Most salespeople are aware of at least one, maybe more, sales methods. Methods spell out a consistent approach to some aspect of selling. The famous ones have passed the test of time and are ingrained through books and training programs. Most established methods deal with the tactical issues of how to win the sale—you are in front of the customer so what do you say or do to further your progress in the sale?
Usually a sales team will choose a method and it’s assumed that everyone on the team stick to it. But that’s not always the case. Often individual salespeople will use what’s most comfortable for them. This can be a problem if a common technological platform for communication and collaboration is being used (SFA or CRM). Disparate ideas on words and methods don’t work well in a structured, computer-networked environment. Here are some examples of when a common sales method and sales lexicon is definitely needed (each of the examples are from the same hypothetical sales situation;
Which point are you at in the sales cycle?
“The end. The tender came into the office last week—it was the first time we learned about it. We are working nights to get out a response.”
Not much to say about that, other than that it will be an uphill battle from here on in. The best methods would advise salespeople to get in as early as possible in the customer’s buying cycle.
When did this sale begin?
“Oh! I guess the customer has been working on it for a while. I should really find out who the decision-makers are before we put a proposal together.”
Knowing when the sale begins is one half of knowing how long the sales cycle is. Without it, the best methods can’t help in building the winning strategies.
When will it end?
“When the customer makes a decision, I suppose! We may be able to slow things down by putting in a very aggressive bid. But, really, I don’t know.”
And this is the other half of the sales cycle equation. It will likely change as the sales cycle progresses and you need to be aware of that and your methodology needs to account for it.
Will you include it in your forecast?
“My manager wants me to. It’s a big sale. We’ve got a good new product, and we could offer a really good price. We could shake things up. But… I don’t think I would be comfortable in forecasting it. Our forecasting system is brutal; either we get it or we don’t. So I would say that in this case… who knows?”
Adopting a good sales method is the best way to get good forecasts. Know the criteria for assembling the forecast and make it consistent across the sales team.
What is the priority?
“You mean, how much time should I spend on it? Good point! This would be a great sale if I got it, but I’m coming from behind. I’m not sure about the priority though; I’ll have to lean on my manager for this.”
At first glance, this sale looks very tough to get. But the salesperson says that they have a new product and are prepared to give the customer a good deal. So how much time should they devote to this opportunity? A good method can show this salesperson how to do it.
What skills should you be using in this part of the sale?
“Sorry? I use all my skills all of the time!”
With this sale, there is not much choice. The customer is researching and evaluating to the point where they are confident to solicit bids. The salesperson came into the deal at a very late stage and needs to work from scratch using all the skills they have. Better to have been in from the start, and tailored the skills to the natural milestones of the sales cycle.
It seems that with this sales opportunity, the salesperson is very much in a reactive mode and seems to be fumbling along with no sense of direction. Had he or she been schooled in a robust sales process, the story might have been quite different.
As more sales teams rely on CRM or SFA to help them in their selling efforts, focusing on a single sales method across the entire team is very important. These few examples illustrate some of the key pointers that a sound sales method teaches: how to define, measure, and monitor the progress of the sales cycle, how to use specific skills in critical phases of the sales cycle, how to forecast accurately, and how to prioritize to achieve the most from sales opportunities.