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Yes, but do they work?

Do sales methodologies work? The answer probably depends on your definition of the term, “work”.

If you have a mature sales force who know their patches and know how to keep the deals flowing, introducing a sales methodology probably won’t work. Otherwise, maybe.

Just to make sure we are all thinking the same thing when we use the term sales methodology, we are referring to one of the many different frameworks for managing accounts and opportunities utilizing a structured set of stages and techniques for advancing accounts and closing deals in an effort to maximize revenue, margin, and satisfaction. These go by a lot of different names, but most are targeted toward helping a sales rep keep attention on the activities needed to advance deals and accounts to maximum benefit.

I ran across a sales study recently that provided some stats on the use of sales methodologies. One of the things that the study boasted was that 7 of 8 companies that utilized sales methodologies had better performance as a result. But, don’t get too excited by this claim. First, the study used self reporting surveys – we don’t know if in fact the use of the methodologies actually caused results to improve, but the survey respondents believed it to be true.

A second issue with the study results centers around the finding that only 1/3 of the respondents disclosed that they used a methodology. So, this means, doing the math correctly, that 2 of 3 were not using one to manage their sales processes. Problem is, we don’t know if those two had already tried using a system and it failed to produce results. Depending on how to best interpret the study findings, it may be that a majority of users do not find success. Perhaps a better methodology for managing research studies is the best conclusion from this one.

Let’s go back to the original question – do they work? My consultant instincts always require me to answer this kind of question with the best possible response, “it depends”.

It might be more useful to ask the question, under what circumstances would a sales methodology provide value, and potentially lead to better business performance? Recently one of my favorite clients told me that he thought his business needed to introduce Miller Heiman, a popular methodology in use by many companies. When I asked why, and who else in the company also believed it was needed, I did not get a substantial reply to the two part question.

So, this leads us to the first condition for success: there has to be an established need and a reasonable amount of consensus for something like this to work. Which leads naturally to the next question, what are the kinds of things going on that would resemble a need? Here are a few:
- the salesforce is junior and needs structure to keep focused on the right selling activity
- the deals are long and complex and require a mechanism for keeping track of progress
- the business does not forecast well and needs a tool for better identifying probabilities within the pipe
- your salesforce has gotten too bloated and you want to force some attrition

OK, I am only partially kidding on the last item. Introducing the kind of discipline that a sales methodology requires can be pretty irritating to vets who know or think they know how to manage their patch. So, you have to be in a situation where changing the rules is going to be OK, or the fallout is going to be OK.

Then there is that residual question from a statement above, who needs to be in consensus with the decision to introduce a sales methodology in order for it to work? That of course is a more complicated answer.

At a minimum, the top sales management team has to all be in agreement – the SVP of sales and her or his direct geography or business unit sales managers. Dissent won’t work at this level. More difficult is that regional manager level – the folks that actually manage the people who do the work. Do you need their consensus on this? Not even practical. Do you need their buy in? Absolutely, but it will take a lot of effort. If you go down this path, plan to do what it takes to get them on board.

So, sales methodologies can provide value to a sales force under the right conditions. Under the wrong conditions, such as needing a new topic for the annual sales meeting, it can be a huge money burning disaster. Choose wisely.

Bonfire Sacrifice 3x

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