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Five sales methodologies you cannot sleep on

Posted on: July 20, 2020

Reading Time: 12 minutes

Category: B2B sales

Five sales methodologies you cannot sleep on

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In the first part of our review of all things sales methodology we looked at why you may consider adopting sales methodologies as part of your practice.

What did we find out?

Let’s leave it to Abraham Maslow (of Hierarchy of Needs fame) to eloquently summarise.

Good psychology should include all the methodological techniques,
without having loyalty to one method, one idea, or one person.
Abraham Maslow

Or to summarise his summary:

Different methods suit different situations.

So, what are your choices?

In this post we’ll outline the most popular morsels on the sales methodology smorgasbord.

Dig in, and sample a little of what you fancy…

And if you find something you like, why not try it as a main to see if it still tastes as good.

1. SPIN selling

Neil Rackham analysed 35,000 sales calls and his spin on how high-performing salespeople get results led to an acronym that stands for:

  1. S is for situation questions
    These give you an understanding of where your prospect and their organisation is at.
  2. P is for problem questions
    These highlight the problems facing your prospect and reveal what their true motivations for solving them are.
  3. I is for implication questions
    These are how you encourage your prospect to realise the consequences of not taking action to address their problems.
  4. N is for need-payoff questions
    With these you lead your prospect towards thinking about how the solving of their problem will change the situation they have outlined for the better.

Makes absolute sense doesn’t it?

It sure does but, in practice, it is only really suited to those early phases of selling that are often referred to as the discovery or qualification stages.

This is a method that sees sales as a hand-holding exercise and encourages us, in that first flush of a relationship, to step demurely back and explore needs rather than pitch right in.

All very useful… up to a point.

To put it into practice some typical questions may include:

  1. Situation
    How does your current [X] process work?
    What tools do you use?
  2. Problem
    How reliable is this?
    When does it fail?
  3. Implication
    How much time/money/resource is wasted?
    What targets have been missed as a result?
  4. Need-payoff
    Would [Y] help with this?
    Would [Z] make your team work more efficiently?

But be warned – having been around for a long time now many prospects will know of the SPIN method and quickly recognise that they are being spun.

There is no method but to be very intelligent.
T. S. Eliot

2. The ‘challenger sale’ method

Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson were much more interested in classifying the salesperson themselves than the types of question that they use to spin their prospect.

At the heart of this classification, however, lies a similar attempt to educate the prospect while tailoring your approach by taking subtle control of the conversation.

Here are the five ‘types’ of salesperson that the challenger sale method sketches out:

  1. The Hard Worker:
    Most often seen in the self-help section of Waterstones or diligently pumping iron in the gym, the dogged determination of the Hard Worker knows no bounds.
  2. The Lone Wolf:
    Heads off into the night following their own path – they may deliver results but they tend to leave a trail of corpses behind them and a hospital queue full of people with noses put out of joint.
  3. The Relationship Builder:
    Likes to play with the team and stay with the team – their need for harmony leads to a consultative approach to sales and you can bet your bottom dollar they now count many customers as friends.
  4. The Problem Solver:
    Frequently spotted with a Rubik’s cube or crossword on the daily commute, the Problem Solver finds the devil on the detail and cannot see a hurdle without scheming a way to leap it.
  5. The Challenger:
    Never content with just looking at one side of a fence, the Challenger adopts a unique outlook on life and is at their happiest helping others challenge their own beliefs and opinions. Fortunately, the depth of their insight prevents such behaviour feeling confrontational.

Here’s the thing:

Dixon and Adamson’s claim that 40% of high-performing salespeople fall into the fifth camp.

And, to challenge established beliefs further, they suggest that the relationship-based, consultative approach only produces a handful of top-flight sellers.

They put all their money on backing the Challenger sales-horse, garlanding its success with a mantra of ‘Teach, Tailor and Take Control’.

Their approach is much less about listening and more about enlightening a prospect into new ways of thinking and acting. As such, this type of selling is obviously much more suited to those that come from challenger brands, who have set out on a mission to disrupt the market and leave no apple cart unturned.

I don’t know we have a method. We show up at the office. Is that a method?
That’s about the extent to which it’s been formalized.
Ethan Coen

3. The Sandler sales methodology

In contrast to the super-heroics of the Challenger sale method, where the prospect is led by a higher intelligence to appreciate the impressive views from Mount Sinai, the Sandler sales methodology places everyone on a level plain.

Here salesperson and prospect are decidedly equal. The Relationship profile – denigrated so strongly by the Challenger model – comes to the fore, as the vendor and the purchaser start to tango together.

Both are fully invested in the sales process here, and treading carefully to avoid stepping on each other’s toes is the order of the day.

Let’s watch how they are supposed to twirl their way to a mutually beneficial climax.

Just as on the dancefloor trust is an important part of success, so is it here. Sandler sees trust being built by donning the costume of an adviser during the objection handling stage.

In fact, rather than waiting for the objection stage to kick in, Sandler is in the watching crowd and urging, no demanding, that you proactively precipitate objections as early in the dance as is possible.

‘Better out in the open’ and ‘Let’s clear the air’ form the songs that Sandler choreographs his dance to.

This may seem a high-risk strategy – and, in many ways, it is.

The honesty and transparency sought here means you are told to be comfortable with letting go a prospect as soon as you realise they are not an ideal fit.

The suggestion is that it is better to free up time to sell something that you know is going to be of value to a buyer, than to waste your time dancing with someone who, in effect, has two left feet.

The three main movements underlying Sandler’s methodology are:

  1. Build and sustain a relationship:
    Here you build rapport, gain insight into whether you may be able to solve the prospect’s problem and begin to subtly direct the selling process.
  2. Qualify the opportunity:
    This is where a deeper exploration of the fit between your solution and the prospect’s pain takes place. Never backward in coming forward, you fast-track finding out if they’re able to commit (time/budget) and whether this is a pas-de-deux or a multiple buyer ensemble piece.
  3. Close the sale:
    If prospects fail the qualification process that you initiate the dance stops there. But those that have waltzed their way through spin into the presentation phase.

Breaking up isn’t the hardest thing and losing a sale is actually an enabler: this is a methodology that certainly dances to a different beat.

Create your own method. Don’t depend slavishly on mine.
Make up something that will work for you!
But keep breaking traditions, I beg you.
Constantin Stanislavski

4. Conceptual selling

Robert Miller and Stephen Heiman are the driving forces behind this methodology, but in line with their ideas let’s skip over them and instead look at their concepts.

Conceptual selling, counterintuitively perhaps, insists that people do not actually buy products and services. What they buy into is their concept (or perception) of your solution.

If this is the case then pitching your product/service itself is futile: first you need to discover exactly what your prospect understands by and perceives your solution. And then you need to pitch to this imaginary construct.

There are five types of questions that will help you chisel beneath the surface veneer of your solution to unearth the concept of it that your prospect holds.

  1. Confirmation questions that reaffirm information.
  2. New information questions that help you to understand a prospect’s concept of your solution and what it is they would like to achieve with it.
  3. Attitude questions that reveal your prospect’s connection to the project or problem.
  4. Commitment questions to determine the scale of investment your prospect has in finding a solution.
  5. Blockage questions to uncover any basic, underlying issues that could prevent the sale.

There’s a lot of questions there but, at its heart, conceptual selling differs by focussing not on finding out if you are a perfect fit per se but listening to understand what your prospect needs and how they see you fitting the bill (and then making sure you appear to).

I used to think there was a scientific way to do things. Like a proper way to answer a question or that kind of stuff. It’s like, there’s not! There’s not a method, there’s not a science to it.
Hunter Hayes

5. SNAP selling

SNAP does what it says on the tin: it aims to make sales snappy.

Rather than develop convoluted personas or ponder how others see our solutions, Jill Konrath took as her starting point a simple observation. This was that buyers, like the rest of us, lead busy, time-poor lives. Within these there is no room for extended guessing games or smart disruptions to our norm. And there is certainly not the time to be taken through a long sales process.

As an acronym SNAP is, perhaps, not the most elegant.

  • S is for keep it Simple:
    You must ensure your sales proposal and sales process are as simple as possible for prospects.
  • N is for being iNvaluable:
    Help find your prospects shortcuts throughout and beyond the sale. When they rely on you, they buy from you.
  • A is for always being in Alignment:
    Everything you do should align with, spring from and circle back to your prospects’ objectives, challenges and needs.
  • P is for Priorities:
    Ensure that your prospects continue to focus on what’s most important – and ensure that you do the same.

The beauty of SNAP lies not in the acronym but in how it cuts decisively through the CRAP.

It insists we avoid getting overwhelmed by the complexity of our offering, the multitude of buyer needs and the many players involved in the decision. We keep our proposition and process clear cut.

And, to an extent, that’s attractive.

But, how should we react when some of those players have conflicting needs or a highly similar solution is being considered and broad-brush strokes won’t tease out the differences?

Or, are we just complicating things for the sake of it?

Method is much, technique is much, but inspiration is even more.
Benjamin N. Cardozo

Is it mad to adopt a sales method – or is there method in the madness?

Bill Macy once said that there is no such thing as Method acting.

Instead, he insisted that:

‘Every actor has a method.’

In the same way it can be said that every salesperson has a method, and that there is a method not only for every salesperson but also every buyer, service, product, target company and situation.

Choosing a methodology that doesn’t align with your buyer personas, customer needs and business goals will inevitably do more harm than good.

But this is not a case of right or wrong – but of enabling or disabling.

To evaluate which methodology is right for you, your first step must be to know thyself, thy market, thy competition and thy buyers.

  • If you find sales are lost as you fail to get across how you can solve tangible problems then opting for a methodology that encourages identifying prospect’s problems early in the day. (You should know who they are by now!)
  • On the other hand, you may be selling a relatively easy to understand product with a sorter selling process – opting for simplicity and speed should look nice on you.

And so on.

It may be the case that you build up an armoury of methodologies to suit different situations.

And put on a new selling shirt for each meeting.

After all, the only thing you must wear as you sell is a smile.

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