How to Choose a Sales Methodology

Highlights

  • The right sales methodology is the one that produces the highest sales win rate.
  • It will also create consistency across the salesforce, accelerate sales cycles, generate higher average sale orders, reduce discounting, increase labor productivity, lower salesperson churn and scale revenue growth.
  • With dozens of commercial sales methodologies there's no shortage of options. However, reviewing methodologies without first understanding your sales model and the factors that most influence success is putting the cart before the horse.
  • Choosing the wrong sale methodology will delay sales improvements by 1 to 2 years and significantly increase the user adoption challenge the second time around.
Johnny Grow Revenue Growth Consulting

How to Choose a Sales Methodology

It doesn't matter what sales methodology you choose, said no successful sales leader ever.

Choosing the best sale methodology would be easy if one was better than all others. But that's not the case. And the challenge is compounded as there are as many methodologies as there are sales training companies.

Choose a Sales Methodology

So, if you want to know how to choose a sales methodology that works for your company, start by knowing exactly what a methodology is and should do for your salesforce.

What's a Sales Methodology?

Surprisingly, there's an absence of a universal definition for sale methodology. That's probably in part as many of the sales training companies define the methodology in a self-serving way.

Johnny Grow defines a sales methodology as:

A prescriptive but dynamic framework of sales strategies, tactics and responses that aid the buyer in completing their purchase decision, systemically and predictably advance the sales cycle, and maximize the sellers win rate.

There are several hallmarks of a successful selling methodology.

  • It is prescriptive but dynamic and supports fluid navigation and salesperson judgment.
  • It positions and promotes your most powerful capabilities in producing customer value, including your customer strategy, competitive advantages, unique value proposition (UVP) and competitor differentiation.
  • It crystalizes the company's value and differentiation, and positions how and where it will be integrated to the sales process. It emphasizes the UVP in a systemic and recurring way. This is critical in maximizing sales velocity and win rate.
  • It is proactive. Sellers lead the buyer in a way that aids the buyer's purchase process and the seller's outcome. It shows how to influence and direct the buyer's journey with a clear path toward a slated result.
  • It integrates seamlessly to your sales process. Your sale methodology is the glue between Sales Strategy and Sales Process. It creates the link between what needs to be done and how to best do it.
  • It integrates to your CRM software to achieve process automation and information reporting.
  • It delivers verifiable outcomes during the sales cycle, essentially road signs or milestones, as evidenced with customer behaviors, actions or agreement.
  • It shifts your approach from what you sell to how you sell.
  • While not universal, most methodologies shift focus from selling products to selling your company value and brand.

Selecting the best one is a three-step process.

  1. Define your sales model
  2. Evaluate the factors that most drive success and payback
  3. Calculate your projected benefits and ROI
1

Start with a Well-Defined Sales Model

No sale methodology should be selected in a vacuum. So, start by identifying your sales model.

Sales models fall along a continuum with small dollar, high volume sales at one end and high dollar, low volume sales at the other. No single framework is going to satisfy the entire spectrum.

Lower value products sold by individual sales reps to individual or small teams of buyers is best supported with a highly repeatable, high velocity methodology. These are typically Small and Midsize Business (SMB) sales models where reps will be working several opportunities at the same time, so sales cycle speed, efficiency and cost of sale are of strategic importance.

Higher dollar solutions sold by sales teams to buying committees will require more agility, tactics, engagement and duration. Enterprise sales models require more sophisticated approaches, sales team coordination, specialized assets and performance metrics. While sales cycle efficiency is important, metrics will prioritize sale effectiveness over efficiency. Small increases in measures such as sales win rate create large revenue impact and offset negligible fluctuations in sales cycle duration or customer acquisition cost.

Other factors that define your sales model include:

  • Target audience – sales models vary by industry, prospect company size and possibly geography.
  • Compliance requirements – smaller company sales will require fewer approvals. Large company sales navigate from the buyer to legal to procurement and possibly elsewhere.
  • Sale type – the type of sale, such as transactional selling (buyer led), solution selling (reactionary and seller led), consultative selling (proactive, educational, insightful) or other sale type will influence choosing the right methodology.
  • Sales complexity – selling intangibles such as software or services is very different than selling physical goods such as inventory or equipment.
  • Buyer profile – selling to the C-suite is very different than selling to the production floor. Selling to a start-up is different than selling to a decades old family run business.
  • Sales cycle duration – the length of the sales cycle will impact the number of sales steps and activities within each step.

By understanding the factors that most influence your sales model you will be able to quickly analyze, compare and down select a short list of the most appropriate commercial sale methodologies.

2

Comparison Factors

Below are several selection criteria to compare and contrast vendor solutions. These criteria can be used to measure fit and rank the sale methodologies.

  • Methods to achieve time savings and more wins. Based on my experience, the top two objectives are to save sales reps time and increase their win rates. Time is maximized when data entry is reduced or eliminated, and reporting is automated. Documentation heavy methodologies pose productivity and adoption challenges. Sales win rates are heavily influenced by the synergy achieved when the sales methodology is seamlessly integrated with the sales process.
  • Support for second tier benefits. Tier two benefits will include faster sales cycles, higher average sales tickets, higher margins via less discounting, increased sales productivity and scalable growth. Each method offers its own capabilities that support these objectives.
  • Ease of use. Capabilities here include playbook facilitation, guided-selling support, contextual suggestions, next-best-action recommendations, a user interface that is intuitive and an overall user experience that simplifies the process as much as possible. These factors will drive user adoption.
  • Focus areas. Some sales leaders know where they are weak and want to focus in those areas. Some sale methodologies are more holistic and govern the entire sales cycle. Others specialize in particular sales cycle stages or tasks, such as lead qualification, discovery questioning techniques, strategy creation, negotiation or deal closing. Some focus on large accounts or specific industries.
  • A unified system. The sale methodology must be embedded with other sales tools. If CRM software is the sales system of record, then that's where the methodology should be. Fragmented systems kill staff productivity. It's a mistake to force sellers to go to another application for their supporting methodology.
  • Process agility. While selling methodologies should be prescriptive to support systemic execution, best practices, consistency and repeatability, they should also be agile or dynamic to support salesperson judgment. Good sales models are adaptive models.
  • Sales process integration. Some methods include their own sales processes, but most don't. There's a long debate whether the sales process or methodology should be selected first. Methodology vendors argue they should be selected first. However, because the sales process must align and support the customers' purchase process, it's often better to select the sales process first.

I have yet to meet a commercial methodology vendor that doesn't claim their method is aligned to the buyer journey. However, since we know buyer journeys vary by industry, company size, purchase value and other factors, we also know this claim cannot be true for many sales models. The method to sell semiconductors is not the same as selling semi-tractor trailers. Methods to sell mutual funds are not the same as methods to sell mining equipment. Remember, the sales process facilitates what to do while the methodology guides how to do it.

  • CRM integration. Progress measurement, coaching opportunities, information reporting and timely course corrections should be informed by the data in the CRM system. You will also want to understand if and how the methodology updates the CRM opportunity record (i.e., progression and probability to close) and thereby impacts the pipeline and forecast reports.
  • Adaptability. All methods offer varying degrees of customization. You want the ability to adapt, tailor or customize the method and make it your own. You also want to understand how the method directly contributes to learning and continuous process improvement.
  • Metrics. The methodology should deliver metrics that show measurable progress, variances and results. It should also measure remediation plans when progress falls short. A small number of more salient metrics is more powerful than a large list of vanity metrics.
  • Training and methods to operationalize learning. The learning experience is critical to user adoption. Vendors should offer training assets for initial training, new hire onboarding, periodic refreshers and sales coaching.
3

Calculate the Payback

Forecasting the benefits and calculating the payback is essential to justify the implementation investment and recurring cost. Only when these programs deliver measurable and overwhelming ROI will they be sustained.

Payback is the revenue uplift less the investment. The chart below is from a client in the manufacturing industry that implemented the Challenger Sale methodology. It shares a typical investment pattern, revenue impact and breakeven point.

Sales Methodology Payback

See the benefits and revenue uplift from implementing a commercial selling methodology, and learn how to choose a sales methodology.

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In the above line chart, the timeline is in quarters and the ROI was 275% over a two-year period. The payback period was five quarters but recognize that the first quarter was the implementation period and the salesforce did not begin applying the sale methodology until the second quarter.

Also, in the above example, the net revenue improvement was calculated solely from the increased sales win rate. Other benefits not included in the ROI calculation, but according to the VP of Sales have been extremely helpful, include a 4% increase in average sale price, a 7% decrease in discounting and a 6% decrease in voluntary sales staff turnover.

The biggest factors that will most influence your ROI are the number of salespeople, the number of sale opportunities, average sale amount, average sales cycle duration and the improvement to your existing (baseline) sales win rate.

A bit of a hidden factor that also impacts ROI is the percentage of salespeople that fully adopt the method. I've been doing this for about three decades and it's been my experience that getting full user adoption is near impossible. When working with clients, I generally aim for 90% seller adoption and work on the remaining over time.

Choose Right the First Time

It generally takes about three calendar quarters to fully adopt a methodology. That includes an implementation period (i.e., aligning to the sales process, integrating to the CRM system), initial training for the sellers, follow-on training for their managers, implementing methods to operationalize the training into habitual actions, creating the reporting to show measurable progress, and realizing the benefits, particularly in the form of increased sales win rates.

That's why choosing the best selling methodology the first time is so critical. Selecting the wrong methodology wastes the initial year or so for the implementation effort, and then consumes another year to implement the right one. It also sends a harmful message to the sales team that will increase user adoption challenges the second time around.

Seller adoption is a manageable challenge the first time around. It becomes a much more difficult adoption challenge in future attempts. The bottom line is that a small upfront and objective selection effort is a valuable investment that will make the best decision the first time and deliver much more value much earlier.