There comes a time in every company’s journey when the realities of scale become impossible to ignore.
Suddenly, your business has gone from a single salesperson to a team of hundreds, each of whom has a different approach to selling — and not all of them right for your business. But to succeed, you’ll need your team to execute your go-to-market strategy in a single, unified motion. How can you unite many sellers under one approach?
Enter sales methodologies. Businesses rely on sales methodologies to help their reps consistently deliver at every stage of the sales cycle. If your business is growing fast, now is the time to explore investing in one. Here’s everything you’ll need to know to make the right choice:
- What is a sales methodology?
- Why do I need a sales methodology?
- What are the different types of sales methodologies?
- What are some popular sales methodologies?
- Which sales methodology is best?
- How do you choose a sales methodology?
- Best practices for selecting, implementing and optimizing a sales methodology
What Is a Sales Methodology?
A sales methodology is any documented approach that prescribes specific actions a salesperson should take when engaging with customers as they move through the different stages of the sales cycle. Businesses use sales methodologies to codify their selling techniques and empower sellers to consistently achieve quota.
Many consulting companies and vendors have created and popularized specific sales methodologies, but a sales methodology can also be homegrown. In either case, your sales methodology should take the guesswork out of selling by creating a repeatable framework that can be easily adopted by your sales team and supported by other revenue functions. As Dan Swift, CEO at Empire Selling said, “A sales methodology ensures your go-to-market teams are all singing from the same hymn sheet.”
Why Do I Need a Sales Methodology?
While technically not required, you’ll find that most businesses have some sort of sales methodology in place. That’s because methodologies are highly effective at scaling your sales team and ensuring that every rep is prepared for every customer conversation.
As Dave Mattson, CEO and President of Sandler Training explained, “Businesses need our sales team to be on the same page. And not just the salespeople but those who support the process, such as consultants, sales engineers, and so on. Under one methodology, your team will know exactly what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and with whom.”
Sales methodologies provide reps with tactical steps they can use as they move customers through the sales cycle. With a sales methodology in place, reps should always know the next step in any sales scenario. This ensures that sellers are engaging customers the right way for every stage — and, in theory, effectively moving buyers to close deals.
Said Matt Cameron, CEO of SaaSy Sales Leadership, “On a micro-level, a good methodology will ensure that sales people pursue deals that fit your customer profile, that you have the best deal strategy to win, and, as part of that, you have the relationships required to get the deal over the line.”
At the macro-level, Matt identified repeatability, predictability, and improvement as core benefits. “By adhering to a consistent methodology, you know where in the process reps are allowing deals to leak out of the funnel. You can then make improvements by either coaching the rep or modifying the global approach,” he explained.
From both perspectives, it’s clear: for businesses looking to efficiently scale their sales organizations, deploying a sales methodology is highly recommended.
What are the Different Types of Sales Methodologies?
Though there are many sales methodology providers, most sales methodologies fall into one of the following general categories: transactional, solution, consultative, and provocative selling.
Transactional selling focuses on enabling customers to quickly purchase (or transact) a product. Using this sales framework, salespeople will focus on moving buyers forward quickly and efficiently. This approach is best for businesses with simple products that don’t require deep engagement to drive value.
Solution selling seeks to help customers understand why your product can solve a problem that the buyer has already identified. The goal is to position your product above the competition by focusing on product capabilities and benefits. This approach is best for businesses with familiar products that can be bought in days or weeks.
Consultative selling happens when customers don’t fully understand the problem your product solves. With this approach, a salesperson’s goal is to educate a customer, uncover a problem, and prescribe a solution. This is necessary for products that are typically more complex. With consultative selling, sales typically take six to eighteen months.
Provocative selling requires sellers to anticipate a buyer problem before the buyer has identified it themselves. Salespeople must then proactively move a buyer towards purchase by offering innovative solutions and, often, deeply strategic product offerings. Deals here typically take three to nine months.
What Are Some Popular Sales Methodologies?
- What it is: The brainchild of Stephen Heiman and Robert Miller, conceptual selling views the sales process as a matter of convincing buyers to purchase not a product, but an idea.
- How it works: With this methodology, salespeople focus on actively listening, engaging with empathy, and extensive discovery in order to understand a customer’s desired outcomes. A salesperson will then connect the dots between this ideal state and product capabilities.
- Who should use it: Conceptual selling works for businesses whose products must be deeply embedded into a buyer’s strategic operations to generate value. Typically this excludes products that can be purchased in self-service modules.
- What it is: This is CustomerCentric Selling’s eponymous sales methodology. With this practice, salespeople focus on having meaningful conversations with prospects in order to identify needs and determine the best solution.
- How it works: The above goals are achieved using Targeted Conversation Lists, a set of leads that marketers and sellers have agreed to target. By going after specific accounts and titles, sellers are able to narrow their focus on key buyers and invest in interactive conversations that determine the buyer’s need and move them towards purchase.
- Who should use it: CustomerCentric Selling is best for companies that are focused on becoming deeply embedded within customers’ businesses. Because it focuses on strategically aligning marketing and sales to target specific accounts, it’s also suited for companies with robust go-to-market teams that require tight alignment to succeed.
- What it is: Inbound selling is a sales methodology that relies on continued buyer engagement to close deals. This newer methodology is a recent product of the digital age and centers on the idea that businesses can help educate buyers via websites and other digital media.
- How it works: With this methodology, salespeople should focus on connecting buyers with relevant content and continually engaging them via a number of channels, such as social media or in-person events. Over the course of the relationship, sellers should use these touch points to align product offerings with buyer pain points and guide the deal towards close.
- Who should use it: Because inbound selling relies heavily on content and numerous touch points, it is best suited to businesses with strong marketing teams that can support content generation and demand generation activities across many channels.
- What it is: MEDDIC is an acronym that stands for Metrics, Economic Buyer, Decisions Criteria, Decision Process, Identify Pain, Champion. It’s characterized by an intense focus on lead qualification.
- How it works: Salespeople using this methodology follow a strict set of lead qualification guidelines in order to understand whether or not a buyer is a good fit for their product. If buyers meet the MEDDIC standards, then the salesperson will move forward and close the deal. Salespeople focus on becoming trusted advisors and avoid simply pitching the product.
- Who should use it: This structure is suited to businesses that have a clear understanding of their ideal customer and no easy way to demonstrate the value of their product without deep customer buy-in.
- What it is: N.E.A.T is an acronym that stands for Need, Economic Impact, Access to Authority, and Timeline. This methodology attempts to qualify buyers through discovery, thus allowing sellers to spend more time with leads who are more likely to buy.
- How it works: With this methodology, salespeople should attach product benefits to buyer pain points. As such, salespeople will focus on listening to the buyer and uncovering pressing needs. Next, sellers will show how their product can economically benefit buyers. Then, salespeople will map the account to ensure that those with purchasing authority are included in the discussion. Finally, salespeople will set a timeline to ensure the deal closes in a timely fashion.
- Who should use it: N.E.A.T is a good sales methodology for businesses whose buyers don’t follow a strictly linear customer journey. For example, SaaS solution buyers, who interact with a brand via numerous digital touch points long before they buy, may need this type of upfront qualification by sellers before they pursue the deal further.
- What it is: SNAP Selling was invented by Jill Konrath in 2012. This acronym stands for Simple, iNvaluable, Aligned, and Priority.
- How it works: The idea behind SNAP is that buyers are busier than ever. According to Konrath, this lack of time and resistance to change creates three blockers: access, the status quo, and changing resources. By offering a simple value proposition and invaluable benefits, aligning these outcomes to core objectives, and adequately prioritizing these goals, sellers can cut through the noise and close deals.
- Who should use it: SNAP offers a streamlined approach to selling to busy buyers. Therefore, it is best suited to digital-first businesses that need to communicate effectively in order to engage buyers and stand out amongst their peers.
- What it is: SPIN selling refers to the four types of questions salespeople must ask prospects:
○ What is the situation as it currently relates to the product?
○ What problem do you want to solve?
○ What is the implication of not solving that problem?
○ What is the need-payoff of solving that problem?
- How it works: SPIN sellers will ask prospects these questions, or variations of these questions, in the order specified above. As the conversation progresses with buyers, salespeople will be able to build a complete picture of the buyer’s needs. Modern SPIN sellers will be cautioned to ask as few questions as possible and amend this discovery process with research done prior to engaging.
- Who should use it: SPIN selling is broadly applicable. Given its general line of questioning, SPIN selling can, in some cases, be deployed alongside other sales methodologies.
Target Account Selling
- What it is: Target Account Selling focuses on helping sellers approach complicated deals by breaking down processes into simple steps.
- How it works: Salespeople focus on multi-threading an account to ensure they are speaking with key decision-makers. The deal is then approached via a series of small steps; ideally, each engagement accomplishes a major milestone and prepares both sellers and buyers for the next step.
- Who should use it: This approach is best for complicated deals with protracted buying cycles and is an effective way to approach major enterprise buyers. Because it can also be automated via your CRM, teams with sophisticated sales operations teams may find this approach effective.
The Challenger Sale
- What it is: In 2011, Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson published “The Challenger Sale: How to Take Control of the Customer Conversation.” Their new methodology encouraged “challenger” salespeople to drive the deal by aggressively steering the sales experience.
- How it works: According to the Challenger methodology, sellers fall into five categories: the Hard Worker, the Relationship Builder, the Lone Wolf, the Problem Solver, and the Challenger. Of these various archetypes, the “challenger” seeks to see the world differently by understanding the customer’s business and pushing them out of their comfort zone. This is achieved by creating constructive tension — or by challenging the status quo — in order to make the cost of doing nothing clear.
- Who should use it: This assertive sales methodology is best suited to innovative businesses that don’t solve an immediately obvious problem or require additional momentum to ignite a buyer’s interest.
The Sandler System
- What it is: Founded in 1967, the Sandler Selling System views sales as a dance between buyers and sellers. In this methodology, salespeople will act not as reps but as trusted consultants who can advise on the best purchasing decision.
- How it works: This methodology focuses on building and sustaining sales relationships. Initially, a salesperson will do deep discovery in order to qualify buyers; once a lead is considered qualified, the salesperson will then “take the lead” to set expectations and move the deal forward, all while maintaining open lines of communication.
- Who should use it: Like many of the other more consultative selling methodologies, the Sandler System will work best for businesses with more complicated products and whose buyers will benefit from the additional investment in the buyer-seller relationship.
Value Selling Framework
- What it is: The Value Selling Framework works to ensure salespeople can meet quota by spending their valuable time engaging with qualified leads. The Value Selling Framework also emphasizes selling the value a product provides over the features or services themselves.
- How it works: With the Value Selling Framework, reps should work quickly to qualify buyers and generate high-value pipeline. Once salespeople engage with buyers, they will then focus on conveying the value of a product or solution in order to develop a deal that benefits all parties involved.
- Who should use it: The Value Selling Framework can be tailored to many industries, buyer personas, and even roles within a company — in fact, it is possible for an entire organization to adopt this value-first methodology.
Which Sales Methodology Is Best?
As the previous section revealed, most modern methodologies focus on shared themes like relationship building, sharing value, mutual benefits, and so on. In theory, you could succeed or fail with any methodology.
The core differentiators will be how your salespeople and your customers respond to the methodology you’ve chosen. To win salespeople over, modern businesses have found success integrating their sales methodologies with their sales enablement platforms. By embedding essential knowledge within the platforms that salespeople use everyday, you can ensure that reps adopt your methodology and secure a return on your investment.
On the one hand, finding the best sales methodology for your customers requires thinking around what will move your customers to purchase. If customers are familiar with your market, a strategy that challenges their worldview may fall flat. On the other hand, if your customers need more education, a more consultative methodology might win you success.
Thus, at the end of the day, the best sales methodology is the one that your reps actually use — and the one that buyers respond to.
How Do You Choose a Sales Methodology?
In order to select the best sales methodology, it’s important to think about three key areas of your business:
Your strategy will inform which type of sales methodology you need. Different methodologies will support different lengths of sales cycles and require different levels of customer engagement. Understanding how you go to market is essential to choosing a sales methodology.
Your product will also help define how your customers move to purchase. Some products are easy to use and can be bought through a self-service portal. Others require deeper upfront education from your sales team in order to convince buyers to buy.
Your customers are also an important consideration. Each of the above methodologies requires a different type of customer interaction; some are far more aggressive than others. Depending on how you want to engage your customers and the type of experience you want to provide, some methodologies may be more suitable to your needs than others.
Best Practices for Selecting, Implementing, and Optimizing a Sales Methodology
Start with the why
The first step in a sales methodology selection process is to understand the goal behind your purchase. Starting here is an important part of ensuring that your methodology provides real value to your salespeople by helping them work more effectively and efficiently.
Consider your current sales strategy — what do you want to achieve and how can a sales methodology help? Said Dan Swift, CEO of Empire Selling: “If you’re aiming to disrupt a market and challenge people’s perspectives and current thinking, a proactive methodology may make sense. If you’re looking to tease out information from people because it’s a very strategic sale, you may need more of a value-based methodology.”
By carefully considering the why behind your purchase, you are more likely to select a sales methodology that empowers your team to achieve more.
Obtain cross-functional buy-in
As with any other major purchase, the next step is to ensure you have buy-in from major stakeholders across the business. Without cross-functional alignment on your sales methodology investment, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle to get it deployed and adopted.
There are four main groups you’ll want to focus on: sales leaders, sales enablement, marketing, and frontline sales managers. Executive leadership must be aligned in order to champion your methodology internally and lead by example. Similarly, working with sales enablement ensures that your chosen methodology will be deeply embedded in your sellers’ daily workflows. Marketing, on the other hand, should be brought in so they can support sellers with the right sales content. Finally, your frontline sales managers will “make or break sales methodology deployment,” Dan said.
“They should believe in it, understand it, and know how to coach against it in order to successfully deploy a methodology within the business and ensure it sticks,” he added.
Don’t reinvent the wheel
As you explore sales methodologies, it’s important to avoid reinventing the wheel: your sales methodology should compliment your current sales processes, not rewrite them.
Dave Mattson, CEO and President of Sandler Training, detailed why: “Each company approaches the selling process differently, and the tactics and strategies needed for the process to work is your methodology.”
Thus, look for a methodology that optimizes the way your current sales processes function. Dave recommended asking questions like, “Is it actionable? Does it fit the whole company or just a subset? And does it focus on the important elements of key sales behaviors?” These questions will help you whittle down your options as you search for a methodology that empowers your team.
Aim for breadth and depth with deployment
Once you’ve settled on the right methodology for your business, rolling it out to your sales team requires a strategic approach.
Think about all of the areas of your business where your sales methodology will impact day-to-day activities. Ensure that you have the right training, coaching, and guidance motions in place to support the launch at every level of your sales workflow.
Dave suggested creating “coaching guides for managers, playbooks that tie the methodology to your product” and then ensuring that “everyone who is customer-facing goes through training on the methodology.” Additionally, Dave said to be sure you “certify and test for both knowledge and practical application.” With these support systems in place, you’ll be sure to have a sticky deployment that reps quickly adopt.
Integrate, integrate, integrate
Next, examine your tech stack. Key to ensuring your sales methodology is adopted is its availability within the tools your sellers use every day — from your CRM to your sales enablement platform.
“Whatever you do, make sure that your methodology is embedded in your CRM with clear stage exit criteria that is connected to pipeline inspection reports used by your front line managers,” advised Matt Cameron, CEO of SaaSy Sales Leadership. Otherwise, there will be no consistency and you’ll resort to “random acts of coaching,” Matt said, instead of a more structured approach based on performance indicators and guidelines as prescribed by your methodology.
Work with your sales operations team to ensure that key guidance and training is available whenever reps need it so they can engage with customers effectively — and apply your chosen methodology during every conversation.
Mix and match
Finally, if you’re torn between numerous sales methodologies, remember that you can also mix and match concepts to create one that works for you. In fact, some methodology vendors will help you do just that.
“It is like buying a pre-made pasta sauce: You know it will do the job, it is efficient at scale, and there is very little work in getting the job done,” explained Matt. “On the other hand, a homemade sauce allows you to accommodate individual preferences to amplify or suppress certain flavors.”
If you’re flexible and have a strong sales enablement program in place, this can be a viable option that allows you to customize your methodology to suit your business. One word of caution from Matt, however: “If you have to deploy a global solution to a worldwide multi-segment salesforce, then you should probably reach for the sauce jar.” Sometimes, simple is best!
Scale Your Sales Team with the Right Sales Methodology
Once deployed, adopted, and optimized, your sales methodology has the potential to transform the way your sellers work — and boost your bottom line long after your initial investment.
Want to learn more about bringing sales methodologies into your sellers’ workflows? Take a look at our SmartPage™ Marketplace and discover how you can bring leading methodologies into your sales enablement platform.