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 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. But which method should you choose? Let’s explore some popular sales methodologies and see if they’ll work for you.
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 selling methodology usually doesn’t apply to the entire sales cycle. It’s usually relevant to one specific part — qualification, discovery, demo, and so on.
That’s not the only difference between sales processes and selling methodologies. Every organization must develop its own unique sales process based on its market, vertical, products, and industry position. What works for one company could totally flop for another.
That’s not the case with sales methodologies. Different teams can implement the same selling methodology and see similar success — no matter what their companies do or where they stand.
Take “The Challenger Sale” way of selling — number 4 on this list. Whether you offer ERP implementation services to enterprises or cooking supplies to restaurants, your reps can earn their prospects’ trust by offering surprising insights and helping them navigate the buying process.
If you’re confused about which (or how many) to ascribe to, we’ve summarized 9 popular methodologies below.
Best Sales Methodologies
- SPIN Selling
- N.E.A.T. Selling
- Conceptual Selling
- SNAP Selling
- The Challenger Sale
- The Sandler System
- Solution Selling
- Inbound Selling
1. SPIN Selling
Neil Rackham popularized the SPIN sell in his book, “SPIN Selling.”
What does SPIN stand for?
SPIN is an acronym for the four types of questions salespeople should ask their clients: Situation, Problem, Implication, and Need-Payoff. These questions identify buyer pain points and challenges and build rapport between buyer and seller.
- 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, the 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? Just as 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, but instead seek to uncover the prospect’s concept of their product and understand their decision process.
The authors encourage salespeople to ask smart 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 Invaluable, always Align, and raise Priorities. With these principles in mind, salespeople can more effectively reach busy prospects with valuable knowledge, connect what they’re selling with what’s most important to the potential client, and make it easy for them to buy.
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 insights.
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, and 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. Although this doesn’t completely reverse the two roles, it does level the scale.
What is the Sandler Sales Methodology?
The Sandler Sales Methodology treats the salesperson and prospect as equally committed to the sales process. It prioritizes building mutual trust between the two. 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 offering 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.
What does MEDDIC stand for?
- M: Metrics
- E: Economic buyer
- D: Decision criteria
- D: Decision process
- I: Identify pain
- C: Champion
To find the answers, ask yourself and/or 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 (i.e. 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, solution selling leads 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.
In addition to the methodologies above, CustomerCentric selling can be a beneficial approach to implement.
CustomerCentric Sales Methodology
he 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.
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 September 17, 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.