In life, there tends to be a "sweet spot" for just about anything — the perfect recipe for getting the most mileage out of any activity, engagement, or effort.
In sales, finding that "sweet spot" is a matter of identifying the sales methodology that best suits your business at a specific point in the sales lifecycle.
Figuring it out can be the difference between closing and losing a deal — so the burning question becomes, "Which one should I choose?" Well, this article should give you some clarity.
Let's explore some popular sales methodologies and see some expert advice to help you implement the right one.
What is a sales methodology?
A sales methodology is the ‘how’ of selling. It takes goals and turns them into actionable steps, such as ‘Ask your prospect this question at that stage.’
Unlike a sales process, a sales methodology usually doesn’t apply to the entire sales cycle. It tends to be relevant to one specific part — qualification, discovery, demo, and so on.
Another key difference between sales processes and sales methodologies has to do with specificity and individual business needs. Every organization should develop its own unique sales process based on its market, vertical, products, and industry position.
Since no two businesses are the same, a process that hits for one company could flop for another.
That’s not the case with sales methodologies. Different sales orgs can implement the same sales methodology and see similar success — no matter what their companies sell or how they function.
Take "The Challenger Sale" methodology — the third one listed below. Regardless of whether your business offers ERP implementation services to large enterprises or cooking supplies to local restaurants, your sales team could still see success from employing the methodology's principles — like offering surprising insights and helping prospects navigate the buying process.
If you’re confused about which (or how many) methodologies you should use to help shape your sales efforts, don't worry.
We’ve summarized twelve popular methodologies here. Let's take a look
Best Sales Methodologies
- SPIN Selling
- N.E.A.T. Selling™
- Conceptual Selling
- SNAP Selling
- Challenger Sale
- The Sandler System
- Solution Selling
- Inbound Selling
- Target Account Selling
- Command of the Sale
- Gap Selling
1. SPIN Selling
Neil Rackham popularized the SPIN sell in his book, SPIN Selling.
SPIN is an acronym for the four elements sale reps's questions for prospects should revolve around: Situation, Problem, Implication, and Need-Payoff. These subjects often reveal buyer pain points and challenges and help sellers build rapport with their buyers.
- Situation questions aim to understand a prospect’s current situation — although reps should still do research before a call or meeting.
- Problem questions get to the heart of the prospect’s issue.
- Implication questions probe the prospect to think about the consequences of not solving the problem.
- Need-payoff questions prompt the prospect to consider how the situation would change if their problem was solved.
Here’s an example of the SPIN sell in the context of an executive recruitment services firm.
- "How does your current hiring process work?"
- "Do you find that you have trouble filling your senior leadership positions with quality candidates?"
- "If a leadership position goes unfilled, how does that affect the organization?"
- "If you were able to get a list of quality executive candidates, how would that help the HR department and the entire organization?"
Rather than explicitly telling prospects about a product or service’s value or potential impact, the goal of SPIN selling is to guide prospects to these realizations on their own.
2. N.E.A.T Selling
This qualification framework, developed by The Harris Consulting Group and Sales Hacker, was designed to replace standbys like BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, and Timeline) and ANUM (Authority, Need, Urgency, and Money).
The ‘N’ in N.E.A.T. stands for core needs. Rather than focusing on surface-level pain, this methodology's creators urge salespeople to delve deeply into their prospect’s challenges. How will this product matter to them both as an individual and within the context of the organization?
'E' represents economic impact. Don’t simply present your solution’s ROI — help the buyer understand the economic impact they’re currently on track to realize versus the impact they’ll see if they make a change.
'A' is access to authority. You probably won’t get to speak with the CFO, but can your champion speak to the CFO on your behalf? And more importantly, will they?
'T', or Timeline, refers to the compelling event forcing your prospect to make a decision. If there aren’t negative consequences to missing this date, it’s not a true deadline.
3. Conceptual Selling
Conceptual selling is founded on the idea that customers don’t buy a product or a service — they buy their concept of a solution the offering represents. With that in mind, founders Robert Miller and Stephen Heiman urge salespeople not to lead with a pitch — instead, they encourage sales reps to uncover the prospect’s concept of their product and understand their decision process.
The authors encourage salespeople to ask questions that fall into five categories:
- Confirmation questions reaffirm information.
- New information questions clarify the prospect’s concept of the product or service and explore what they’d like to achieve.
- Attitude questions seek to understand a prospect on a personal level, and discover their connection to the project.
- Commitment questions inquire after a prospect’s investment in the project.
- Basic issue questions raise potential problems.
This sales methodology places a heavy emphasis on listening, and divides the sales process into three stages: getting information, giving information, and getting commitment.
All transactions should be win-win for both the prospect and the salesperson. If the salesperson feels this is not the case, they should walk away from the deal.
4. SNAP Selling
SNAP selling is a sales methodology that aims to bring salespeople to the prospect’s level.
SNAP is an acronym that encompasses four directives for sellers:
- Keep it Simple.
- Be I(N)valuable.
- Always Align.
- Raise Priorities.
And while most salespeople only think there’s one decision involved in a deal — whether the prospect buys or not — author Jill Konrath actually identifies three critical decisions.
The first is allowing access. The second is the choice to move away from the status quo, and the third is changing resources. With these mini decision milestones in mind, salespeople can more effectively keep deals on track.
5. Challenger Sale
Co-authors Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson started "The Challenger Sale" by asserting that practically every B2B salesperson fits into one of five personas: relationship builders, hard workers, lone wolves, reactive problem solvers, and challengers.
According to Dixon and Adamson’s research, salespeople are almost evenly distributed among these profiles. However, the most successful were the challengers — by a wide margin. This one group represented 40% of the top-performing reps in the authors’ study.
So what makes challengers so effective at selling? They follow a teach-tailor-take control process.
First, they teach their prospects — not about the product or service in question, but about larger business problems, new ideas, and astute observations.
Next, they tailor their communications to their prospect.
Finally, they take control of the sale by not being afraid to push back on their customer, focusing more on the end goal rather than being liked. The Challenger sales methodology strives to impart the wisdom of the challenger to the other four types.
6. The Sandler System
The Sandler Selling System flips the script of the traditional sales process — to a certain extent. While sales has historically revolved around the idea that potential buyers should be pursued and convinced by sellers, the Sandler methodology states that both parties should be equally invested.
It prioritizes building mutual trust between both sides. Instead of acting as a typical salesperson, the rep acts as an advisor and asks questions to identify challenges in the qualification process.
Objections such as time or budget restraints often derail deals after a considerable amount of work has already been invested by both prospect and salesperson. But Sandler-trained reps strive to raise and assess the majority of obstacles in the qualification process.
If the rep discovers that their solution won’t truly address the potential client's concerns, they won’t waste time convincing them that it actually does — they’ll simply abandon the process. Rather than the seller convincing the buyer to buy, the buyer is almost convincing the seller to sell.
MEDDIC is a qualification process for complex and enterprise sales. The acronym stands for Metrics, Economic buyer, Decision criteria, Decision process, Identify pain, Champion.
To find the answers, ask yourself and your prospect:
- Metrics: What's the economic impact of the situation?
- Economic buyer: Who controls the appropriate budget?
- Decision criteria: What are the formal evaluation criteria the organization is using to pick a vendor?
- Decision process: How will the organization pick a vendor? What are the specific stages?
- Identify pain: What is the trigger event and financial consequence of the problem?
- Champion: Who is selling on your behalf?
8. Solution Selling
Rather than selling specific products, salespeople leveraging solution selling lead with the benefits a custom solution can provide for the prospect. For example, a sales rep for a printing and design company could create a custom package of design services, signage, and business cards to fit the buyer’s needs.
This approach acknowledges buyers today are more informed and allows reps to meet prospects where they are. After all, it’s likely prospects have already researched your products and have a solid understanding of the offerings that suit them best.
With solution selling, sales reps identify prospect pain points and offer a customized mix of products to meet their needs.
9. Inbound Selling
Marketing and sales goals have become increasingly intertwined. Potential buyers interact with content the marketing team creates. They often research products on their own before interacting with sales.
The inbound sales methodology allows sales professionals to meet prospects where they are — whether that’s on Twitter or their company’s product pricing page.
Inbound sales analyzes page views, conversions, and social media interactions to personalize the buying process. By following an inbound approach, sales reps can focus on selling using a flywheel model instead of a traditional sales funnel.
As prospects make their way through the awareness, consideration, and decision stages of the buyer’s journey, there are four actions that are taken by inbound sales reps:
- Identify — Inbound sales reps prioritize active buyers, rather than passive ones. Active buyers have visited the company site, started a live chat, filled out a form, or reached out on Twitter.
- Connect — Inbound reps connect by reaching out to prospects with a personalized message through their blog, social media accounts, or in-person events. This personalization is based on the buyer’s role, interests, industry, or connections you have in common.
- Explore — In the exploratory phase, reps focus on rapport building and recap previous prospect conversations. This is when reps dive deeper into prospect’s challenges and goals, introduce products or services that might fit these goals, and create plans that fit buyer timelines and budgets.
- Advise — Finally, reps create and deliver a personalized sales presentation covering what they’ve learned about the prospect’s needs and the value and assistance your product or service can provide.
10. Target Account Selling
Target account selling rests on the idea that the process of picking the right prospects to engage with is the most crucial aspect of a sales process — that means paying careful attention to and conducting more extensive research during lead qualification and creating buyer personas.
This particular methodology can lean heavily on sales automation — resources that can help your sales organization identify traits that characterize prospects who will be most receptive to your solution and broader sales process.
The key point with this methodology is to significantly prioritize quality over quantity when it comes to pursuing leads and targeting accounts. It involves putting in extra legwork at the beginning of a sales process in the hope that it will lend itself to higher close rates and more efficient sales efforts down the line.
11. Command of the Sale
The Command of the Sale methodology involves selling with urgency, some degree of bravado, extensive product knowledge, and exceptional situational awareness — all aspects of sales that could be described as "commanding" in their own right.
The success of the methodology rests on a salesperson's understanding of what a prospect hopes to achieve, the ways a prospect wants to create value for their business, how the rep's solution — specifically — can make good on those elements, how the prospect measures success, and why the rep's business stands out from its competition.
With those bases covered, a salesperson operating within this methodology needs to be able to explicitly define how their solution suits their prospects problems, needs, and interests in a way their competition can't — and that pitch has to be enough to warrant charging a premium for their company's product or service.
12. Gap Selling
Gap Selling is a methodology rooted in highlighting the gap between where a prospect's business currently stands and where they would like it to be. Its underlying premise rests on addressing problems as opposed to touting products.
With Gap Selling, reps put prospects first. They develop a deep, fundamental understanding of a potential customer's business, issues, and — perhaps most importantly — goals. Then, they determine the best possible way to position their product or service as the most effective means of "filling those gaps."
Developing that understanding means digging deep — pinning down the root causes for any trouble a prospect might be having. As you can assume, that kind of intense examination can be time-consuming, so this methodology best suits sales teams that have the time and flexibility to really take a holistic, thorough look at a prospect's situation.
In addition to the methodologies above, CustomerCentric selling can be a beneficial approach to implement.
CustomerCentric Sales Methodology
the CustomerCentric sales methodology promotes meaningful conversations with prospects to identify their needs and find solutions that solve their challenges. The salesperson targets key decision makers and asks questions to understand their situation, align with their needs, and offer relevant solutions.
CustomerCentric behavior hinges on eight tenets:
1. Converse situationally instead of making presentations.
Customer Centric selling rests on prioritizing empathy for the customer above all else. That means understanding where they’re coming from and the specific situations they might be dealing with. One-size-fits-all presentations aren’t personal enough. With this methodology, you need to be able to adapt and converse based on the customer’s individual needs and experiences.
2. Ask relevant questions instead of offering opinions.
Again, empathy is the operative concept with CustomerCentric selling. You want customers to know you’re listening, feel like you’re genuinely concerned with their best interest, and understand you’re thinking about solutions specific to their individual needs. If you’re dominating the conversation with opinions and not considering their perspective, you’re not engaging in CustomerCentric selling.
3. Focus on the solution instead of the relationship.
The key to CustomerCentric selling is to understand that your priority isn’t selling — it’s solving. The point of the whole process is to understand a specific situation for an individual customer and offer a fitting solution. If you can do that, a solid relationship should follow. But, simply building that relationship can’t be your main priority.
4. Target decision-makers instead of users.
Customer Centric selling is focused on how a product is used and what specific problems it can consistently solve. It’s less about the product’s features and more about what day-to-day use of it looks like. That kind of selling is tailored towards the people that can make vendor selections and free up unbudgeted funds for a full company as opposed to individual users who might be more interested in fancy bells and whistles.
5. Promote product usage to garner interest instead of the product alone.
This point ties into the one above. CustomerCentric selling revolves around showing how using the product you’re selling will make life easier for your prospect. Instead of discussing a product’s features and assuming your potential customer will figure out how to apply them on their own, show what the product can do and demonstrate how it can solve their specific problems.
6. Strive to be the best seller rather than the busiest.
Quality over quantity — that’s the name of the game when it comes to CustomerCentric selling. According to this methodology, it’s better to apply your effort toward finding solutions for fewer individual customers than to spread yourself thin and halfway-commit to several.
7. Close on the buyer’s timeline rather than the seller’s.
The whole concept of CustomerCentric selling is selling based on your customers best interests and specific dilemmas. Getting there isn’t always going to be easy, quick, or straightforward. Don’t press your customers to stick to your schedule. Ideally, you’ll be able to help your customer come to a resolution on a schedule that works for both of you. But ultimately, it’s their solution. It’s their business. So, it’s going to have to happen on their timeline.
8. Empower buyers to buy instead of convincing them.
The fundamental reason for every instance of CustomerCentric selling is simple — the customer has a problem. Your job, as a salesperson, is to empower them in their effort to solve it.
You’re not selling a product so much as you’re selling a solution. Your priority should be to show how your product fits that solution — not how awesome your product happens to be in general. You’re selling to them for them. Be sure to keep that in mind.
How to Implement a New Sales Methodology
To help you get a better idea of how to put one of these methodologies into motion, we reached out to some HubSpot sales experts.
Rachael Plummer — HubSpot Global Manager, Solutions Provider Program
"Salespeople today are inundated with content. So while I think it's the best time to be a sales rep, it's also the hardest! There are a million different ways to have a connect call, send an email, or find new leads — and sales reps have to constantly parse through that content to pin down what they deem to be important enough to implement in their day-to-day.
"So as a sales leader, it's critical that if you are going to present a team with a new sales methodology and disrupt their existing flow, you need to keep the capacity of new information the team is going to choose to retain in mind. Once I've determined that a new sales methodology is worth adopting, there are a few things I like to focus on to make it easier.
"First, it's imperative that as a leader you believe in the methodology yourself. For the team to prioritize this particular methodology they have to know you believe in it too and that you're capable of implementing it. A reverse role play works really well here, where you, as the sales leader, play the rep and your team plays the customer.
"Next, I like to emphasize how this new approach will help both the team and our customers. As a team, we have to believe in the mission — we have to see a North Star. Why would someone who continually achieves their goals stop doing what they're doing if they don't see the greater value?
"This can be achieved by demonstrating an anticipated increase in leads, meetings, sales, or customer retention. If there isn't meaning behind the approach or a clear path to success, it will not receive the calories it deserves.
"And finally, I like to ensure that the steps in a new sales methodology are outlined as simply as they can possibly be. Can it be digested and adopted within a matter of minutes? If we're going to ask a salesperson to take a step back in their day away from immediate revenue-generating activities, then that has to be the goal."
David Torres — HubSpot Principal Sales Manager
"Whenever a methodology is introduced and change is needed, the first thing I try to do — before presenting it to my team — is to understand what will stay the same. There are bound to be changes, but there's probably going to be a starting place of transition that looks similar to what we're already doing.
"Oftentimes, we index on the changes, but change can be incredibly uncomfortable. I want to champion change as evolution and as a continuity of the things we're already doing well.
"The change itself essentially becomes evolution as a natural consequence of improvement. Why would I choose not to do things better when we've evolved to the point that we can actually do things better?
"In a team meeting, I present the change and the 'why's,' but I start to draw the parallels of what's going to continue or the iterations that need to be made. Here's where you give your team a minute to reflect — a place where you can highlight how what you were doing today is going to evolve.
"For instance, let's say we used to prospect via email and now we need to pick up the phone. There's a parallel between what you wrote in your email and the 'script' you'll use when you call. It's not 'new,' it's an evolution.
"Another example could be telling your team, 'Now, we're going to use GPCT to qualify rather than just BANT alone. BANT worked because of XYZ — you should look at GPCT as a continuation of BANT through context.'
"Change, in my experience, is best absorbed through small chunks. I don't need to migrate all of it by myself 100% on day one. But, if I set a target of where I want to be a month out, I can strive for progress rather than perfection. The same goes for the team."
Dan Tyre — HubSpot Sales Director
"Methodology changes can be easy or hard based on the degree of change required. Slight changes — like adding or refining individual steps or updating the questions used during a stage of a process — are largely tactical and easy to implement.
"The sales team should recognize the change, understand the update, and implement it over a matter of weeks to get the desired outcome. But if you are completely rewiring a sales process — like upgrading to an inbound sales or consultative sales approach — you need to leverage a more comprehensive and flexible strategy.
"Start with the goal and work backward. For instance, say, 'We want to close more deals' — something most sales teams will be on board with.
"Next, you need to move to the data.
"You might be implementing a methodology change because what you're seeing as individuals or a team is that you're not moving from stage one to stage two, in keeping with expectations of your industry or organization. That means you have to try something different — in this context, that's adopting a new sales methodology.
"That's going to require some change management. Some reps get it quickly while others will take some more time. After all, your methodology has probably been ingrained in your sales process for years, and that's okay!
"As long as you and your team are making progress, and your reps understand that they're going to have to work through these changes within a set window of time, you'll be in a good place.
"It also helps to institute a film night — a designated time where you listen to calls with the team to show new methodology's steps and best practices, allowing your team to more effectively model the process.
"After a reasonable amount of time, your most nimble reps should be up and running, but some 'slow percolators' might need some extra help. In those cases, you review the overall goals and benefits of the methodology, zero in on the difficult segments, and take baby steps to address and improve the delivery."
In sales, the prospect is the priority. Their success should be the focal point of any deal you make. Every sales transaction should enable a buyer to achieve a goal, solve a problem, or satisfy a need.
Finding the sales methodology that allows you to consistently fulfill those ends is central to creating meaningful sales efforts that will build productive, mutually beneficial relationships with loyal customers.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in February 17, 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Apr 6, 2021 1:30:00 PM, updated April 27 2021