Which Sales Methodology?

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I’ve gone through training in countless sales methodologies. Our own company has developed and implemented sales methodologies used by thousands of sales people–though all of our work is customized to the strategies, priorities, culture/values of the organizations we work with.

Today, I read an article that was a high level assessment of 21 sales methodologies. I admire the author in taking the time. Several things struck me:

  1. The approach for most of these, regardless of how politely the suppliers phrase them, tends to be: “Here are the things we do to the customer….” They focused on our selling activities and less on the customer buying process. Wouldn’t we and our customers be better served if we started training people in how customers buy, and how sales can support, simplify, and accelerate the buying process?
  2. They are all linear. They portray the selling process as a logical series of steps, we take the customer through, ideally ending up with a PO. Yet we know buying processes are non linear, they start and stop, they are “squishy.”
  3. Most of the selling methodologies are based on the same fundamental principles—but we don’t learn those fundamental principles. They each have slightly different ways, they implement these principles–and some of those can be useful. But if we don’t understand the principles, we are not equipped to deal with situations where the methodology isn’t working as it should.
  4. Most of the methodologies are very generalized, we miss that we have to adapt them to our contexts/situations. At the most simplistic level, we apply the same methodology to B2B2C, transactional B2B, complex B2B. The suppliers make you believe the exact methodologies that one uses in selling to retailers, works for those selling embedded products, and those selling financial services, and those selling CAPEX solutions, and those selling services. These are very different types of situations. In order for a methodology to work for all these situations, they have to be so generalized as to be virtually useless.
  5. Many methodologies actually only address a subset of the selling process. Some focus on inciting organizations to change, some focus on discovery, some focus on the front end of the process, some focus on developing and communicating business justification, some focus on a highly transactional buying process. Each of these can be useful, but we have to recognize we may need to adapt an integrate a number of methodologies.
  6. Few of the methodologies provide the tools to help the sales person adapt the methodology to the specific situation or context they face. As a result, too many sales people are ill equipped for success. Perhaps it’s this inability to adapt the methodology to context that keeps sales people from using the methodology, they rightfully say, “It doesn’t apply to the situations we are facing.”
  7. The words we use in teaching many of the methodologies are intensely sales centric. These create both a vocabulary and mindset that is not customer focused. “Prospecting” is a meaningless concept to our customers and inciting them to change. “Qualifying” is something the customers do in assessing solutions, yet most of the qualifying in methodologies doesn’t cover this. Likewise, “Discovering” is a collaborative process, not, as most methodologies suggest, a process to elicit needs that optimize our positioning. “Closing and Objection handling” are artifacts of selling, not of buying.
  8. Few of the methodologies focus on project management, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, curiosity. Yet it’s these skills that are most helpful in engaging the customer in their buying process.
  9. In reality, most of the methodologies are derivative of a few fundamental methodologies developed decades ago. (Consultative selling, SPIN, Strategic Account/Large Account Selling, Customer Focused Selling.) But buying has changed profoundly. Perhaps we need to go back to the drawing board and look at new approaches that represent today’s buying challenges.

Don’t get me wrong. Having a strong methodology–or better a combination of methodologies, can be very helpful. They shape and drive more consistent execution. They help us, collectively, get better. But we cannot apply them blindly. One methodology is, also, probably insufficient.

Integrating the most useful elements of each, adapting them to the new buyer, our strategies/priorities, and how we want to engage customers provides us stronger capability.

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