The sales methodology is like a set of rules for how you sell your products or services to customers. You need to define your methodology before anything else, including the sales process. Otherwise, your sales process will be applied differently by each rep on the team.
The methodology you choose also needs to fit your customers and your market, so it’s crucial to choose the right one!
But where to start?
There are so many trademarked methodologies from so-called experts, and many of them sound similar. There’s SPIN Selling, The Challenger Sale, SNAP Selling, Conceptual Selling, Consultative Selling…
The list goes on.
But before we dive into how to choose the right one for your business, I think it makes sense to first start by defining what a sales methodology is.
What is a Sales Methodology?
A sales methodology is a set of guiding principles that define how a business sells its products or services to customers. Unlike a sales process, which focuses on defining the steps or stages on the path to purchase, a sales methodology offers a framework for how sales reps can approach each of those stages to win the deal.
Most of the most popular sales methodologies are trademarked and were created by sales consultants and trainers, who wanted to define their own signature approach. Unfortunately, this means many of the methodologies 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 one.
Next, I’ll quickly summarize some of the most popular sales methodologies, then walk you through how you should choose the right one for your business.
The 14 Most Popular Sales Methodologies
There are many more than this, but the most popular sales methodologies 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
- Value Selling
1. The Challenger Sale
The Challenger Sale methodology originated in 2011, when a book authored by CEB’s Matthew Dixon 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. To be a Challenger, sellers make customers aware of the potentially game-changing challenges and opportunities in their respective industries, then offering effective, tailored solutions. Challengers use the “teach-tailor-take” tactic to close a deal.
2. Command of the Sale
This methodology was conceptualized and offered as a service by GrowthPlay. 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. Then, you can spend more energy on qualifying leads and perfecting messaging about your value.
3. Conceptual Selling
Developed by Stephen Heiman and Robert Miller, this method reframes sales as a process where a seller persuades a buyer to purchase a concept (their desired outcome), not a product. The seller’s goal — achieved through empathy, active listening, and asking questions — is to uncover the buyer’s ideal end-state. The seller can then tie their solution to that end goal.
4. Consultative Selling
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.
5. Customer-Centric Selling
The name says it all: this method focuses on the challenges, goals, and convenience of the customer.
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.
6. Inbound Selling
This is a relatively new methodology, having matured with the development of the Internet.
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.
Note: As opposed to inbound selling, outbound selling encapsulates many of the traditional selling techniques where sellers initiate and guide a sales engagement with a prospective customer. The engagement can take the form of a cold or warm call, a chat session over social media, or an email outreach.
MEDDIC stands for:
- Economic Buyer
- Decision Criteria
- Decision Process
- Identify Pain
This methodology is characterized by a highly disciplined, tech-driven and tightly controlled approach to the sales process.
Using metrics and other relevant data, MEDDIC sets quantitative standards for lead qualification and requires the search and nurturing of a “champion” in the prospect organization who will advocate for the seller’s brand/solution.
8. N.E.A.T. Selling
N.E.A.T. stands for:
- Economic Impact
- Access to Authority
Developed by the Harris Consulting Group and Sales Hacker Inc., this methodology was designed to turn BANT (budget, need, access/authority, timing) on its head. 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. For example, it requires sellers to achieve the following milestones.
- Identify “core” needs by probing deep into their customers’ challenges.
- Articulate the value or economic benefit of the solution in terms of ROI.
- Engage contacts who can influence decision makers when direct engagement is not possible.
- Set a compelling timeline within which a buyer must make a decision.
9. SNAP Selling
Launched by Jill Konrath in 2012, SNAP stands for:
As its acronym implies, this method aims to quicken the sales process with the assumption that prospective buyers will generally be busy and distracted.
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.
11. SPIN Selling
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?
- Problem. More specifically, how does that situation cause a pain point? Where is the situation broken?
- Implication. What are the results of that problem?
- Need-Payoff. What happens when the problem is solved? What would that look like?
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. Then, they are set up to guide buyers into reframing the situation, and imagining how the problem could be solved with their solution.
12. Target Account Selling
This methodology requires sellers to break down large deals into smaller, more manageable components. The goal is to reduce the impact of buyer-side politics on the sales process. Target Account selling can also be automated using a CRM, making it a good fit for many organizations.
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. The Sandler Selling System emphasizes relationship building, lead qualification, and deal closing.
With an accurate analysis of a customer’s situation and their needs, sellers should forego further engagement when the solution doesn’t exactly match the problem. On the other hand, transactional roles will be upended in an ideal scenario, with customers trying to convince sellers to sell.
14. Value Selling Framework
This methodology focuses on lead qualification and lead value assessment, enabling sellers to close deals faster and engage only leads with significant impact on their portfolio. Value Selling 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.
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 methodologies.
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.
Also published on Medium.