One of the key principles for sales success is to have a clear set of rules and philosophies your reps can follow. No matter what field you’re working in, staff need structure and guidelines – as in “sales methodology” – to follow so they know how to approach the sale, and so they can work in harmony to present consistent messages to the prospect.
This means you need a sales methodology.
Table of Contents
- What is a Sales Methodology?
- What’s The Difference Between a Sales Methodology and a Sales Process?
- The 14 Most Popular Selling Models
- How Do You Choose a Sales Methodology?
- Final Tips for Choosing a Sales Methodology
What is a Sales Methodology?
A sales methodology is a set of rules for how you sell your products or services to customers. It’s a philosophy of selling, often based on a particular belief about customer psychology. It defines how you should approach prospects and the kind of things that you should say to them. It offers a framework for how your rep should approach the client and win the deal. If it’s working well, all your reps should be approaching clients with consistent style and messaging.
There’s no right or wrong methodology. The best methodology for you will depend on your market and your business.
If you have a complex mix-and-match product range, then you might, for example, want your reps to act as consultants, helping the client find the best bespoke solution. On the other hand, if you have a small number of standardized, low-cost products, you may want your reps to be transactional, helping clients choose between two or three solutions they’ve already shortlisted.
What’s The Difference Between a Sales Methodology and a Sales Process?
You need both a sales methodology and a sales process, and the two should work together.
A sales process documents all the stages you go through to make a sale. Typically there are seven stages to a sales process, from prospecting to closing and follow up. A methodology describes the approach you use for each stage of the process.
You may want to use the same methodology throughout the sales process. Or you may want to use different methodologies for different stages of the sales process.
The 14 Most Popular Selling Models
There are many different sales approaches, and we list the best sales models in this section. Most of the most popular ones are trademarked and were created by sales consultants and trainers, who wanted to define their own signature approach. These selling models include SPIN Selling, The Challenger Sale, SNAP Selling, Conceptual Selling, Consultative Selling, and many more.
Unfortunately, this means many of the sales approach examples you’ve heard of are really products being sold to you.
It doesn’t mean they aren’t useful, it just means you should be wary of trusting what you hear about any specific sales approach.
The most popular sales models are:
- The Challenger Sale
- Command of the Sale
- Conceptual Selling
- Consultative Selling
- Customer-Centric Selling
- Inbound Selling
- NEAT Selling
- SNAP Selling
- Solution Selling
- SPIN Selling
- Target Account Selling
- The Sandler Selling Method
- ValueSelling Framework®
Next, we’ll quickly summarize some of the most popular sales models, then walk you through how you should choose the right approach for your business.
1. The Challenger Sale
The Challenger Sale methodology originated in 2011, when a book by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson categorized sales professionals into five classes:
- Relationship builders
- Hard workers
- Lone wolves
- Reactive problem solvers
The book claimed that challenger-type sellers are the most successful group, especially in the B2B enterprise market. This sales model is based on research from Gartner, which says that client behavior has changed because of the amount of information they can access online. Prospects now spend far more time researching products and talking to peers, and are 57 per cent of the way through the buying journey by the time they contact a rep.
The book says:
“A challenger is really defined by the ability to do three things: teach, tailor, and take control.”
The sales model focuses on the idea of the expert rep who pushes and challenges a customer. Rather than using relationship building techniques to get acceptance to the customer’s world view, it says, you should bring the customer into yours, by giving them information they did not know, and should know, about the world they operate in. Then tailor your communications to your prospect, and take control of the discussion.
The challenger sales model is effective in an environment where inexperienced customers are inundated with high quality information from the internet, and want a rep to explain to them why they should buy.
2. Command of the Sale
This selling approach was conceptualized and offered as a service by Force Management. The idea at the core of this methodology is that you should customize your company’s sales enablement tools and activities based on solutions that are already in place.
This selling system says that success is down to perfect understanding of your own products, and of the customer’s business. It says a rep should know:
- What the customer wants to achieve (their positive business outcomes)
- How the customer wants to create value for their business (their required capabilities)
- How the rep’s business will deliver that
- Why they are delivering it better than the competition
The rep should also know the metrics that a customer may use to measure success, and all the evidence needed to demonstrate that their business is able to deliver better.
Then they will be able to explain why their product should be bought at a premium.
Force Management’s definition of Command of the Message is “being audible ready to define your solutions to customers’ problems in a way that differentiates you from your competitors and allows you to charge a premium for your products & services.”
3. Conceptual Selling
This method reframes sales as a process where a seller persuades a buyer to purchase a concept (their desired outcome), not a product. It focuses on listening to the client and understanding their underlying needs.
The seller’s goal is to ask questions and actively listen to uncover the buyer’s ideal end-state. The seller can then tie their solution to that end goal.
It suggests asking five types of questions:
- Confirmation questions to make sure you understand existing information.
- New information questions to clarify the prospect’s concept of the product or service.
- Attitude questions seek to understand a prospect on a personal level
- Commitment questions inquire after a prospect’s investment in the project they’re working on.
- Basic issue questions to understand potential problems.
Conceptual selling focuses on the idea that a sale must be a win-win for both client and rep, and that businesses should walk away from sales which do not offer a high degree of satisfaction.
Conceptual selling is likely to offer a more effective framework for businesses which rely heavily on reputation for customer satisfaction and expect to make many repeat sales in a relatively small, specialized market where referrals and word-of-mouth may be significant channels.
4. Consultative Selling
Popularized in a book by veteran seller Mack Hanan, this method has its roots in solution selling, leveraging a veteran salesperson’s expertise, industry knowledge and reputation. Under this dynamic, customers make a purchase because they “trust” the seller and expect the purported benefits and results to be realized. Like conceptual selling, it focuses on asking questions to understand the customer and their needs.
It involves six stages:
- Prepare: Make sure you know everything you need to know about the client and their business, as well as your own products.
- Connect: Build a strong rapport with the client and make a strong opening.
- Understand: Get to know the client and their needs
- Recommend: Make a clear recommendation about what solution will be best
- Commit: Make a clear commitment about what you will do to the client
- Act: Follow up and make sure you meet your commitments
Similar to conceptual selling, this concept works best in industries where high levels of repeat business and word of mouth mean a requirement for client trust is at a premium.
5. Customer-Centric Selling
The name says it all: this method focuses on the challenges, goals, and convenience of the customer. It’s based on a book by John Holland, Michael Bosworth and Frank Visgatis.
The objective here is for the salesperson to become warm and trusted advisors to the client.
Sales processes and activities are modified to suit the client’s schedule, objectives, and situation.
Instead of making presentations, reps hold relevant conversations about how the solution can be modified to better match the client’s requirements.
This sales model is similar to conceptual and consultative selling. It advocates a move away from the hard sell to one where the rep will walk away if the client’s needs are not met.
6. Inbound Selling
Inbound is based on the idea that it’s much easier to get customers to come to you, as opposed to traditional “outbound” techniques, such as cold calls and email outreach. In inbound selling, marketing techniques get tightly meshed with the processes and goals of sales.
So instead of directly pushing sales-y scripts to their prospects, inbound sellers attract customers by setting up messaging opportunities where customers can actively or contextually engage the seller’s brand or product.
Because buyers are now more empowered and informed when it comes to purchasing decisions, inbound sellers use data and analytics to hyper-personalize their messaging to pull customers towards the desired action.
Inbound sales techniques focus on understanding the buyer’s journey to acquiring their product, and suggest building the sales process based on that journey. The inbound sales approach prioritizes customers who are already choosing to be actively engaged by visiting the company’s website, asking for more information via a chatbot, or following the company on Twitter. Then reps will reach out to these individuals with personalized messages.
MEDDIC methodology is characterized by a highly disciplined, tech-driven and tightly controlled approach to the sales process. It was invented in the 1990s by the sales development team at Parametric Technology Corporation, and it emphasizes putting more effort into whether it’s worthwhile to get a buyer into your sales funnel by using comprehensive measurement techniques.
It stands for:
- Metrics: Find out something quantifiable that the prospect wants to gain from your organization.
- Economic Buyer: Identify who the decision maker is in the company you’re dealing with, which is often not the same as the first person the rep will come into contact with.
- Decision Criteria: Understand the factors that the prospect will use to make a decision, and how those criteria are weighted.
- Decision Process: Understand how the decision will be made – who will do the deciding, what sign-offs are required, and what timelines are involved.
- Identify Pain: What problem is the customer facing that can be solved by your product? What will happen if they don’t buy a solution?
- Champion: Find a champion – an individual at the company you’re targeting who wants you to succeed. The champion will likely be the person most affected by the company’s pain, and the one most likely to benefit from what you are offering.
MEDDIC is a sales method most useful for qualifying deals and identifying where reps should spend most of their time. Rather than focusing purely on how to make the sale, it focuses on where sales are most likely to take place, which makes it a particularly useful methodology with companies where there are multiple possible targets and it is necessarily to target investment at the best prospects.
8. NEAT Selling
NEAT selling is as much a process for qualifying leads and working out where reps should focus their time as it is a methodology for actually making a sale.
NEAT stands for:
- Need: What is the core thing that the prospect needs. What is the thing that is causing them pain?
- Economic Impact: What is the financial impact of the pain that is being caused to the prospect? How will they benefit if a solution is found?
- Access to Authority: Who has the authority to make a decision, and how does the rep reach that person?
- Timeline: What is the practical timeline to get the deal done. What date does the client need to go live with the product?
Developed by the Harris Consulting Group and Sales Hacker Inc., this methodology was designed to turn BANT (budget, access/authority, need, timing) on its head. The BANT structure is a tool that allows reps to work out what the customer’s position is, and therefore helps the rep understand what they need to do to close the deal, but it does not help understand what the customer themselves needs.
Instead of qualifying customers based on the needs of the salesperson (qualifications for purchase), NEAT selling asks the salesperson to qualify how much they can help the prospect.
9. SNAP Selling
Launched in a book by Jill Konrath in 2012, SNAP is based on the idea that customers have relatively little time to dedicate to making a decision, and are often already overwhelmed with information when they reach the point of contact with a rep. So the methodology is based around the idea that by keeping it simple and providing the most essential information, a rep can help the customer out. As its acronym implies, this method aims to quicken the sales process with the assumption that prospective buyers will generally be busy and distracted.
The four principles are:
- Simple: When dealing with a busy person, complexities will fall flat, so offer only the most essential information
- iNvaluable: Become a trusted expert for the buyer
- Aligned: Make sure that you’re aligned with the customer and what it is that they need
- Priority: Keep the most important decisions at the forefront of their mind
The SNAP method is designed for a customer base which is frazzled, distracted, and needs something which can be explained simply and relied upon to work effectively.
10. Solution Selling
Solution selling eschews the product-centric approach and focuses instead on the benefits, impact, and relevance of a tailored solution.
Solution-sellers dive deep into customers’ unique situations to identify their pain points and establish an agreed-upon set of criteria that characterize an acceptable resolution. Introduced in the late 1980s, solution selling evolved over the years to adapt its techniques to changes in buyer maturity and business environment.
Solution selling as a methodology preaches many of the same things as conceptual selling or consultative selling. It emphasizes understanding the customer’s pain points, asking questions to understand their underlying needs, having an excellent understanding of their business and needs, and offering not just a product but a solution to their problems.
Solution selling has a particularly heavy emphasis on empathy, identification with the customer, and a focus on what the buyer needs. It’s likely to involve finding a highly customized, complex package which takes care of many of the customer’s core needs.
11. SPIN Selling
SPIN is an older model developed in 1988 by Neil Rackham, based on the idea that customers buy products to solve particular problems, and the sales rep needs to diagnose what the problem is.
SPIN stands for four types of questions sellers should ask their prospects:
- Situation: What is the situation for the prospect right now, as it pertains to your solution? Do you understand the buyer’s current process and resources?
- Problem: More specifically, how does that situation cause a pain point? Where is the situation broken?
- Implication: What are the results of that problem? If the situation doesn’t get resolved, what will happen for the prospect? What pain will they continue to suffer?
- Need-Payoff: What happens when the problem is solved? What would that look like? At this stage, the prospect should hopefully recognize for themselves the value that the product is creating.
These questions help sellers assess their customers’ real situations, isolate the core problems that need to be solved, and lay out the consequences of not solving the problems.
There are questions over whether SPIN selling remains as useful a methodology, given how much chance reps have to research customers’ problems before meeting face to face.
12. Target Account Selling
Target account selling involves a focus on picking the right prospects to sell to in the first place, rather than how the deal is closed with those accounts once the rep makes contact. The process requires a lot more work to be put into researching the accounts that need to be targeted.
Because the process is about identifying the right accounts, target account selling can often be largely automated, using a CRM to identify accounts which share particular traits and characteristics. Once these common triggers are identified – the things which make people particularly likely to buy – then a structured, repeatable process can be applied to turn these prospects into sales.
13. The Sandler Selling System
Sandler Training was founded in 1967 and is almost a household name in the world of B2B sales. This methodology reframes the role of sellers into trusted advisors who are as invested as customers in the success of a proposed or purchased solution – in common with many of the other methods above. The Sandler Selling System emphasizes relationship building, lead qualification, and deal closing.
The Sandler System has a seven step process:
- Bond and build rapport
- Establish roles and expectations
- Understand the prospect’s needs and pain points
- Understand if the prospect has the budget to fix their problem
- Find out the buyer’s decision-making process
- Propose your product as the solution
- Seal the deal
14. ValueSelling Framework®
This methodology focuses on lead qualification and lead value assessment, enabling sellers to close deals faster and engage only the leads which are likely to have a significant impact on their portfolio.
ValueSelling Associates™ encourages sales professionals to ask the right questions, articulate the value of a product to the customer’s business, and demonstrate flexibility in formulating a mutually beneficial solution. It’s all about making sure that you’re adding value to the customer, at every stage of the process.
How to Choose the Right Sales Methodology
Your sales methodology should match your product, customer, and market. Any mismatch will feel unnatural to both the sales rep and the customer.
For example: if you sell a product that costs $100,000 per year, it might make sense to apply 6 months of consultative sales effort to get the sale. You wouldn’t want to do the same if your product costs $10/month.
On the other hand, you also can’t expect to win a $1M deal spending only $5 to support the sales effort! This indicates there are different B2B sales methods.
Despite all the fancy names of sales methodologies listed above, B2B sales is really only governed by five approaches:
1. DIY Self Service: A complete end-to-end web experience where clients educate themselves and complete the purchase online. For example, Atlassian made waves by growing to a huge size using a very low-touch sales model.
2. Transactional selling: Helping customers buy the solution they picked themselves, often through online research. These customers often are in a hurry and ready to buy.
3. Solution selling: Customers already understand their problem and want sales to address specific issues with products and services. Customers buy in days to weeks.
4. Consultative selling: The customer does not fully understand the problem. Sales has to diagnose the customer’s situation to determine the right solution. Sales can take 6-18 months.
5. Provocative selling: Sales experts can identify clients who will face a problem before the client himself knows. They provoke an executive client into action. Often applied to innovative solutions, this B2B sales methodology takes anywhere between 3 to 9 months.
Figure 1. Different selling processes that govern B2B sales
Notice that these aren’t branded or trademarked! They’re just descriptions of how sellers sell, and how buyers buy. That’s what makes this framework so useful! It cuts out all the sensational nonsense and focuses on the core of the issue: what is the best way to sell?
In this blueprint, we will focus on Transactional, Solution, Consultative and Provocative selling.
The transactional sales methodology is reactionary. Customers know what they want, and they are price shopping for lead times. They may be willing to forfeit a specific feature if it can save them a lot of money.
In transaction selling, clients don’t value the role salespeople perform, and usually prefer that salespeople are excluded from the process altogether. Sometimes, buyers like to see sellers replaced by web-based conversations and text/chat, through which they get direct and short answers.
Figure 2. Transactional Selling in which clients do most of the education on their own
When should you use transactional selling? It’s best used in high volume, high velocity, inbound, low-cost sales. Usually, ACV (average contract value) is less than $1,000, the sales cycle is less than 30 days, and each AE is selling more than 20 deals per month.
The solution sales process is a reactionary process. A customer understands the problem and has a pretty good idea of what solution they are looking for. They are not quite price shopping (which would make it transactional), but they are looking for specific features that they are willing to pay more for. They may have narrowed it down to 2 or 3 providers by the time they reach out to you.
Figure 3. Solution Selling often follows an Inbound Lead
When should you use Solution Selling? Use it in medium volume, high velocity, inbound sales. It’s a fit when your ACV is about $5,000, you have a 30-day sales cycle, and each AE is cutting 5-10 deals per month.
In consultative selling, you invest in educating the client on what is important based on what you have seen in the market. You help them understand the real problem, and teach them how to look for the right solution.
Your experience guides the client to be specific about requirements for features and functionality. You may help them write the RFP/RFQ. This kind of deal is often earmarked with a Proof Of Concept, making the consultative sale significantly longer. During the consultative sales process, we gradually ramp up the quality of resources used as we navigate through the client’s organization.
Figure 4. Consultative Selling often follows Outbound Lead Generation/Development
When does Consultative Selling make the most sense? Use it when you are selling platform-like solutions involving a number of decision makers. It would make sense if, for example, you were selling a Sales Engagement platform for $20-100k ACV, with a 6-18 month sales cycle, and each AE closed about 1-3 deals per quarter.
When you are representing an innovative solution that challenges the status quo, you cannot rely on the consultative process because most clients do not realize there is a problem lurking. In particular, you cannot trust an RFP/RFQ which is designed to flush out lowest price/minimal spec. Thus, you have to rely on Provocative Selling, which has gained popularity through a methodology called the Challenger sale.
Figure 5. Provocative Selling Only recommended to deploy on specific accounts
When should you use it? Provocative selling is best used when you’re selling innovative solutions that address a CEO’s top issue. Think of a revolutionary way to do ERP, with a 6-9 month sales cycle, and just one or two deals per month per AE, averaging a contract value of $250k.
Final Tips for Choosing a Sales Methodology
Too many people choose a sales methodology based on what sounds new, convincing, or flashy. That’s the wrong way to go about it.
Choose a sales methodology that is too simple for your solution, and you lose deals when your customer expects a little more help through their shopping process.
Choose a methodology that’s too complex, and you increase the cost of acquisition, spending too much on lower-value customers. Say goodbye to profits!
It can be tricky to strike the balance between spending enough time and too much, but you can start by taking note of your average deal size, sales cycle, and number of deals per rep each month. Given those pieces of information, you can calculate your average cost of acquiring a customer, and choose a methodology that protects your margins while maintaining healthy close rates.
If you want to read more about Sales metrics, especially those specific to SaaS, check out this other article I wrote.