Miller Heiman Conceptual Selling

A Sales Methodology Review and Best Fit Analysis


  • With Miller Heiman Conceptual Selling, customers don't buy a product, they buy a solution that fulfills their concept of what a product should do. Rather than selling the product itself, the seller positions his product in a way that satisfies the buyer's problem and aligns with the buyer's concept.
  • This sales methodology best fits midsize to large account sale opportunities and complex sales deals that engage multiple buyers in several interactions over a long sales cycle.
  • It excels in buyer questioning techniques and product positioning. But relative to competing sales methodologies it falls short in offering a holistic sales strategy and methods to promote economic impact and competitive differentiation.
Johnny Grow Revenue Growth Consulting

This is another selling framework made popular by a book authored by Robert Miller and Stephen Heiman of Miller Heiman Group. Conceptual Selling builds upon Miller Heiman Strategic Selling with Perspective.

Miller Heiman Conceptual Selling

The basic premise is a shift from traditional product-pitch selling to positioning the product to match the customer's view of their problem or opportunity. The seller is essentially selling their product as a concept that aligns with the buyer's vision rather than a predefined product with universal benefits. This method is less about seller persuasion and more about positioning.

This framework begins with the idea that buyers don't buy a product or service, or even buy what the seller normally thinks is being sold. Instead they buy a solution that most aligns with their mental concept. The buyer is buying an outcome, not a product or service.

I'm a long-time Peter Drucker fan, so the premise reminds me of Drucker's quote, "The customer rarely buys what the business thinks it sells him. One reason for this is, of course, that nobody pays for a 'product.' What is paid for is satisfaction." I don't think Miller or Heiman built their sales methodology based on anything from Drucker but I find the overlapping principle interesting.

This method instructs sellers to avoid leading with product promotion and instead listen to surface the buyer's concept of a solution. The idea is to get the buyer to define the ideal solution so the seller can then position his product or service as a tailored match.

The seller will need to ask the right questions to uncover the buyer's concept. The sales framework recommends three question stages of getting information, giving information, and getting commitment. Information gathered in the early stages should be applied in the later.

This selling methodology recommends five types of questions to advance along the three stages.

  1. Confirmation questions reaffirm what you have learned
  2. New information questions seek to uncover the buyer's concept; explore what they would like to achieve and understand how they will measure success
  3. Attitude questions are designed to find each buyer's goals, their connection to the purchase decision and what they hope to personally gain from a new product
  4. Commitment questions verify the buyer's investment and commitment to a purchase decision; buyer's that waffle on these questions have a higher propensity to incur a no decision
  5. Basic issue questions raise potential challenges so that objections can be proactively responded or mitigated

Throughout the three question stages and five types of questions, the seller will employ active listening, empathy, follow-on (probing) questions and confirmation responses to affirm the buyer's ideal outcome.

When to Use Miller Heiman Conceptual Selling

If you have adopted Miller Heiman Strategic Selling, then adding this second method in a future phase makes sense and will create additional value.

Young salesforces and first-time selling methodology adopters will benefit from many of the more routine sales techniques such as active listening, buyer affirmations and product positioning.

A few cautions though.

It's been my experience that seasoned sales reps will find many of the underlying tenets overly basic. Experienced sellers don't need to be told to listen first, avoid overt product pitches, tailor your solution for the buyer and create a win-win offer.

There's an overarching theme to avoid misalignment between what customers want to buy and what sellers want to sell. Alignment and non-confrontation are hallmarks of this sales methodology. An unintended consequence I've seen with this approach is that most sellers strive to sell precisely what the customer wants to buy.

This creates sameness of solutions, marginalizes each of the sellers and leaves the buyer to emphasize price among comparable proposals. This approach stands in stark contrast to The Challenger Sale model where sellers apply insights to create new buying criteria and establish differentiation.

See the Miller Heiman Conceptual Selling Review with strengths, weaknesses, and recommendations of where this sale methodology best fits.

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