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 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:
- 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.
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:
- 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. 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:
- Prepare. Instead of simply researching your potential customers' business, 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. Asking the right questions from the outset makes the initial outreach feel less transactional and shows the prospect that you’ve done your homework, thus will be more responsive to their needs.
- 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 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 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, 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:
- 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.
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:
- 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.”