sales process:
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.
With your sales process mapped out, you’ll need to bridge the gap between your sales messaging and customer needs. Quantitative research methods such as questionnaires can be an effective tool for this, but we recommend also employing qualitative research such as you talking to customers on the phone or assembling focus groups to understand the pain-points your product solves.
Buyer needs can be segmented into three buckets:
On top of these needs, there are several buyer motivations, so make sure rooting those out are part of your research objectives. 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.
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.”
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.
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 six 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:
SPIN Selling focuses on these four types of questions with the objective of getting to the core of the problem fast and setting the foundation for a long-term relationship.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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 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:
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. Solution Selling is similar to value selling in its approach, which primarily focuses on problem solving for the client.
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:
This customer-centric selling 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 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, or the Miller Heiman sales process, instructs sales professionals to first understand a prospect’s perception (or concept) of their product. Miller and Heiman encourage reps to ask questions within five categories:
Conceptual Selling focuses on listening. It provides a framework for reps to generate information, give information and get a commitment from the prospect.
The Miller Heiman sales process was designed to make complicated transactions, often involving those in SaaS and B2B sales, easier to manage. It is often considered the best sales methodology for large account management and for high value transactions involving multiple decision makers.
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:
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.”
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 sales funnel, 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.”
As mentioned earlier, the key to adopting a new methodology is in the training. Sales training is directly related to sales performance. In fact, LinkedIn’s State of Sales Report 2020 found that top performing salespeople are 33 to 26 percentage points more likely to spend time with managers training.
No matter what methodology you’re adopting, your sales training must include the following:
Let’s explore each step in more depth:
Ideally, your chosen methodology should either a) solve a problem or b) improve existing results. Therefore, the first step is to understand:
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.
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:
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.
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.
One of the most important lessons to take from our answer to “What is a methodology?” is that 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 win-win 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.
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