This post originally appeared here on the Selling Power blog.
Here, at Florida State University’s Sales Institute, we are often asked for our perspective on the best sales methodology for a particular company. Given the high stakes of this decision, it is no surprise that sales leaders want input from experts.
Choose the right methodology and there is potential for increased revenues, faster customer-conversion rates and better onboarding of salespeople. Choose poorly and the ripple effect of negative consequences – declining sales, increased turnover, low morale – can be devastating.
With so much hanging in the balance, we always believed leaders’ fundamental question was a good one: “What is the best sales methodology for my company?”
We were wrong.
Our latest research finds it is not adherence to a sales methodology but agility that produces superior results. Although sales leaders have long pushed their people to master one method of selling, it turns out that well-considered and purposeful deviation from a single methodology to accommodate different buying situations is the key to success.
So, when it comes to sales methodology decisions, the question shouldn’t be about which single solution is right; the real question sales leaders need to be asking is: “What are the best sales methodologies for the most common situations my salespeople encounter?” Methodologies. Plural.
We first recognized this phenomenon a few years ago when the FSU Sales Institute ran a study to assess the effectiveness of a certain sales methodology. As part of the study, we asked salespeople to identify the type of seller they were. One high performer came back to us with a thought-provoking statement: “I can’t fill out your form,” he said, “as the kind of seller I am depends on the selling situation I’m in.”
With 20/20 hindsight, this seems an obvious statement. But, until this superstar said it in the context of our methodology study, we hadn’t recognized the connection.
We began looking more closely at the high performer/methodology correlation and discovered that the top 10-15 percent of sellers have three or four different selling strategies they use, depending on the buying situation. They are adept at very quickly assessing a situation and employing the method that best fits it. In contrast, lower performers tend to use just one or two approaches.
This got us thinking. If the average company encounters four or five typical buying situations but employs just one selling approach, then most companies are giving their reps only a one-in-four (or one-in-five) chance of success. What would happen if, instead of being trained on one selling method, salespeople were trained to quickly recognize common buying situations and employ the right sales approach for that scenario?
World-class sales teams are doing this today with agility training that spends considerable time teaching reps how to identify the key situations they might face – and even more time teaching reps the strategies that work well in each situation.
We have shared this message with dozens of companies, helping them shift from a one-size-fits-all methodology to an agile sales approach. Every one of these companies reports significant gains in sales.
For instance, a large global senior living provider asked for our insights into their stagnating sales performance. This company employed a standard consultative process in which reps asked prospects about their needs and attitudes toward senior living, then presented the best options based on the prospect’s situation.
The approach worked well for about 40 percent of buyers – those with long lead times who were just beginning to think about senior living. However, in cases where an elderly person was coming out of the hospital and needed a quick solution, potential buyers became frustrated by the slow consultative pace. The approach also failed to convert those who were “window shopping” senior communities but whose adult children were determined to keep the parents at home with in-home care. These latter two scenarios made up about six in 10 buying situations, but the company’s reps were ill equipped to handle them.
We advocated an agile sales approach in which sellers learned to identify three types of prospects – Informed Future Residents, Code Red, and Mom’s Staying Home – and use the right approach for each one. For Informed Future Residents, the company kept the consultative approach in place. For Code Red, where families needed to make a quick decision and execute on it, we found a simple product pitch was all that was needed. For the Mom’s Staying Home group, where some or all family members preferred in-home nursing care, we found the best approach was a disruptive one that challenged the buyer’s current thinking and attitudes toward senior living.
Today, after undergoing training enabling them to be successful in these scenarios, reps are able to quickly identify each type of sale and track their growing success with each one.
Keep in mind that “agility” doesn’t mean “winging it.” A lot of sales leaders worry that telling reps to be flexible will introduce chaos into the selling process. It won’t. Agility simply means sellers are adaptable within defined parameters.
With that in mind, it’s time to discard old notions that there is one sales methodology that’s right for your company – and that all reps should adhere to it. Instead, recognize that the best methodology is the one that’s right for each of your buyers.
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