Scaling From Founder-Led Sales: Sales Methodologies
Previously we looked at founder-led sales. Any organization that finds success in selling then needs to scale a sales team. We’ve looked at basic steps to help founders find success but the ability to grow means finding a sales methodology that works.
We don’t operate in on island and can learn a lot from those who came before us. A sales methodology is the phased, or staged approach an organization takes to selling products. There are about as many documented methodologies out there as there are really successful sales teams. This is because every organization is different and most are best left to pick and choose aspects of a methodology that work from existing sales methodologies.
It’s not likely that any methodology will match with our organization completely. But some of the existing methodologies might work well with the personality of our sellers and customers. If we haven’t hired anyone in sales yet, let’s focus on the seller and the customers and look for a canned methodology that helps kickstart developing our own process.
We should always know what’s out there and what bodies of knowledge have been documented. Keep in mind, we can always learn new tactics, no matter how successful we might have been up to this point. This doesn’t mean we have to use the aspects of any methodology that don’t work for our environments, though!
To help start researching sales methodologies, let’s look at a few of the most common that have been kicking around, sometimes for decades:
Target Account Selling
Target Account Selling is a standard in the sales world, with over 650,0000 sellers trained to convert smaller customers (or smaller groups within larger environments) into bigger and more permanent customers. Target Account Selling, which as a documented methodology is around thirty years old, breaks larger deals up into smaller components. Using a strategic plan throughout the life of the sales cycle, Target Account Selling deemphasizes politics of an account.
Target Account Selling is popular due to the ability to automate the whole sales process via Salesforce, making it easier and simpler to integrate with existing workflows. The cost of training the staff for target account selling can be high because we’re teaching about various strategic plans, but we can hire a ton of experienced sellers who already understand this methodology and focus training efforts on the specifics to selling our products.
Neil Rackham wrote the book SPIN Selling in 1989. He probably didn’t realize then that his methodology would still be in use over thirty years later. SPIN is a word we might not want associated to our sales process these days but that doesn’t mean the methodology is a bad one.
SPIN is short for Situation, Problem, Implication and Need-Payoff. At the heart of it we ask questions and then match up the situation a buyer is in with the issues and consequences of their situation, respectively. The questions are supposed to establish trust and our responses are meant to help align responses to the solutions we provide. Matching their choices and preferences surfaces their needs.
As with sales in general, SPIN Selling requires pretty good communication skills. This can make it seem more like good communication techniques. Everyone likes to be heard. While there aren’t concrete steps and phases sometimes, SPIN Selling does help us learn to establish a stronger bond with customers without making them seen like we’re overly-indexed on closing a deal. This methodology is great when we can pair it with lighter, transactional sales with multiple stakeholders.
Jill Konrath developed SNAP Selling in 2012 under the assumption that everyone is busy and frazzled. SNAP stands for Simple iNvaluable Aligned Priority. The goal is to have a simple framework that makes us invaluable by aligning with the customer’s needs. Then we can get them to prioritize the product or service we are selling.
We do that by getting “in the head” of the customer. We have a debate at the office of whether it’s possible to control where on the priority list a product falls with a prospect. We can try to do this by building products that reduce cost, by hastening a customer’s development cycles or time to market, and by providing discounts to move sales up. But SNAP selling is a good, focused read that is more about aspects a sales team can control than product teams.
Everyone in sales should read the book, even if the sales department doesn’t leverage it as a methodology. It doesn’t work for large, complex deals, but it’s a great look at focusing on the value chain that it demonstrates.
The Challenger Sales
The Challenger Sale is one of the most popular methodologies for software sales teams. It comes out of a large research project performed by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, which resulted in a book called “The Challenger Sale” and then a methodology and training series.
The Challenger Sale breaks sellers up into 5 categories: Relationship Builders, Hard Workers, Lone Wolves, Reactive Problem Solvers and Challengers. The reason it’s so popular is that the Challengers are the more successful closing sales in large (“Enterprise”) environments.
Instead of unraveling the needs and demands of the customers, the Challenger Sale builds consensus in larger teams with a lot of stakeholders. This methodology involves delivering a consistent, static message to the decision makers, helping to guide them towards our products by challenging the customer to see their needs in a different manner that aligns with your value propositions. This involves teaching customers about how we define our problem space.
Sellers research market trends and customer preferences so they can stand out. There’s not a clear strategy for larger sales instead focusing on bundling large, complex solutions to meet the needs of a prospect. Todays buyers are more educated than ever so being prescriptive can work for many.
Value Selling Framework
The Value Selling Framework was developed in 1991 out of a need at the time to reduce deal customization. Here, we build a process that can easily be harnessed by teams with basic sales skills. There’s more documentation, which involves qualification and asking boiler-plate questions to get to the needs and then map each opportunity to a pre-defined set of capabilities and develop a plan to close.
Solution Selling was developed By Mike Bosworth in 1988 with a simple message: sell solutions, not products. That seems simple but has substantial impacts into how we approach customers. Given the timing, a number of other methodologies are based on Solution Selling. Here, we get more insight into increasingly informed buyers. The great thing about Solution Selling is that due to the large number of people who train on the framework, the methodology has evolved to meet the changing needs of sales teams.
Conceptual Selling is more about understanding the buyers process and managing stakeholders involved in that process. Developed by Robert Miller and Stephen Heiman, Conceptual Selling focuses on listening and information gathering to provide the right information about products and services to get a commitment at each level of a potential buyer’s organization.
The underlying idea of conceptual selling is that buyers don’t buy a given product but instead buy the concept that the offering represents. This means that once we’ve gathered relevant information we can move on to five categories of alignment:
Confirmation: Review any information obtained and get confirmation from customers that the collected data is correct.
New Information: Explore exactly what customers want to achieve.
Attitude: Understand the connection each stakeholder has to the sales cycle and so the needed product outcomes.
Commitment: Understand how far the customer can go, or how committed they are to seeing the sale and implementation through.
Issues: look for roadblocks in the sales process, including commitment, attitude, logistics, legal reviews, etc.
As with all of the methodologies, the important thing here is to listen. Listening to the customer tells us what they need and allows us to then categorize those needs and their status into categories and provide known, scalable responses to each.
The Sandler Selling System
The Sandler Selling System has grown since initially introduced by David Sandler in the early 60s to franchises across 250 offices and 23 languages. The Sandler Selling System was so popular because at a time when sellers told customers what they needed, Sandler advocated for uncovering the needs of a customer and then customizing a pitch to them. Most modern selling methodologies customize this but espouse the original concepts.
Zig Ziglar and others did inspirational speaking on sales earlier, with a similar focus. Sandler went further to emphasize having the buyer invest equally in the sales process. This means having sellers bring up blockers early and getting enough buy-in that buyers get options and assistance in overcoming those obstacles.
This doesn’t completely end up with a bilaterally equal investment but does allow us to show that we are committed and aren’t wasting the customer’s time and that they aren’t wasting ours on a deal that will never come to fruition. This strategy effectively leverages obstacles and increasing the customers time commitment until they end up convincing themselves to buy.
Sandler is more about being professional than being a slick seller. Some parts of Sandler can work in any organization but keep an eye on the target audience, and (as with all methodologies) avoid being manipulative.
Jack Napoli and Dick Dunkel developed Meddic, which is an acronym for Metrics, Economic Buyer, Decision Criteria, Decision Process, Identify Pain, Champion. MEDDIC is about creating a plan to close each deal and then monitoring where sellers are on that path. Good automation (e.g. using Hubspot or Salesforce integrations), directs the best person to each customer and helps them message appropriately when managers are prescriptive in making a consistent delivery of the methodology.
This most heavily involves qualification, key messaging, and then working with the customer (bringing in a sales manager when needed). The result is often more tightly controlled sales pipelines for larger customers. Many of these methodologies are for larger customers, but knowledge of the processes can be adapted to smaller customers as well (think of any methodology with the word LEAN in front of it).
Another methodology for lengthy sales processes (and so usually applied in larger deals) is CustomerCentric Selling. Here, we build trust by being collaborative advisors to potential customers. This means we match our process to the timelines at each customer - which makes it difficult to bring sales forward in pipelines. But the tradeoff is assumed to be increased trust and a higher close rate.
One reason for this is that decision makers aren’t the same as those who buy in larger organizations. There are often lots of stakeholders so we need to find the ones who will be key to our success and put the product in their hands (be that through hands-on demos, trial accounts, etc). Then we find out what the customer needs and tailor our presentations to that, rather than being prescriptive.
The focus on solution building is customer-centric and meant to build trust and rapport with the buyer rather than building relationships and trying to leverage a false sense of prioritization. In other words, we’re looking to help customers and in doing so they will buy our products, rather than convince them to buy our products.
Select and Customize
Most organizations will implement a sales methodology when hiring someone to lead sales. Founders should learn the basics of each methodology while still sitting in the sales chair (e.g. engaged in founder-led sales activities) and then as what types of experiences the sales leader has had during the interview process.
Most of these methodologies aren’t how to manage a sales and marketing funnel - they’re about managing customers once the customer gets to an actual seller. A lot of modern relationship management is done using frameworks like the SiriusDecisions Demand Waterfall, which takes each stage from the time we get information about a customer and then brings the customer through a scoring funnel where they eventually become Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs). This is where the traditional idea of a sales methodology becomes most important.
There are about as many sales methodologies out there as there have been very successful sales executives. Part of the key to success is customizing methodologies to fit new buying patterns and specific industries. When applied properly, these strategies become an important ingredient to scaling a team. But they do require training, competence, natural abilities, and soft skill development. They also need to be watched and modified as we find success with various customers.
No methodology is perfect for every business, or no business would fail. Many seem similar and emphasize listening more, talking less, respecting the buyer’s time, operating at their pace, respecting them, helping everyone and not just the decision maker, and being helpful even if they don’t go from prospect to customer. These are just great ways to do business.
No matter the methodology, it all starts with arming a good seller with a great product. The methodology helps align the team and shorten training cycles (think of all the training materials easily available out there for methodologies that go back 20-40 years).
One great thing about working with an existing sales methodology is that we can hire teams who have experience working in that type of paradigm. That makes the implementation so much smoother than it otherwise might be. The next steps are to decide if it’s best to hire a sales leader or someone new to selling who can be groomed. The answer to that question is often in the resources available.
No matter the choice, don’t make any promises - just in case things only half work out (in sales we pretty much always assume things will work out beautifully). Instead hire for aptitude, not seniority. We might end up hiring someone that sold us a car, someone straight out of school, or someone from a customer we think has the perfect personality to sell into our other customers. When hiring for capacity rather than a book of customers, we’ll often hire someone into their first tech sales job.
People new to industries are often amongst the easiest to train. They typically don’t come with a preconceived set of notions about how things are supposed to work, and they usually have a lot of skills that you might not otherwise think of – often helping innovate the way the business, or even the industry, work. Think of this as rookie smarts.
When hiring someone new to the industry, implementing a sales methodology requires that we read some books or take some classes on that methodology. When hiring someone with experience, we can often provide a minimum amount of documentation and let them run with it. Either way, it’s time to start writing down a guide for selling products, based loosely (if not entirely) off the methodology selected. Many begin that process by mapping the sales cycles, which we'll cover in our next article in this series on scaling sales teams.