The Top 10 Sales Methodologies and How to Choose One

One of the most talked about topics when it comes to sales is “what is the best sales methodology?”

Unfortunately, many people ask that question for the wrong reasons.

Many of the successful sales reps that I’ve encountered over the years fall into two categories. These categories stay true across many diverse industries, backgrounds, and educations:

  • The academic-types who do everything by the book.
  • The freestyle-types who were apparently just born to be great at sales.

Something you may find surprising is that the top tier of elite sales reps – the best of the best – are usually a member of the latter camp.

They don’t actively follow a sales methodology and many of them can’t name one of them off the top of their head. They simply fit into one. Meaning, the qualities of their personality just happen to fit into one (or some) of the methodologies below.

So, does that mean sales methodologies aren’t important?

Not so fast. Not everybody is born into being a sales savage.

Simply put, a methodology won’t take you to top 1%. If you want to be the best of the best, there’s far more to learn (and practice) than a methodology.

A methodology is simply one of the best places to start.

Sales methodologies are perfect for getting good or better at sales because they give you a framework for organizing sales calls. Having a strategy is always better than winging it.

For these reasons, sales methodologies can be one of the most valuable lessons for new or inexperienced sales reps.

 

Common Misconceptions about Sales Methodologies

You can master a sales methodology simply from reading about it or taking a course

Can you read about football then make a professional team? No.

Can you take a course on medicine then become a competent doctor? No.

Can you read books from Phil Knight or Jeff Bezos then build a billion dollar enterprise? No.

Too many people buy expensive weekend-long courses at hotel conference spaces that promise to turn them into bonafide selling experts… by the end of the weekend.

This doesn’t work. In fact, these people are often the least-prepared sales reps right out of the gate.

The mindset of “I’m prepared because I dedicated a weekend to learning an age-old craft” can be more dangerous than it is helpful.

Just because you’re thirsty doesn’t mean you can drink from a fire hose.

If you want to learn a methodology you should read about it for free then go make 100 sales calls.

Then, come back and read about it again. Think about what went well and what you need to improve on as well as what you forgot to put into action.

Then go make another 100 calls.

Rinse. Repeat.

Only one methodology per company or per person

Another misconception about sales methodologies is that you need to pick just one methodology. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Most custom-built sales strategies that I produce for clients involve a hybrid approach with several methodologies.

Why?

Because there’s a lot to learn from different methodologies. There is no “one method” to rule them all. You don’t need to follow a method from start to finish to extract some valuable tactics from its teachings.

Think of it this way— if you’re doing research, will you get a better understanding of the parent topic (e.g. sales) if you look at one source or many sources?

 

Breaking Down the Top 10 Sales Methodologies

Without further ado, here are the top 10 sales methodologies that can put any sales rep on a track to success.

For maximum effectiveness, be sure to put these methodologies into motion right away by practicing them on your next sales call.

Reading only gets you so far. Practice through repetition is key.

1. The Challenger Sales Model

The Challenger Sales Model is based on one of the largest sales studies ever conducted.

The study found that 53% of customer loyalty is driven by the sales experience itself rather than the brand, price, service, or product.

This is primarily a result of the customer’s interaction with a sales rep.

The study analyzed thousands of sales reps in terms of their demonstrated behaviors and dominant skills. What they found was pretty shocking: all sales reps fall into five categories.

Even more shocking, 40% of high sales performers fell into one category: The Challenger. High performers were more than twice as likely to use a Challenger approach than any other approach.

So it works. But what is the Challenger approach?

Challenger reps are very good at understanding their customers’ business and value drivers and using that knowledge to deliver new insights and drive new ways of thinking. In essence, reps using the Challenger model are good at challenging their customers to be better and to make better decisions for their business, and they do that by using their knowledge of the industry and their customer.

Challenger reps all do three key things very well:

  1. Teach their customers new and valuable ways to compete
  2. Tailor their sales pitch to resonate with their customer’s most important issues
  3. Take Control of discussions around pricing and challenge (or bring a new perspective) to the customer’s thinking around a problem

Finally, Challenger reps use six unique traits to their advantage:

  1. Give a unique perspective to the customer
  2. Have strong 2-way communication skills
  3. Know each customer’s value drivers
  4. Can identify economic drivers of customer’s business
  5. Comfortable discussing money
  6. Comfortable and able to pressure customers

Who is Challenger Sales best for

  • Those who sell a complex product or service
  • Anyone who works with long-term customers or relationship-based selling

Who should not adapt Challenger Sales

  • Those in transactional B2C sales like retail
  • Some of those who work with international cultures

 

2. SPIN Selling

SPIN Selling is a methodology that revolves around questioning tactics as well as preventing objections rather than simply handling them.

The primary takeaway is that if you ask the right questions and follow the correct process, then the close is done for you.

SPIN Selling focuses on the proven theory that customers do not make buying decisions on logic alone; they need to be triggered emotionally too. It labels four different types of questions and uses them to uncover a prospect’s pain points and leverage an emotional response out of them.

SPIN is an acronym for the four types of questions:

Situational questions — Tell you about the situation the customer is in. Have no impact on convincing someone to buy from you, but are required to establish the situation.

Problem questions — Draw out pain points a prospect may have. Have a small impact on convincing someone to buy from you.

Implication questions — Ask a prospect how a problem is impacting them and get them thinking about the consequences of not solving the problem.

Need-payoff questions — Ask the prospect to consider how their situation would change if the problem was resolved. Once a prospect starts imaging a world in which their problem no longer exists, they’ll want their problem solved much quicker.

The strategy behind SPIN Selling is eerily similar to the plot of the movie Inception.

In sales, if you simply tell someone what their problem is and how you can fix it, it won’t work. The prospect knows you planted that idea in their head. They also know that your goal is to take money from their wallet.

SPIN Selling questions can be incredibly awkward to ask depending on what the prospect’s pain points are. For instance, if you’re selling life insurance then the pain point you’re drawing out and agitating is going to be a sensitive one.

SPIN Selling works best in those situations due to its ability to key into the prospects emotional side of the brain rather than the less-decisive logical side of the brain.

Who is SPIN Selling best for

  • Sales reps who sell directly to consumers, such as retail sales.
  • Sales where prices are negotiated and emotions or pain points can be leveraged for higher margins.
  • Real estate wholesalers and insurance sales.

Who should not adapt SPIN Selling

  • Anyone who sells to executives or C-suite, or other very experienced buyers.
  • People who do not have the confidence or desire to ask awkward questions.

 

3. SNAP Selling

SNAP Selling is a methodology that helps modern sales people connect with informed and busy modern-day buyers.

Today’s buyers have access to all the information they will ever need to research their own solutions. This makes them not trust salespeople. After all, what’s the point of being sold on something if you can find all the information yourself?

Furthermore, today’s information-age buyers are overloaded with data that’s assaulting them from every angle. They’re easily distracted and incredibly busy, and every time they open their phone or computer they find themselves getting even busier.

SNAP Selling combats buyer’s information overload by instructing sales reps to do four primary things:

keep it Simple: Make it easy for buyers and don’t over complicate your pitch. Do this with 30 second phone messages, 90-word emails, or one-page letters.

be iNvaluable: Always continue to bring the buyer new ideas. Become the primary differentiator rather than just a medium between the buyer and your product or service. Rather than pitching them like every other sales rep, demonstrate your understanding of their business.

always Align: Be relevant and not risky. Align yourself with your buyer’s critical business objectives and core beliefs or you’ll rarely make it to the decision maker.

raise Priorities: Work with prospects on their priority projects rather than pushing your own priorities. Demonstrate this by tying their priorities into your messaging.

Another important aspect of SNAP Selling is the outlining of three decisions that prospects make during the sales cycle:

  1. Allow Access — the prospect’s first decision is to become curious and agree to a conversation
  2. Initiate Change — the second decision is the shift from being complacent with the status quo to becoming committed to fixing it or improving it
  3. Select Resources — the third decision is deciding on a solution and selecting the best option.

Who is SNAP Selling best for

  • Anyone who sells to executives or C-suite, or other busy or distracted buyers.
  • Sales in competitive or highly-research industries in which you need to differentiate your company from the rest (as opposed to more niche industries with fewer solutions providers).
  • Relationship sales models.

Who should not adapt SNAP Selling

  • Sales in which cost per order is relatively low or purchases don’t require much decision making. SNAP Selling will still work here, it’s just not as necessary.
  • Transactional sales models.

 

4. Consultative (Solution) Selling

Solution Selling is all about problem solving, plain and simple. It’s one of the most widely taught sales methodologies over the last 40 years.

Rather than focusing on the features or benefits that your product has to offer, Solution Selling has you begin by focusing exclusively on the pain points of the prospect.

If your product ends up being a good fit to solve those pain points then you present your “solution” to how your product can solve those problems.

This very rarely happens on the same call. Typically, you’ll have discovery calls in which you discover all of the prospect problems or pain points. This is followed up with a presentation call where you present your solution.

Solution Selling works best with customizable products or services and complex customer problems.

In a complex buying situation, one of the worst things you can do is to start opening your mouth and pitching solutions before understanding the complexity of the problem. As soon as you misfire on one guess or assumption, the prospect begins to lose faith in your ability to solve their problem.

By throwing your pitch on the back burner and harvesting your prospect for answers in a discovery call, you’re able to find out the answers to the questions before it’s time to take the test.

The test is the presentation call. This is where you flex your muscles by showing how well you understood the prospect’s pain points during the discovery call. You rehash and confirm all of the customer’s pain points then map out exactly how your solution (your product) can solve or address those problems.

Who is Solution Selling best for

  • Customizable products or services such as consulting.
  • Selling to customers who have complex problems that need to be thoroughly understood and addressed.
  • Anyone who is starting out and needs their first sales methodology, since many new-age methodologies are based on Solution Selling which makes it a gateway to other methodologies

Who should not adapt Solution Selling

  • Sales where buyers are advanced and do much of their research on their own.
  • Reps who are not experienced enough in their industry to truly guide the sales process and coach their customers on how to buy.

 

5. Straight Line Persuasion

I bet you didn’t expect to see a sales methodology on this list created by someone who went to prison for fraud, did you?

His name is Jordan Belfort, and you’re probably familiar with him from The Wolf of Wall Street or the fictionalized Boiler Room.

First, let me state that Straight Line Persuasion has nothing to do with deception. It’s simply a way for volume-dependent sales reps to control what they value the most— time.

What’s a volume-dependent sales rep?

Someone whose bottom line is dependent on them making a HIGH volume of calls per day.

As a former freight broker, this was my life for nearly ten years. On any given call, the more we talked about anything unrelated to buying or selling freight, the less time I would have to make more calls.

The less calls I made, the less money I could make.

Dials, Dials, Dials… You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you meet your prince

Straight Line Persuasion is all about maintaining control of each interaction by leading the prospect in a “straight line” right towards the sale.

The three tenets to Straight Line Persuasion are:

  1. Develop rapport quickly
  2. Gather intelligence (qualify) quickly
  3. Control the interaction

If at any point in the call the buyer starts meandering away from talking about the sale, you control the interaction by gently nudging them back towards the straight line and back towards the sale.

If you’re a volume-dependent sales rep then the one variable that can put more money into your account is the number of calls you can make in a day. Straight Line Persuasion helps you maximize that.

Who is Straight Line Persuasion best for

  • Freight brokers and other carrier-focused logistics reps.
  • Anyone volume-dependent sales reps or individuals who need to qualify quickly and make as many calls per day as possible.

Who should not adapt Straight Line Persuasion

  • Pretty much anyone not outlined above who values quality of phone calls over quantity of phone calls (or touches).

 

6. The Sandler System

Sick of feeling like you’re ice skating uphill trying to convince every prospect to work with you? The Sandler System is for you.

The Sandler methodology flips the script on the classic sales model by requiring that both parties are equally interested in pursuing the deal after the first call. In this methodology, qualifying is king.

The first call is typically very low-key and conversational. The goal is to build rapport by showing a genuine interest in helping the prospect solve their problems.

Don’t bother pitching them on your solutions or trying to sell them on anything. By keeping the call conversational, it’s easier to uncover more honest answers to qualifying questions like budget and time.

Sandler helps you qualify prospects much earlier in the sales process. This, of course, saves you time by eliminating deals that have a low chance of success.

The secondary benefit here is that, if done properly, prospects will actually pursue you. This is opposite of how sales calls normally go. When salespeople come out of the gate aggressively selling, prospects defenses go up.

Most kids learn in grade school that the harder you try to pursue your crush, the harder it is to win them over. It’s a similar concept here.

That same psychology works with the Sandler System. By placing as much emphasis on trying to qualify the prospect as they place on trying to qualify you, prospects end up being driven to work with you.

Who is the Sandler System best for

  • Sales reps who have issues with (or want to avoid) prospects who act interested and motivated only to avoid commitment and disappear.
  • Freelancers using job sites like Upwork or Fiverr who want to waste less time talking with clients who aren’t serious.

Who should not adapt the Sandler System

  • Sales reps or organizations that don’t have enough prior experience to develop rigid, high-quality qualification standards.
  • Newer organizations who don’t have a lot of inbound leads or opportunities.

 

7. Inbound Sales

The Inbound Sales methodology is a new-age way of selling that leverages the fact that marketing and sales are more connected now than ever.

Most buyers will research their buying decisions on their own before they ever consider speaking to a sales rep.

On the flip side, sales reps now have transparency into what marketing content prospects are viewing.

With all that being said, the inbound sales methodology leverages two key important actions:

  1. Sales reps should meet customers where they are, whether that’s on Twitter, Facebook, or even your company’s pricing or product pages (hint: live chat).
  2. Sales reps should acknowledge where customers are in their buying process and leverage that knowledge to make highly personalized communications.

Inbound Sales is especially new-age in the sense that many people have no idea that companies are even capable of doing what they’re doing.

By linking marketing and sales with powerful sales automation software like HubSpot, sales reps can now see when leads are researching their product, viewing them on social media, or checking out their website. This information helps sales reps determine what interaction would be best to help push the lead closer to a buying decision.

While this isn’t exclusive to Inbound Sales, prospects typically have three stages in their Buyer’s Journey:

Awareness stage — The prospect becomes aware of their problem and starts doing research to more clearly understand their problem.

Consideration stage — The prospect has clearly defined their problem (or opportunity) and is now committed to researching and understanding available solutions for their problem.

Decision stage — The prospect has decided on a strategy to solve their problem and will soon choose from a list of options.

With that being understood, sales reps can use the following sales process:

Identify — Identify active **buyers based on who is looking at your marketing content

Connect — Connect with active buyers with personalized messages

Explore — Sales reps focus on rapport building above all while exploring the prospect’s pain points and goals, and introducing products that may be a good fit

Advise — Sales reps use everything they’ve learned about the prospect thus far to present a solution for them.

Lastly, Inbound Sales is based on a flywheel model rather than a funnel. The key difference here is that the flywheel is always in motion and always generating leads for sales as long as the company as a whole does its part to attract, engage, and delight everyone that enters the flywheel.

Who is Inbound Sales best for

  • Any company that has the necessary manpower and budget should adapt all or some of this methodology.
  • Companies who rely on inbound as opposed to outbound lead generation.

Who should not adapt Inbound Sales

  • Companies who exclusively rely on outbound lead generation like cold calling.
  • Freelancers or small companies without much inbound lead generation may not find it worth the budget necessary.

 

8. Gap Selling

Gap Selling is a relatively simple concept compared to many of the other methodologies on this list.

In Gap Selling, the sales rep will ask questions to determine what the prospect’s current state is (i.e. their problems or challenges) as well as what their ideal future state is (i.e. their goal).

The difference between those two states is known as the gap. The wider the gap, the more room there is for improvement and the more motivated a prospect can be to buy.

Something I love about Gap Selling is that it really nails human psychology on the head.

First and foremost, people care about themselves and not you (the sales rep). That statement can then be extended further— prospects do not care about your products, your company, or your services.

They care about what it can do for them. And what it can do for them is take them from their current state of problems to their future state of meeting their goals.

In Gap Selling, sales reps have to ask industry-specific and prospect-specific questions to identify what problems the prospect is having, how those problems are impacting them, what type of emotional impact those problems are causing, what are the root cause of those problems, and what is the future state that the prospect hopes to get to.

Notice a pattern there?

It’s ALL about the prospect.

Gap Selling identifies itself as problem-centric rather than product-centric.

This borrows from many other methodologies on this list (namely Solution Selling) Gap Selling just takes it lightyears further by tipping the scales even more in favor of never speaking about your product unless asked.

Who is Gap Selling best for

  • Companies who have little competitive advantage.
  • Sales reps who have difficulty pitching their product or service in conventional manners.

Who should not adapt Gap Selling

  • Sales reps who lack discipline in preparation, as you must prepare the proper questions before each call.
  • Companies who are already successful in other methodologies or who cannot commit to training sales reps through repetition until they master this one.

 

9. Cold Calling 2.0

Cold Calling 2.0 is more of a prospecting technique than a complete sales methodology. It was created by then-Director of Corporate Sales at Salesforce, Aaron Ross, who used it to completely transform Salesforce’s sales process and build a $100 million sales machine.

Guess what? Cold Calling 2.0 involves zero actual cold calling.

In fact, that’s the point. For most organizations nowadays, blindly cold calling prospects and measuring your sales teams in terms of number of calls made is not an effective strategy.

Instead, this technique hinges on separating sales teams into three groups. This helps create specialized reps who, in turn, make the entire sales team and sales process more productive. Those three groups are:

Qualifiers: Also referred to as appointment setters, these reps are responsible for sales development from outbound emails or from inbound marketing, and passing those qualified leads onto….

Closers: These are your classic account executives who take leads from Qualifiers and close deals.

Farmers: Customer success or account management reps

Now onto the actual technique of Cold Calling 2.0.

The dedicated prospecting team (Qualifiers) produce qualified leads for Closers by sending short but sweet emails.

These emails are sent to the contacts who are typically a level or two above the decision maker you need to be speaking to.

These people who are higher in the food chain are actually easier and more effective people to reach out to if you do it correctly.

First of all, how do you find the right person?

Well, it takes time! And sometimes it takes persistence. However, Cold Calling 2.0 implores sales reps to do their due diligence and reach high-quality contacts who can then sponsor them down to the proper decision maker.

To put this into perspective, have you ever been tasked with something from a Director or VP of Sales? You’re probably a lot more likely to do it (and do it well) than if the order came horizontally or from below you, right?

Now, how do you reach out to these people correctly? Here are some rules to follow:

  • Send short emails that include ONE simple question, can be read on a smartphone, and can be responded to in approximately two seconds (e.g. yes or no).
  • Stop expecting instant results. Realize that it can take 2-4 weeks to develop quality new leads.
  • Stop trying to hit 100 accounts once and instead try to hit 10 accounts 10 times. Going tall is more effective than going wide.

Another bonus with Cold Calling 2.0 is that it allows organizations to build much more predictable revenue. In fact, the originator Aaron Ross went on to found a company and write a book called “Predictable Revenue”.

Who is Cold Calling 2.0 best for

  • Enterprise companies or other organizations with large sales teams
  • Companies without an abundance of inbound leads, or who otherwise rely on outbound sales methods to generate a good portion of their sales (or want to start).

Who should not adapt Cold Calling 2.0

  • Individual sales reps or sales teams who don’t have buy-in from their organization as a whole.
  • Organizations who have a great flow of inbound leads or referrals.

 

10. Conceptual Selling

This methodology is similar to Solution Selling but ditches the product or service pitch in favor of pitching the solution.

To explain, B2B buyers don’t really want your product. They don’t desire it like you may desire a new flat screen TV or a shiny new car.

For businesses, your product is simply a means to solve their problem. So, in theory, they don’t buy the product at all, they buy the concept of a solution that is enabled by your product.

On the surface, this methodology seems pretty obvious, but selling the concept of a solution rather than a product is a little bit more labor-intensive than you might think.

It doesn’t happen naturally. Everything needs to be framed in terms of how the customer would make the buying decision, how the customer would implement the solution, and so on.

The framework for Conceptual Selling revolves around asking the following types of questions:

  • Confirmation questions that reaffirm information (e.g. So you’re looking for a better freight matching software to help reps save time matching available freight to available trucks, correct?”)
  • New Information questions help to clarify exactly what the prospect’s concept of the product is while exploring how they define the desired result (e.g. Can you tell me exactly which problem you’d be solving with a new freight matching software, and how solving that problem might affect your company?”)
  • Attitude questions aim to understand the prospect on a personal level and discover their connection with the project (e.g. Have you ever addressed this problem before? Why or why not?)
  • Commitment questions measure a prospects investment in the project (e.g. How important is it for you to solve this problem?)
  • Basic Issue questions raise potential problems and “deal killers” that can get in the way of the deal going through (e.g. Are you comfortable with the implementation timeline that would be required if you decided to move forward with this purchase?)

Conceptual Selling is all about win-win situations and places an astronomical emphasis on listening.

The three stages of Conceptual Selling are getting information, giving information, and getting commitment.

The first stage is far and away the most important. If you don’t ask the right questions, listen to the prospect’s responses, and understand their desires, the rest of the process will be doomed from the start.

Who is Conceptual Selling best for

  • Complex selling situations.
  • Companies who sell highly-customizable products or services to customers who need unique solutions.

Who should not adapt Conceptual Selling

  • Quicker or less detail-oriented sales situations.

 

Choosing a sales methodology

As I said in the beginning of this post, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you try to choose one sales methodology and ignore the rest.

There’s something worth learning in each and every one of the sales methodologies listed above. It’s typically best to choose one primary sales methodology that fits for your industry or selling situations and build a framework around that while learning from the rest of them.

If you have a small (or agile) team then you can even change methodologies depending on the market.

For instance, at IRC Sales Solutions, we always use methods from Cold Calling 2.0 when it comes to prospecting. We preach techniques from the Challenger Model and Inbound Selling, but depending on how busy we are at the moment and where our leads came from, we’ll use the Sandler Method or Solution Selling as the primary framework for sales calls.

Too many people buy expensive weekend-long courses at hotel conference spaces that promise to turn them into bonafide selling experts… by the end of the weekend. This doesn’t work. In fact, these people are often the least-prepared sales reps right out of the gate. The mindset of “I’m prepared because I dedicated a weekend to learning an age-old craft” can be more dangerous than it is helpful.

It’s frequently thought that a sales methodology is the key to unlocking a new legendary conversion rate or astronomical success.

Too many people buy expensive weekend-long courses at hotel conference spaces that promise to turn them into bonafide selling experts… by the end of the weekend. This doesn’t work. In fact, these people are often the least-prepared sales reps right out of the gate. The mindset of “I’m prepared because I dedicated a weekend to learning an age-old craft” can be more dangerous than it is helpful.

Sandler helps you qualify prospects much earlier in the sales process. This of course saves you time by eliminating deals that have a low chance of success.