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Do We Need A Sales Process Or A Sales Methodology?

by David Brock on July 31st, 2009

Michael Webb poses the question:  Is a Sales Process the same as a Methodology?  He provides a thoughtful view (though doesn’t answer the question until his additional comment—make sure you see that).

I thought I’d dive in because it’s a confusing issue.   A sales process, in my view, is a road map to guide the sales professional in facilitating their customer’s buying process.  A sales process focuses on deals and opportunities.  It focuses on helping improve the sales professional’s effectiveness and efficiency.  It is a set of steps and critical activities that has been developed based on the organization’s experience.  Win-Loss analysis is a great starting point for developing a sales process.  Analyzing and modeling customer buying processes is another useful way of defining your selling process.  The sales process must be consistent with your company’s business/market strategies and priorities.

In the end, the sales process should outlines the major steps, for example qualification, discovery, proposing…., and critical few activities sales professionals should follow to assure they are pursuing good deals—opportunities that are real and fit the company’s sweet spot.  The process outlines the activities critical to achieving success and winning! 

Every company has it’s own selling process.  At a high level, the steps may be similar, after all we all do qualification.  But it’s at the critical activity level that the sales process needs to be unique–after all, these are driven by our company’s strategies and priorities.  The process is driven by its strategy for how it wants to work with its customers.  The process is driven by the company’s experience in winning or losing deals.

Sales processes need to be SIMPLE!  As I said, it’s a road map.  It doesn’t define every bump or pothole in the road, it doesn’t outline every twist and turn.  It provides general direction and focuses on the critical activities to get you to your destination—winning a deal!

A sales methodology is an artifact of a vendor’s approach to selling.  There are many methodologies out there:  Solution Selling, Customer Focused Selling, Provocative Selling, and others.  Each of those methodologies represent a vendor’s philosophy about selling and most have a generic sales process embedded into their methodology.  I won’t editorialize on these methodologies.  However, in engaging a vendor and choosing a methodology, make certain they incorporate your sales process into the training they provide you.  Think about it, the sales process for selling enterprise software is different from selling semiconductors and is different than selling process control systems.  The selling processes for competing enterprise software companies is different—each has its own strategies, priorities, and goals for how it wants to interact with its customers.

One final thing to remember, the “Selling Process” focuses on winning deals and opportunities.  However, there are many other processes important to the sales organization.  Some of these include the forecasting process, account management, lead management, and so on.  Many processes overlap with each other, it’s important to understand these overlaps.

There is a lot of jargon we toss around in sales (and in other functions).  Sometimes it serves to make things more complicated and confusing than is needed.  In any discussion about process, we should strive for simplicity and clarity.  Otherwise it becomes meaningless.

Now back to the issue, do we need a sales process or a sales methodology?  No sales professional or sales organization can perform at the highest levels without having a sales process to guide the execution of their sales strategies.  A sales process is mandatory for success.  Sales methodologies are great, I’ve studied most of them, I’ve gotten value out of each in refining the way I sell, I’ve developed some of my own methodologies.  I encourage every sales professional to learn and read.  Take the best elements of many sales methodologies to help improve your own performance.

I’d be interested in your views and feedback on my distinctions of Selling Process and Selling Methodology.  What do you think?

From → Performance

  1. I think the confusion comes over word choice. If we substitute the word “technique” for “methodology” any disagreement would be resolved. I would call the examples given sales techniques. That being said, I agree there is a difference between sales process and sales techniques.

    I would recommend when establishing a sales process to include the required steps, rather than the major steps.

    Thank you for the well written blog. I hope it generates a lot of discussion.

    • Chuck, thanks for the comment. Words are always so important and the source of so much miscommunication. Technique is a good word, along with methodology. Watch later this week, I will be writing about Sales Techniques.

      Thanks for your comments and encouragement.

  2. Interesting steps for closing a sale.

    Do you ever find that sales people often create most of the objections themselves. That is that customers ask questions that sales people stir up from nervous energy. I’ve found many sales people create confusion in the mind of the buyer and create questions that often lead to either no sale or a much more difficult closing process.



    • Dave: First, I apologize for the delay in posting and responding to your comment. It got caught up in our Spam filters. I think that sales people do stir up a lot of objections. Objections often arise when the sales person has not understood the customer or when they have not made themselve understandable (confusing the customer). This creates legitimate concern on the part of the customer and, hopefully, stimulates them to ask a question or raise an objection. The worst objection ever is the unasked objection. It’s important for the sales person to create an environment that enables the customer to bring up their questions, concerns, objections.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. Regards, Dave

  3. A process is a series of actions, changes, or functions bringing about a result and a methodology is a body of practices, procedures, and rules used by those who work in a discipline that is the difference. Problem is sales people confuse the two.

  4. Hi Dave,

    When I read your title, I wondered if different people have different tastes, because I knew straight away that all I cared about was a clear and simple process. After reading your article I tend to agree with you.

    And I now realize why I’m only interested in the process. In international sales you run into a wide variety of methodologies. Different cultures do things differently… different methodologies make up a large portion of these differences.

    The international sales person has to have a good grasp of the sales process, otherwise he will not be able to reconcile the different methodologies and move ahead. And I’d even go so far as to say that the simpler your sales process and the stronger your grasp of what this sales process is, the easier your task will be in getting that international sale.

    If your sales methodologies are too sophisticated you run the risk of them not being easy to translate across cultures.

    It’s also interesting to work with cultures where there is a high level of sophistication either in their processes or their methodologies. This is where it’s critical for you to have a clear and simple process.

    • Cindy, thanks for taking the time to comment. The process is so important, yet we tend to distract ourselves with methodology and other things. There are great tools and methodologies, but without “clear and simple process,” methodologies are meaningless. Thanks for the comment! Happy 2010!

  5. Bob Ennamorato permalink

    We definately need a “process”. While working our way through the process we can and should draw on any of the methodologies that might help us move the process along. I like to think of sales people having a tool kit of methodologies and techniques from which they select the right tool for the situation. I believe selling is sequential and cummulative and needs the structure of a process for maximize effectiveness.

    I believe a sales process should be a sales “cycle” rather than a ladder or stairs like series of steps. If you complete the steps in the ladder, and arrive at the top where you make a USP and close, then what do you do? But if you use a cycle, when you arrive at the end of the cycle, you simply recycle with another product or service using the brand equity you earned during the first cycle.

    I agree 100% that a sales cycle is a “road map”, not a blue print. It is also a tremendous organizing tool for the sales person, sales management and the entire sales organization. With a well designed sales cycle, no one should ever wonder what to do next, sales management will always know where a sales person is with a prospect and marketing and other support groups can use it as a framework so that what they do is relevant to what the sales team needs.

    Many years ago, a new V.P. of Sales at the company where I was a new sales person, said “The first thing we need to do is learn to speak the same language”. A good sales process does that and puts everyone on the same page.

    • Great coment Bob, thanks for taking the time to contribute. It really reinforces my thinking in a very simple and easy to understand way. Thanks for helping out!

  6. Dave,

    I personally found this post to be of tremendous value to me. Such a simple distinction, yet so powerful.

    What I’m taking away from it is the difference between a coherently-defined, necessary workflow, and a customized, task-based, approach to getting there. There may be better terms than that, but that’s meaningful enough to me to help a lot.

    In particular, that helps me clear up a lot of unnecessary arguments in my head (was there ever a necessary argument in my head?) about the relative value of different approaches–one of which now turns out to be a process, and one a methodology. Wow, you just quieted a lot of noise for me.

    Many thanks, to you and to Michael Webb in his original note (and comment which continued the thought). You do great work, Dave.

    • Charlie, thanks for the great comment. I guess there is a bright side to having arguments with yourself—you probably always win! As always, your comments are so refreshing.

  7. At last a simple but very clear article on the difference between the two concepts .
    Excellent read.
    Thank you

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