How sales methodology can deliver the results you need

The most common lament in the business world today is not that the economy is too weak or regulations too strict. It is not the presence of competition or the absence of innovation. No, the worry that is gnawing at business leaders in general, and sales leaders in particular, is that buyers have changed.

Once, sellers could parlay a scarcity of available information into face-to-face meetings with powerful decision-makers. Their knowledge of products and solutions made them indispensable. But, as Stewart Brand, co-founder of the Global Business Network, observed back at the dawn of the internet era, “Information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time.”

Fast, free, hyper-available information has proved to be a boon for buyers and a stumbling block for sales organizations. The good news is that it is the nature of a sales force to always be hungry, and therefore always in quest of an edge. While the balance of power has clearly tilted to the buyers, the sellers have not been idle.

Successful sales organizations continually re-examine their processes, their models, and, most importantly, their assumptions. Reclaiming the role of valued advisor requires both a careful assessment of the potential of new technologies and a careful reassessment of sales fundamentals. Sales methodology is a case in point.

Every sales organization has a sales methodology of some kind. That is, there is a framework, however loose, for how to sell. Because sales methodologies are, and always have been, such a foundational component of every sales force, it’s easy to overlook them in the search for solutions to new problems. But they have an enormous affect on seller performance, and this is an area where a reassessment of sales fundamentals can produce significant results.

A good place to begin is with an evaluation of the “maturity” of the sales methodology your organization uses. CSO Insights’ 2017 Sales Enablement Optimization Study asked participants to categorize their sales methodologies according to four levels: random (no formal methodology in place), informal (methodology inconsistently trained and used), formal (trained, with use expected) and dynamic (trained, reinforced and consistently measured).

Now, a labeling scheme like this might be purely an academic exercise, except for one thing: The levels correlate with the percentage of sellers achieving quota.

As the chart shows, the more mature the sales methodology, the higher the average quota attainment rates. The dynamic level, then, represents a best practice. How many sales organizations are operating at this level? Among the study participants, only 18.7% reported that their companies had achieved the dynamic level of sales methodology maturity.

In a difficult selling environment, where average quota attainment rates have been declining for the past five years, a commitment to lifting the level of your organization’s sales methodology maturity offers a way forward. It begins with training.

A recent CSO Insights white paper, “Business Case for Sales Methodology Training,” notes that, “There is a clear correlation between the effectiveness of sales methodology training and seller performance… Organizations whose sales methodology training met or exceeded expectations out-performed those organizations who felt their sales methodology training needed redesign or improvement by 22.9%.

Performance gains were also evident when sales manager training was rated as effective, and this is a broad trend that CSO Insights’ sales enablement research has found year after year: For best results, include the managers in sales training initiatives.

Training is the first step on the methodology road to revenue, and adoption is the second. Here again, the four maturity levels offer insights. According to the “Business Case” white paper, “Organizations with a dynamic sales methodology have a 41.9% higher adoption rate than those with only an informal approach.”

Interestingly, the level of adoption is itself an important indicator of sales success.

We see from the chart that it is only when more than 90% of the sales force has adopted the approved methodology that quota attainment rates achieve lift-off. This finding – greater than 90% adoption correlates with a huge improvement in quota attainment – is worth emphasizing.

Quota attainment rates at lower levels of adoption do not show a steady climb. For adoption of less than 50% up through 51-90%, there is little difference. Adoption is, in a sense, the capstone: A sales methodology must be established, implemented through training for sellers and their managers, reinforced and measured – and used.

Sales organizations have no control over macroeconomic shifts such as changes in buyer behavior. What they can control is how they sell and how they approach the market. Research on sales methodologies shows that there are concrete steps any organization can take to improve sales results.

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