Reviews of the Top Sales Methodologies
- Your sales methodology shifts your selling strategy from what you sell to how you sell. It defines how you engage buyers, lead them to your solution and successfully navigate the sales process.
- There is no single best sales methodology. However, there are many impressive commercial solutions, and a short list of market leaders.
- Each one brings a different value proposition, operational framework and fit for a particular sales model or organization.
There are dozens of commercial sales methodologies. In fact, there are just about as many as there are sales training companies. And that's not a coincidence.
But there is no one-size-fits-all sales method. At first glance many appear so similar it can be difficult to understand the differences. But deeper analysis reveals each is best suited for a designated sale type based on characteristics such as purchase complexity, buyer risk, sale value, sales duration and industry.
Additional differences stand out when aligning to the sales process. As you can see from the below chart, no market leading sales methodology provides direct support for every sales step. Instead, they focus on a specific theme to deliver what they believe most influences success.
It's not a surprise that most go deep during the early sales steps. Poor buyer qualification contributes to investing limited time in poor fit deals and poor discovery leads to weak sales strategies and mediocre presentations. These early steps are essential to uncovering the real pain, finding differentiation and improving sales effectiveness.
I've been implementing several of the top sales methodologies over the prior three decades and based on my experience will share a short list of the market leading sales methodologies. I'll share the frameworks, differences, and best fit for each.
Below are reviews for the top 8 sales methodologies.
The Challenger Sale
Many sales managers try to replicate the behaviors of their top producers. The Challenger Sale model sought to do the same but applied massive research to identify the actions of top performers. It labeled the top producers as "Challenger" sellers based in part on how they lead sale pursuits.
A Challenger salesperson demonstrates understanding of the buyer's business, offers unique perspectives and introduces commercial insights to challenge the customer's view.
This method follows a three-step sales framework of teach, tailor and take control. Teaching begins with insights that bring realization to new ideas and larger problems. Tailoring positions the customer at the center of the problem and personalizes the impact. Taking control means leading with an agenda and applying constructive tension with the buyer in a way that pushes them outside their comfort zone. Challengers are driven to be insightful more so than liked.
The Challenger sale model is particularly strong in the discovery, strategy and presentation sales steps. It's been my experience that it benefits from a separate qualification method (such as MEDDIC or SPIN Selling) in order to initially gather customer pain points that can then be applied to deliver more relevant and personalized ideas and commercial insights.
The Challenger Sale model is the fastest growing sales methodology and is particularly well suited to selling complex solutions with longer sales cycles and recurring customer engagement.
Conceptual Selling starts with the idea that customers don't buy a product, or even buy what the seller thinks is being sold. Instead they buy a solution that most aligns with their mental concept. The customer is buying an outcome, not a product or service.
Therefore, the seller shifts from traditional product-pitch selling to aligning the product with the customer's view of their problem. The salesperson sells their product as a concept that aligns with the buyer's vision rather than a predefined solution with universal benefits. This method is less about seller persuasion and more about positioning.
Conceptual Selling is very similar to the Solution Selling methodology and is mostly applied through the discovery, strategy and presentation sales steps.
While this framework is strong in buyer questioning techniques and product positioning, it falls short in delivering a holistic sales strategy built on economic impact and competitive differentiation. However, it's naturally aligned with Strategic Selling to fill this gap.
It's no secret that pursuing unqualified sales leads is a top contributing factor to low productivity and poor win rates. The MEDDIC sales process is a remedy to this pervasive problem. It is a purpose-built qualification process that scores leads and aids salespeople to make Go or No-Go evidence-based sales pursuit decisions.
MEDDIC is an easy to remember acronym that stands for Metrics, Economic Buyer, Decision Criteria, Decision Process, Identify Pain and Champion – the sequential steps to objectively qualify sale opportunities.
The telltale signs for an improved sale qualification process like MEDDIC include salespeople investing too much time in the wrong deals, forecasted opportunities consistently being pushed to future periods, and too many sale pursuits resulting in no-decision.
Many times, salesforces adopt MEDDIC after they have outgrown simpler or less formal qualification methods such as BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timeframe).
Salesforces that use MEDDIC generally also include another methodology for the remainder of the sales process. The Challenger Sale model and Strategic Selling align with MEDDIC nicely. It's a symbiotic relationship as MEDDIC's focus on qualification fills a much-needed gap with these other sales methods.
Sandler Selling System
The Sandler Selling System leads with two goals. First, to use questioning techniques to convince the buyer they have a problem that can only be solved with your solution. Second, to then convince the buyer that their problem is a top priority for both them and their company. When done correctly, Sandler suggests the buyer and sales roles are reversed and the buyer becomes the one pursuing an offer instead of the salesperson pushing an offer.
Much of this method is a sales call-based approach. It is designed to guide sales meetings and ensure the seller and buyer share a mutual commitment and agreed upon process.
There are 3 phases and 7 components of the Sandler Selling System. The 3 phases include relationship building, lead qualification and sales closure. The 7-step sales process is supported with Sandler's 49 Rules. It's a prescriptive but versatile approach that works for many small value, short duration sale types. It's particularly well suited for smaller value transactions that generate repeat business.
The Sandler sales approach is best used in one on one, seller to buyer, sale transactions with low complexity and short sales cycles. This method is not well suited for technical, complex or enterprise sales or sale opportunities where the seller is selling to the C-suite or a buying committee.
The SNAP sales methodology is made up of 4 principles, 3 buyer decision points, some rules and some techniques all collectively designed to empathize with buyer challenges and offer methods to help. The 4 principals show how to approach the buyer are create the SNAP acronym. These principals are Simple, iNvaluable, Align and Priorities.
SNAP is designed for time-starved and under resourced buyers. These customers don't have time to sort through a bunch of options or get caught up in analysis paralysis. Traditional sales methodologies with iterative questioning techniques and systemic comparison of alternative solutions won't work. This buyer is impatient, distracted, sometimes forgetful and often demanding. To succeed, the seller needs to get to the right solution quickly.
The SNAP method should be considered if you need something less than a consultative selling methodology. It's often used where buyers don't have the time or patience to sit through a lengthy question and answer session with sellers.
Like the Sandler Sales System, SNAP Selling's best fit is for one-on-one, non-complex, short duration, transactional sale opportunities.
Solution Selling is all about proposing a custom solution to a buyer's problem. Rather than pitching a standard product, the seller tailors or bundles the product to solve the buyer's specific problem.
Solution Selling uses a prescriptive discovery process built on three types of questions which include open, control and confirming. It then applies three types of information, which are reasons for pain, scope and impact of pain, and capabilities needed to resolve the pain. The framework is collectively depicted in a grid called the 9-Block Vision Processing Model.
Solution sellers begin by demonstrating industry knowledge and product expertise to build credibility. They then pursue an investigative dialogue to surface the biggest problems and craft a tailored solution. Many times, the seller creates a unique solution by applying product options, configurations or customizations to achieve customer specific outcomes.
The process is a shift from peddling a product to performing a diagnostic exercise that uncovers pain and prescribes a tailored remedy. When done correctly, this methodology creates differentiation, promotes up-sell and shifts the customer conversation from product specifications to personalized buyer benefits.
Solution Selling is best used for complex sales where the buyer is unaware of how to solve a problem and relies in part upon product knowledge and expertise from the seller. It is also a proven approach when selling an innovative or first-to-market product or when selling conceptual or intangible products or services.
SPIN Selling was created from 12 years of research and analyzing over 35,000 sales pursuits. The research found that successful sales closures were most influenced by the sequence, types and quality of seller questions.
The research also found that successful sales efforts were quite different for small and large sale opportunities, and SPIN subsequently focused on the drivers that most impact large deals.
Like Solution Selling, discovery questions are the foundation of SPIN Selling. This process uses four types of questions to uncover needs and build unique seller value. The SPIN acronym identifies the four types of questions sales reps should sequentially navigate: Situation Questions, Problem Questions, Implied Needs and Need-payoff Questions.
The research found that top producers seldom pitched their products. Instead, they led with purposeful questions to gain information and proactively guide the conversation. The research also found that in successful sales the buyers did most of the talking. Top sellers know this and apply specific types of questions, in a planned sequence, to make this happen.
The end goal of the progressive questioning technique is to facilitate buyers in uncovering value, identifying benefits, creating urgency and connecting the dots with the seller's product.
It's been my experience that SPIN Selling is effective in the discovery stage but not so much in the sales strategy step. The types of questions can fold nicely into other strategy-based sales methods such as the Challenger Sale or Strategic Selling. It's a synergistic combination.
This method should be considered when the buyer hasn't identified their real problems or may not fully understand the implications. This approach requires a lot of information exchange between the buyer and seller. It's also used as a consultative or relationship-based selling technique.
SPIN Selling is best suited for large account sale opportunities, characterized by purchase complexity, multiple stakeholders, purchase committees, high sale value and long sales cycles.
Miller Heiman Strategic Selling sets itself apart with its focus on buyer roles. It's designed to identify each of the purchase committee's buying roles and their stated rational (professional) and unstated emotional (personal) goals. Strategic Selling identifies the four critical buyer roles as the Economic Buyer, User Buyer, Technical Buyer and Coach.
This method continually assesses each buyer role and their disposition toward your solution. Advancing your position requires each buyer role to recognize the discrepancy between their current state and the seller's proposed future state.
Miller Heiman created the Blue Sheet to visually display the seller's position, weaknesses and next steps. These one-page summary documents are made actionable with red flags. The seller inserts a red flag wherever they have concerns or are missing information. Red flags are effective in identifying gaps and blind spots, and what actions a seller must take to increase his competitive position.
An interesting point, and in contrast to the Challenger Sale model, Strategic Selling promotes relationship building as a key to sales success. The Challenger Sale model suggest relationships matter, but relationship-based sellers are the least effective among the five sales archetypes.
While I'm a fan of Strategic Selling, I believe there are a few weaknesses. Because the process is not as logically ordered or sequential, it can be more difficult for younger sellers to achieve consistency and repeatability. I also find this method doesn't do a lot to position a unique value proposition.
This Miller Heiman method is often considered when selling high value solutions with lengthy sales cycles to purchase committees.
Two Final Points
As sale methodologies often have different strengths, combining methods into a hybrid is common among seasoned sellers. They may use one method for early sales steps such as qualification and discovery and another for later steps such as strategy and presentation. There is no one universally perfect approach.
I think most sales methodologies have two things in common. A lofty claim that they are groundbreaking, revolutionary, counterintuitive, turn selling on its head or otherwise upend selling approaches in some way. Sometimes these claims are somewhat true, but usually not.
They also suggest that great salespeople are not just those born with some type of interpersonal or inherit capabilities, but also those that uncover, apply and repurpose the skills of other great salespeople. This is absolutely true.