Some Sales Methodologies: Summarizing & Differentiating

May 2017 Update

Humans have been selling stuff to one another for thousands of years. I don’t believe there is anything really new in the art and science of sales (gathering more data does NOT qualify as new)…but that doesn’t mean that it’s not new to US. The potential beauty of sales training is to eliminate all the trial & error and teach the stuff that’s been proven to work. These lessons where the same 1,000 years ago and will be essentially the same 1,000 years from now. I’m interested in the psychology behind our complex behaviors in general, and the sales process and persuasion is particularly interesting. Some others find the need to endlessly defend and justify the process of convincing somebody to do something you’d like them to do. I don’t. I’ll relent this much and summarize my thoughts on the topic: all’s fair as long as you’re honest in your efforts and you don’t rationalize dishonesty. We all know when we’re being honest and when we’re not. Immediately after we realize we’re being dishonest we convince ourselves that we’re really not being dishonest or that it’s OK in this case. Don’t do that. Honest mistakes are practically always allowed. List of rules complete.

I’ve selected these four methodologies to compare and contrast because I’m familiar with the basic concepts and they were the first four that came to mind. I’ll share all the links I used when doing additional research for this post. The most interesting aspect to me is understanding the areas of commonality and those of differentiation. Where we find unanimous agreement, it’s pretty sure that stuff is going to work. Elements that are unique may be more controversial and more idiosyncratic to the person or organization using the technique. Most concepts are similar, just packaged a bit differently or given different priorities. Of course, these techniques are for the sale of complex goods and services where benefits and pricing aren’t commoditized.

First word goes to one of our more active SoCal bloggers—Mark Suster offers this post as an overview for successful sales. No particular disagreements on the thoughts found therein. Now digging into the four schools on the plate today….

[UPDATE 10/24/11]—This was published today on Dave Kurlan’s blog. Seemed relevant to my thinking here…

SPIN Selling

Based on a decade of research by Neil Rackam’s corporation, Huthwaite, the SPIN methodology was synthesized to teach and replicate the successful outcomes. SPIN stands for situation, problem, implication, and need-payoff respectively. In SPIN, the buyer does most of the talking the seller guides the process with the S-P-I-N questions in approximately that order. In the picture of the sales funnel above, this methodology maps into the region between “Fact Finding” and “Propose Solution”. A signature feature is the ‘implication’ phase where the seller leads the buyer to see that perhaps the status quo is not so happy. The goal is to show the buyer they’re losing or wasting money on whatever they’re currently doing—assuming this is true. The monetary implications of inefficiencies in the buyers current ways are brought to light. This stage requires a very well-prepared seller, who is carefully listening to the buyer’s needs and understands how to concretely demonstrate the advantages of her solution. (source1).

AXIOM

Axiom Sales Force Development, not a household name, but is a respected player. They’re focus is less on abstract theory and more on sales process and their methods of making training actually stick. They contend that a clearly defined process is the best way to get the majority of a sales force to make permanent changes. They rigorously train on the quantitative arts—defining the volume and velocity through the sales funnel, and training salespeople to follow the numbers to ensure goals are met. The Axiom methodology maps along the whole funnel from “New Opportunity” to “Purchase Order”, but the emphasis is always on measuring and quantifying the opportunities and using the measurements as a continual guide to reaching the goals.

Strategic Selling (A Miller Heiman Program)

Miller Heiman offers multiple programs and Strategic Selling is about opportunity management—the processes and specific tactics to go from “Fact Finding” to “Negotiation”. Their Blue Sheet is used to comprehensively map the decision makers in an organization and uncover their buying motivations. This system trains salespeople to understand the multiple buyers’ psychology, use it to best advantage, while carving out unique selling proposition that sets the seller apart. (source1)

Solution Selling

Solution Selling emphasizes intelligence gathering. The seller identifies the true “pain point” of the buyer and establishes positive contact with “sponsors” and “power sponsors” at the buying company. Each company has a different formal process and perhaps more importantly, an informal one. The Solution Seller works to systematically uncover the hidden paths and remove obstacles while crafting the solution to salve the “pain”. Solution Selling covers the area between “Fact Finding” and “Negotiation” in the funnel.

[UPDATE 5/1/17]—Target Account Selling

This method puts the evaluation of an opportunity to the organization front and center. Is the opportunity real, do we as sellers have advantage, and is the payoff worth the effort. I love this. If I understand it correctly, most of this is baked into a Salesforce module that allow much of it to be automated. I love that even more.

[UPDATE 5/1/17]—Where is the agreement?

The answer to this question is easy: understand the buyer. Each system uses different sales aids and terminology but the basis is always to understand the customer. No modern system teaches the “hard sell”. Each school differentiates to sell product, but to my eye Strategic Selling, Solution Selling, and SPIN Selling are so similar that real differences will be in the quality of the teacher and the individual style of the student—what terminology and aids suit you best?

[UPDATE 5/1/17]—What are the differences?

In this group, Axiom and TAS stand apart in an interesting way. An Axiom sales days starts and ends by advancing the pipeline. The methods you use to understand your customer and propose a solution could come from any one of these four, but if you login to SalesForce every morning, use it all day and keep the dashboard in mind—your Axiom’s kind of salesperson. TAS adds the layer of deciding when to cut and run when the opportunity falls below proper priority standards.

To get another perspective, and go a little deeper, check out Charles Edge’s blog post on Selling Power here.