Now I know some of you are scratching your heads, thinking I’m engaging in double talk. Isn't a sales process and a sales methodology really the same thing?
It is confusing, and the many sales training vendors don’t make it any less so, so let me sort them out.
What is a sales process?
A sales process is a road map to guide the sales professional in facilitating their customers’ buying processes. A sales process focuses only on deals and opportunities. It’s not a call plan, an account plan, or a territory plan.
Labeling deals by their sales process stages helps us identify and qualify those opportunities that fit squarely into our sweet spot. Then it guides us through the sets of activities we need to execute to win the business.
A sales process should answer these questions: Does it improve my win rate? Does it help me compress the buying/sales cycle? Does it help me maximize the deal value or profitability? If it doesn’t do those things, you’ve got the wrong sales process in place.
Is there an ideal sales process?
The sales process is unique to the company or organization. The sales process is based on a number of things, one of which is our own track record as an organization. It should represent the collective best practices we extract from analyzing our wins, and also what we’ve learned from analyzing our losses.
But it’s further unique to the company, since the sales process focuses on opportunities that are good for our organization. That is, they are good business for us -- they fit our strategies, they fit our ability to support them, they are with the customers we are trying to attract, and they are aligned with our culture and values as an organization.
That’s why every company has a unique sales process. Every company has different strategies, different cultures, different values. What is good business and a great customer for one company may be terrible for another.
What is a sales methodology?
Sales methodologies are different. Sales methodologies are usually developed by sales training vendors or consultants. They represent unique approaches to driving sales effectiveness and developing sales skills. There are as many sales methodologies as there are sales training companies -- to tell the truth, it’s sometimes difficult to differentiate them. Some of the big names include Solution Selling, Customer Focused Selling, Provocative Selling, SPIN Selling, Large Account/Strategic Account Selling, Insight-Based Selling, Challenger Selling, Consultative Selling, and on and on and on.
Many of the sales training methodologies started with a specific focus. For example, SPIN Selling started with a focus on discovery and a questioning methodology to understand and probe into customer problems. Miller Heiman’s Large Account Selling originally focused on expanding share and growing presence in large accounts.
Some methodologies tend to be focused more heavily on a certain part of the sales process. For example, Challenger focuses more on the very front end of the process, providing insights that motivate the customer to take action and change. Some methodologies focus on negotiation which occurs at the end of the sales process.
How does my sales process fit the sales methodology?
Sales methodologies are often confused with sales process, but as I’ve outlined here, they are different. Each vendor has a generic process embedded into their methodology, so if an organization doesn’t have a sales process, they can use the generic vendor-supplied process.
But here’s the problem with the generic sales process -- it means the way we sell semiconductors is the same way we sell enterprise software, is the same way we sell machine tools, is the same way we sell investment packages, is the same way we sell mining equipment. It doesn’t make sense, does it?
Or here’s another problem. If we don’t have a sales process, and our closest competitor doesn’t have a selling process, and we both use the same generic sales process from the same sales training vendor, we would be undifferentiated.
Now you can start to see the problem with not leveraging your unique selling process.
If we buy a sales methodology, we need to insist the vendor adapt their approach to our sales process -- not to their generic sales process. If we don’t, we risk confusing salespeople, getting zero adoption of either, and not getting the best results possible.
Which sales methodology is right for my company?
Which sales methodology do you buy? Well, it depends. The differences are often small and nuanced. Buy the one that fits your current priorities the best. Some are stronger in their questioning techniques. Some are optimized for large account development. Some, like ours, have been optimized around deal strategy and pipeline management. Your needs will vary over time, so use the one that fits your current priorities and requirements.
Another strategy is to take the best from several methodologies, creating your own unique methodology. I know a number of companies that have purposefully leveraged a number of methodologies -- one year they might learn one, two years later another, two years later yet another. They then incorporate the best pieces into what works for them. This can be a powerful strategy, as long as you are prepared to invest the training, tools, and enablement resources to maintain and update the “hybrid” methodology. Even large companies are careful in taking this approach.
Finally, some companies don’t leverage a methodology. I don’t think this is a good strategy, though -- the methodologies really do enhance our abilities to execute and can drive much higher levels of performance.
Sales process or methodology?
So do we need a sales process or a sales methodology? The definitive answer is, “Yes, we need both.” Make sure you invest the time in understanding and defining your own sales process. It’s the cornerstone to your success and differentiation.
Overlay that, and sharpen your execution of your sales process with a great sales methodology. But make sure the methodology is integrated into your sales process.
Don’t forget, you sustain your investment in any sales training by integrating it into your systems, processes, tools, and most importantly, coaching strategies.
Originally published Feb 5, 2015 9:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017