Virtually every organization I work with has a real misunderstanding of Selling Processes and Sales Methodologies. Both are critical, and while complementary, they serve very different purposes. And, I think, training companies and consultants (like me), sometimes confuse these issues, not serving our clients as effectively as we should.
At the risk of oversimplifying the difference. The Selling Process focuses on the “why and what” of how we engage customers in helping them navigate their buying process. A Sales Methodology focuses on “how” we execute our Selling Process. They provide us tools to facilitate our ability to effectively execute the Selling Process.
Let’s dive in…….
The Selling Process is unique to our organization. At some level, this can be confusing. Every organization has some sorts of stages which define the high levels of our selling process. They typically cover things like prospecting, qualifying, discovering, proposing, and closing. Different organizations may use different terminology. Sometimes they have more stages, sometimes less. It’s in this that we start understanding the uniqueness of a Selling Process. The number of stages, what we name them is a reflection of our own organization’s strategies engaging customers and helping them move through their buying process.
What we do in each stage, the criteria by which we move from stage to stage is based on a number of things unique to our organization. Among them are:
- Who are our target customers, our ICP?
- What are our strategies in our target markets and customers?
- What do we want to stand for in our markets, how do we differentiate our company from others?
- What experiences do we want to create with our customers as we help them navigate their buying process?
- Based on our experience with current customers, what are the most critical activities/issues/support our customers need to successfully navigate their buying process, how do we best teach and support them through those activities.
- What unique activities do we need to execute to navigate the buying process successfully with our customers?
- What is our unique approach to value creation, valued development, value communication, value delivery, and value realization?
- What resources do we leverage, or do our customers need to leverage to help effectively navigate the buying process.
- How do we make sure we are pursuing business that we can actually deliver, avoiding or stopping opportunities that may result in bad business.
- And…… (each organization may have very different things critical to their and their prospects’/customers’ success in navigating the process.
We develop our Selling Process, based on our and our customers’ past experiences in working together. We have deep experience in what works, what doesn’t work; how we create differentiated value with our customers; how we have achieved success in executing our organization’s strategies with our customers.
We may have different Selling Processes. For example, different markets may require very different sets of activities and strategies to help customers navigate a buying process. Alternatively, our solutions may demand very different processes. We may have very simple/transactional sets of activities for certain product lines, and other more complex product lines that require a completely different engagement strategy and Selling Process.
Even within a product line, we may have different Selling Processes. For example the initial “land” in PLG strategies has a very different process than the enterprise “expand” of those products.
The mistake too many organizations make is failing to recognize these differences and trying to provide a single process for every offering and every market segment. The other mistake organizations make is having a different process for everything. Truth is somewhere in the middle and I always tend to advise as few as possible–trending to a single process if that makes sense. We want to simplify things, both for our sellers and for our customers/prospects.
But if we are to standout in our markets, to our prospects, and customers. If we want to engage our customers and our people in being as effective and efficient as possible, navigating the buying process; then we must have a Selling Process that is unique to us. Not having this process, not using it creates a random and meaningless walk through the customer buying process. We offer no leadership, no differentiation, no value–leaving the customer to figure it out themselves. And we know when we do this, they usually fail–and we fail.
The absence of a clearly defined Selling Process that is effectively implemented by our people result in poor or under performance and cannot be accepted by leadership.
Finally, on the Selling Process, it must continually be updated. Things change, how our customers buy, our strategies, our experience of what works and what doesn’t change. If we do not keep our Selling Process updated for current times, if we don’t look to the future, recognizing changes that are occurring, we will fail. For example, most of our Selling Processes are based on a sales led, digitally supported strategy. But customers are changing, preferring a digitally led buying process. As a result, we must update our Selling Process to recognize a digitally led, sales supported strategy. (and this should help you recognize the selling process is not just for sales, but also for marketing, sales, customer experiences/support.)
So where do Sales Methodologies come in?
Sales Methodologies provide us tools for helping us, more impactfully, execute our Selling Process. For example, how do we incite our customers to change and buy? How do we engage our customers in conversations about what they are trying to achieve? How do we communicate our differentiated value in the process?
There are innumerable Sales Methodologies, that give us great tools to help improve how we execute the Selling Process. Some tend to be optimized for certain aspects of the process. For example, personally, I’ve always thought of Challenger as being optimized to the front end of the Selling/Buying Process. I tend to see Value Based and Solution Selling optimized to working with qualified customers, but not as helpful in the front end of the process. Methodologies like MEDDIC/MEDDPIC tend to help us recognize critical roles and decisions that need happen through the buying process. (Those vendors may disagree with me.)
As an aside, I’m seeing more organizations adapting a number of methodologies to their selling process, using elements of each to help them more effectively execute the selling process.
But none of these are unique to a company implementing the methodology. The methodology is the same, regardless whether you are in B2C, B2B, B2B2C. It is the same if you are selling capital equipment, professional services, or embedded products. It is the same as your competitor who is using the same methodology.
The methodologies do not recognize how we have created success with our customers in the past. They don’t recognize our strategies and the unique things we have done to help us and our customers win. And they shouldn’t! That’s not their purpose. At the risk of overstating this, their purpose is to help us effectively execute our selling process.
Where does the confusion come in?
Most methodologies introduce some concept of a selling process, structuring their tools to address, “Here is how you do this in this part of the process?” But it’s the same for every customer, regardless of what they sell and what their customer engagement strategies are. Too many of their customers, mistakenly, think this is the sales process. It is, but not THEIRS. Alternatively, for those organizations that haven’t taken the time to develop their unique Selling Process, it’s a “cheat” that enables the vendor to sell their methodology.
But think about it again, does the vendor supplied “process” differentiate you and set you apart, particularly when 100’s of other organizations are using the exact same methodology?
Methodologies are important. But they are most impactful when adapted to support your unique Selling Process. If you are considering buying a methodology, make sure the supplier adapts the implementation of their methodology to support your unique process.
The Selling Process is critical to our success with our customers. It is critical to our unique value creation, it is critical to our differentiation. It is critical to our effective and efficient functioning as an organization. The Methodology(ies) support us in executing our Selling Process.