For decades, one of the most pressing questions sales leaders have grappled with is this: “Which sales methodology is best for our company?”
In seeking perspective on this question, many sales executives have approached experts at Florida State University’s (FSU) Sales Institute – so many, in fact, that in 2012 FSU launched a major study aimed at answering that question. Researchers asked 783 sales reps from eight different industries to self-identify their individual sales style.
Initially, the results seemed to validate prior research done by the Sales Executive Council: High performers mostly identified themselves as challenger or consultative sellers; low performers were most likely to identify as product or relational sellers.
The study might have ended there were it not for one conversation with one high performer:
“I can’t fill out your survey,” he told researchers, “as the kind of seller I am depends on the selling situation I’m in.”
His statement got researchers thinking. It made sense that one approach couldn’t work for every sales scenario. Was it possible that other high performers also were not a single type of seller (as the survey had forced them to claim) but were actually shifting tactics to match different situations?
The FSU team designed a new study targeted at understanding the methodology question more precisely. They asked 1,500 salespeople from three different industries to explain the various situations they face and how they sell in each situation. The results overwhelmingly supported the “it depends” statement: high-performing sellers consistently revealed significant variance in their approach based on the type of sales situation they were facing. In this study, no single method of selling dominated.
Just to make sure they were on the right track, researchers launched a third study in early 2013. The results were the same: The top 10-15% of sellers had 3-4 different selling strategies they used, altering their approach depending on the buying situation, while lower performers generally used just one or two approaches.
The research further showed that when salespeople stuck with the one-size-fits-all sales methodology their company trained them to use, they turned in average and below-average performance. That means companies which enforce a single way of selling are spending billions of dollars to create salespeople who are average at best.
The mandate is clear: If top performers flex to match the sales situation, constantly adapting their approach to meet the different buying scenarios they face, all your reps should be doing the same.
That’s agility. And it’s transforming sales results in the companies that are training its reps to do it well.
FSU was sponsored by 40 Leading Corporations and asked to evaluate the Major Sales Methodologies (specifically compare Challenger against other approaches) and identify what sales methodology worked best. FSU’s independent research project included:
– Engaging 15 corporate sales teams
– Assessing over 3,000 sales people
– Benchmarking almost 1,000 sales leaders
This paper looks at the in-depth details of the research and its findings.