Don’t worry, this is not a discussion about navels; it is an attempt to provide some very basic categorization of sales methodologies based on whether the methodology addresses internal or external interactions. About once a week, we get a question that goes something like: “Can you help our sales team decide between implementing (and these are fictional examples) sales methodology ABCDEEP (an opportunity qualification methodology) and SHOCK YOUR BUYERS SENSELESS (a sales methodology for structuring provocative buyer conversations)?” By our intentionally generous definition, these are both sales methodologies. They both prescribe a series of steps for HOW sellers should execute a function within a sales motion. That 10,000-foot description is where the similarities end; drill down a layer and it’s clear that these two sales methodologies are meant to meet very different business objectives.

The issue is not with the question or the person asking it; it often comes from knowledgeable, experienced, and tenured enablement professionals. The issue is with the range of how-to’s needed to complete the sales cycle — the range of methodology components needed to sell something. The options are vast and confusing, and no one solution addresses every need across the lead-prospect-buyer-customer-advocate lifecycle.

The answer we provide when asked this question is that you likely need a methodology for opportunity management and a strategy for structuring customer conversations.

  • Opportunity management. Yes, you need a sales methodology that describes how to qualify an opportunity; this is often described as the “common language” of the sales team. This is the agreement as to what “75% confidence” in an opportunity means, for example. This methodology may recommend sales strategies, but it does not typically tell sellers how to structure buyer conversations. Broad adoption of this methodology is important, as success depends upon sellers, managers, and leaders modeling the behaviors and using the vocabulary. Seventy five percent win chance on opportunity A should be exactly the same as 75% win chance on opportunity B; the definition of a stage four opportunity is always consistent, and there’s very little room for interpretation.

Indications that an opportunity management or qualification methodology should be prioritized include: poor performance against sales forecasts (outside +/-5% accuracy on average), late-stage surprises on customer buying decisions, or opportunities that continually slip beyond expected close dates.

  • Customer interactions. Yes, you also need a methodology that describes how to plan and execute certain customer conversations, while also recognizing that sellers will find themselves working through very different situations and unpredictable selling environments. To cite just one example, your buyers’ CFOs need different information and messaging than the CSOs, and the sellers’ relationship with each may dictate a different approach in each case. The fictional and hyperbolic “Shock Your Buyers Senseless” example might be ideal for the buyer persona who does not yet know what they should be losing sleep over, but not a great tack with the buyer who knows your market and all alternatives well; that person will not respond well to being shocked by something they likely already know. Sellers may need a range of options for conversations held with a diverse group of buyers, and they need guidelines on how to read the room and recognize how to steer the conversation — that’s a sales strategy, and an adaptable, flexible sales methodology.

Indications that a customer engagement methodology is required include inconsistent or negative feedback from buyers regarding sellers’ approach or messaging, inability of sellers to connect offering value to customer needs, expanding buyer groups, or the introduction of a new offering that must be sold differently.

Where Do I Go From Here?

The two situations and solutions discussed above address very different business challenges. Both issues are critical and both solutions are defined as “sales methodology.” This is what leads to confusion among sales leaders and enablement professionals. Unless sales leadership and enablement can accurately articulate which business issues they wish to solve for, enablement teams will struggle to build or select methodologies that deliver the expected impact and address the most acute business needs. It is up to enablement to guide these conversations to develop targeted requirements.

One way enablement professionals may navigate these discussions and decisions around methodology is to determine if the problem being addressed is primarily an internal activity (performed during activities that don’t involve interacting with customers) or primarily a customer interaction activity (performed live with a customer in person, on the phone, via email, or virtually).

In the two examples provided above, the opportunity qualification methodology may dictate some customer questions, but it is almost entirely aimed at solving internal issues including forecast accuracy, time management via prioritization, and delivering a common language for clarity, while the customer conversations methodology addresses the need for a consistent approach to customer conversations with goals such as improving win rates, shortening sales cycles, and improving customer satisfaction.

Generally, if sales leaders are describing issues with account or territory planning, addressing white space to expand penetration, opportunity management, opportunity strategy, sales call preparation, or defining a common language for sales, they are likely trying to solve an internal problem, and the solution should be selected to match.

If sales leaders are expressing the need to teach sellers to sell on value rather than cost, give less away in negotiations, elevate sellers’ positioning within the buyer organization, teach sellers to be more consultative, give sellers provocative messaging, or help sellers to sell based on insights, then the solution is a sales methodology designed to improve buyer/seller interactions.

Working with sales leaders to clarify which needs are the most critical leads enablement teams to better methodology solutions that have the potential to save years of frustration and false starts. All of the issues that various methodologies can address are mission critical, but the challenges must be prioritized.