In the second of his quarterly columns, Richard Barkey tackles sales methodologies, and shares some insights from the TJ Conference.
Reading time: 3 minutes.
As an L&D professional adding value to a sales team, it helps to know a little about sales methodologies. (Not least because you can use them, in turn, to engage your own stakeholders). Selling is a little like chess: the rules are simple, but the strategy is complex and it helps to have a ‘playbook’ to guide you.
The value of a methodology
In selling there isn’t a linear relationship between skill and performance. There is a tipping point when salespeople start to outperform their competitors (other suppliers, or other uses of the budget). I’ve seen win rates in competitive situations increase from 30% to over 60% through the right skills and sales methodology.
A brief history of sales methodologies
The starting point for most modern sales methodologies was the team at Xerox, who pioneered the ‘needs satisfaction’ approach to selling in the 70s. In 1988, Neil Rackham emphasised questioning skills with his SPIN® selling model, which uncovered problems and implications, among other things, to create explicit needs and drive buying behaviour.
Modern sales methodologies are focused on managing the buying process rather than a sales process, and on leveraging some form of insight to reframe the customer’s thinking.
Neil’s work also focused on customer-centricity and the buying cycle, and I worked with him on the Creating Client Value methodology in the 2000s. CCV guides and influences customers around their buying cycle, and creates disruptive value by uncovering barriers to achieving a customer’s business objectives, along with potential solutions.
This idea of managing the buying process (rather than a sales process) remains at the forefront of selling today.
The idea of disruptive value, and the insights that feed it, was picked up again with the Challenger model in 2011, and most leading sales methodologies now leverage some form of insight to reframe the customer’s thinking and create value.
The latest sales research is going beyond insight to explore, for example, how to use social media to increase leads and win rates, behavioural economics to influence decisions, and an agile sales process to drive results. These are all areas that my team and I are actively involved in studying, and they are very exciting.
But for now, let’s turn back to how L&D can use insights to engage the sales function in a conversation.
Insights from L&D
At this year’s TJ Awards conference, one of the main topics was how L&D professionals can successfully engage with the sales function to add value.
Just as salespeople need to manage the decision process and bring insight to the table, L&D professionals need to do the same with their stakeholders. At the conference we carried out a survey of the areas where L&D felt there was the most room to bring insights to their sales leaders. Some of the most significant included:
- Sales management. Sales managers are often neglected, and L&D could help to highlight the full range of sales management skills needing development, from selecting and developing teams, to pipeline management and forecasting, vision and values, and even sales strategy;
- Agility. Few organisations felt that their sales methodology was adaptive across different sales roles and customer types;
- Conversion rate from enquiry to opportunity. This was seen as weaker than the win rate once an opportunity had been booked, and is often less visible to sales leaders.
These are all areas where some judicious questioning might uncover a latent need for L&D support within the sales function.
The survey also highlighted an opportunity for L&D teams to find out more about their sales functions. On average 25% of respondents had significant knowledge gaps around their own organisations, especially in account management, sales management and sales strategy.
It’s easiest to bring insight to the table when you have a good understanding of the situation, and another reason why asking informed questions is a great way to start.
About the author
Richard Barkey is the founder & CEO of Imparta Ltd., the global sales and service training company. Richard is an expert in sales and learning, and a pioneer in the field of business simulations.