This Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens will compete in the Super Bowl to determine the National Football League championship. While the respective coaches may come from the same family (Jim Harbaugh is the head coach of the 49ers while his brother John leads the Ravens), they deploy very different offensive systems. The 49ers use an offensive system called the “Pistol,” which includes many plays where the quarterback may be required to run with the ball. The Ravens utilize the “Vertical” offense, where the focus is on having the quarterback pass the football in precisely timed patterns to his receivers.

These different offensive systems made me think of a common question I receive from our sales enablement clients. There seems to be some confusion as to the difference between sales process, sales methodology, and sales models – and often our enablement clients use them interchangeably. At the risk of overusing yet another sports analogy in sales, here’s how football can help explain the difference:

  • Think of the sales process as the football field. Yard markers indicate a team’s exact location on the 100-yard-long playing field of American football, allowing the team to determine what types of plays will be most appropriate and potentially effective. Similarly, your sales process tells you where you are in the sales cycle, influencing the strategy and decisions your sales team will make to move a deal forward. Think of the red zone on the football field (when an offensive team is within 20 yards of scoring in the end zone) as the final stage in your sales process.
  • Your sales methodology is like an offensive system. An offensive system helps guide a team to the types of plays they will run as they move down the field. Similarly, a sales methodology helps guide your sales team on the types of actions they will take as they navigate an opportunity. Methodologies (e.g. Miller Heiman’s Strategic Selling, The TAS Group’s Target Account Selling and The Complex Sale’s R.A.D.A.R program) provide overarching approaches to help reps strategically manage complex opportunities from beginning to end. They tell the rep what to do next in a deal.
  • Sales models are like pre-designed plays on the field. If a methodology tells your reps what to do, a sales model tells them how to do it. For example, one of the aforementioned methodologies may guide a rep to engage with a senior-level decisionmaker. Sales models (e.g. CEB’s Challenger, Corporate Visions’ Power Messaging, Huthwaites’ SPIN model) tell them how to have the conversation. Think of sales models as plays being run within a system like the 49ers’ Pistol offense; like the play-calling quarterback, the rep must be skilled enough and the model flexible enough to quickly determine what will work best once inside the red zone.
  • Hybrids provide both strategy and skills. Offerings from a number of sales training vendors combine methodology and models. SPI’s Solution Selling, ValueSelling Associates’ Value Selling solutions, and Holden’s Power Base Selling all contain elements that cover both opportunity strategy and execution.
  • We’re often asked which sales methodologies or models work best. Just as the 49ers and Ravens have reached the pinnacle of their sport using different offensive systems, we see clients achieve sales success using various methodologies and models that are available. As in football, it may ultimately depend less on the approach you take and more on simply out-executing your competition. Vince Lombardi, legendary head football coach of the Green Bay Packers, drilled home this point early in his tenure: “What we’re going to do now is go back to basics and we’re going to learn, drill and practice the fundamentals until we become better at them than everyone else. If you do this with me, I will make you champions.” The Packers went on to win the first two Super Bowls.