A salesperson is often seen as a bit of an enigma, we assume the good ones just have some sort of knack for it, “they’re a natural” is what we tell ourselves. However, there is a method to the madness.
Due to there being many sales methodologies, here are 5 to get you started:
- Solution Selling
- SPIN Selling
- The Challenger Sale
- Customer-centric selling
- Conceptual Selling
These methods can be applied to multiple industries and are not restricted to a certain type of product or service. A sales methodology can be implemented by anyone, it is like the skeleton of selling – giving you steps, a mindset and even the questions to ask to achieve certain goals.
Solution Selling was first coined in 1975 by Frank Watts (thedigitalnirvana.com) and it highlighted empathy as being crucial to success. Parallels can be drawn between this and other methods such as SPIN and the Challenger Sale due to the focus it places on being empathetic.
In solution selling you are not selling specific products, you focus on the customer’s problems and address the issues with tailored offerings. Forcing the same product on all your consumers is like square pegs in round holes. Buyers are more informed about what they need and want and this approach allows you to meet prospects where they are. Pain points are identified so you can offer a customised mix of products to meet their needs. This kind of selling is relevant for products with multiple facets meaning you can work with the prospect to understand the particular features they need.
However, solution selling is over 30 years old and in today’s age customers will be armed to the teeth with information and think they already know what solution they want- they just need a product to fit it. You need to work that much harder to find a solution that won’t have crossed their minds. It is argued that solution selling has had its day as customers have completed “60% of a typical purchasing decision before even having a conversation with a supplier” (hbr.org, Matthew Dixon). According to this article being a “solutions sales rep” is more annoying than helpful and that to be successful you must take a Challenger approach.
Nevertheless, the assumption is that sellers can add information that changes a buyers decision process, hence creating a competitive advantage. Solution selling does not need to be discarded to maintain this, just modernised; the world has changed and organisations need to change with it.
The SPIN selling method was founded by Neil Rackham in 1988 on the back of 12 years of research and 35,000 sales calls (Forbes.com, Jayna Cooke). It has stood the test of time and still just as important in the field of high value selling as it was 30 years ago. Many of the more modern sales methods stem from Rackam’s research and have strong links to the SPIN methodology.
SPIN selling is a process by which you ask your client questions to understand pain points and build trust by doing so. You are not saying your product is the solution to their problems. By asking certain questions you will lead them to a conclusion where it is clear the service/product you offer fulfils their needs.
The SPIN process:
- Situation questions: research your client and their industry fully, and then ask questions to understand their situation.
- Problem questions: get to the heart of the issue, what is their underlying problem?
- Implication questions: ask your client what the implication would be if their problem wasn’t solved.
- Need-payoff questions: prompt client to consider how the situation would change if their problem was solved. Note that you are not saying you can solve their problem, just getting them to think about a better world without this problem.
The goal of SPIN selling is to guide prospects to the realisation that a product/service could help with a problem they have. You lead them step by step so that they can conclude this on their own.
The Challenger Sale
The Challenger Sale can be considered a more modern version of solution selling but it’s based on research on top sales performers selling high value products. Published in 2011 by CEB inc. it is now one of the more widely used sales methods for complex large sales. It provides insightful communications to help buyers move away from the status quo.
This methodology is based on one of the largest studies ever done in sales. It is found that “40% of high sales performers primarily used a Challenger style” (hannonhill.com, Patrice Meadows). It is more of a disruptive process in an attempt to move the conversation from price to value. You are trying to teach your client by bringing insight and ways they can make/save money that they might not have even considered before. It is a sales approach with 3 steps:
- Teach your prospect, not about the product, but about larger business problems. Push their thinking into how their company can compete more effectively. Give them insights and teach them what they don’t know but should.
- Tailor your sales approach towards your prospects most pressing needs in an assertive manner to ensure the message drives action. This is only possible through understanding what they value and what drives them.
- Take control of the customer conversation by bringing new ideas to the table. You need to convince the prospect that the problem is urgent and is worth solving. Push the customer to be proactive not reactive but do it with respect to how they are reacting. It is about focusing on the end goal, not about being liked by the prospect.
Being a challenger is exactly what it says, challenging the customer, not trying to be agreeable.
Amazon is possibly the biggest advocate for customer-centrality with their vision statement being “we seek to become Earth’s most customer-centric company” (thebalancesmb.com, Barbara Farfan). If we apply this to just a sales sense it is about empathising and offering solutions rather than products.
Customers don’t care what you want, what your revenue goals or profit margins are. They care about their problems and what they want. Customer-centric selling promotes meaningful conversation identifying customer needs so that they can find solutions to these problems. It’s about being more of a collaborative consultant rather than being a product pusher.
The 8 behaviours of Customer-centricity:
- Don’t present to your customer, converse.
- Ask relevant questions that you know will lead them to certain ideas, don’t just offer your opinions. Ask the right questions so that they naturally come to the same opinion as you.
- You’re not there to be their friend, focus on getting to the solution- you don’t have to be nice about it.
- Target decision-makers as opposed to users.
- Don’t just promote the product and how great it is, promote its usage and this will garner interest.
- Quality over quantity- strive to be the best seller rather than the busiest.
- Sales cycle should be on the buyer’s timelines rather than the sellers.
- Empower customers to buy, don’t just convince them.
However, in today’s age customer-centric theory is used in a more holistic manner. Companies realise the importance of putting customers at the centre of their organisations in every sense, not just for sales. This, in turn, forces businesses to be less siloed taking friction out of the buyer experience and therefore out of the sale.
Officially recorded in 1985 by Robert Miller and Stephen Heiman, conceptual selling turns the sale into something more abstract. It placed considerable emphasis on listening, which differed from a traditional sales method in the 1980s.
This is based on the principal that no customer buys a product or service. They are buying what they think that product or service will do for them. Therefore, you must understand the customer’s concept- what do they want to accomplish? Then, connect your product/service to that goal. With this, you should not lead with a pitch, but instead uncover the goals and needs of the prospect through conversation.
Conceptual selling questions:
- Confirmation questions to reaffirm the information you already have through your research.
- New information questions which clarify the buyer’s concept and explore their goals and how they would like to achieve them.
- Attitude questions help understand buyers on a personal level.
- Commitment questions help you understand their investment in the project.
- Basic issue questions raises obvious problems the customer has with your solution which would mean not being able to move forward.
This methodology relies on a lot of listening and can be divided into 3 stages: getting information, giving information and getting commitment. Getting information allows you to build rapport and qualifies the prospect early. Giving information involves relating your service to their concept and how it’s differentiated. Getting commitment should increase by a certain degree as the sale moves forward- if they refuse it’s because they think they are going to lose so there’s still a basic issue.
At True and North we’ve designed a sales method in response to the market challenge we saw in 2014:
How might we enable busy, multi-disciplined business-people to consistently sell well?
To answer the question a few constraints seemed apparent…
- Less is more > It’s impossible to make every useful process and tip stick, so the method must be as lean as possible. Ruthless editing was the kindest thing we could offer the people we train
- Mind-set trumps Process > Providing a holistic empathetic view of the buyer experience would enable sellers to ‘get’ their prospects and in turn more able to make themselves and their offer useful and relevant
- The ‘How’ equals the ‘What’> We would enrol people into our method exclusively through their live deals. Anytime in the class room with us must be more valuable than time on the sales floor
Our methodology, Trueselling™, is human-centred and made up of three simple steps:
- Care> Creating personalised insights for prospects with Empathy Maps, before aligning around their priorities
- Co-creation> Testing and Enrolling clients into potential solutions and commercial terms through story, sketching and solution-centred questions
- Consensus> Supporting prospects manage risk and build consensus with their stakeholders