Process. Methodology. Skills. What’s the difference?

In the recently released book, Sales Enablement: A Master Framework to Engage, Equip and Empower a World-Class Framework, CSO Insights Research Director Tamara Schenk (@tamaraschenk) defines, and draws a distinction between, some key concepts that our industry tends to use interchangeably:

  • Sales Process is the set of sequenced activities for finding and closing business. Terms and transition criteria are defined (e.g., what is a qualified lead? What evidence is required to move an opportunity to closed/won? What is forecast and at what weighting?). Ideally, sales processes should outline what decisions and commitments customers are making within each stage.
  • Sales Methodologies connect the sales process to the customer’s path by outlining what needs to be done in each phase of the process and specifically how and why to do it. For example, sales methodologies impart sales call preparation, methods for identifying and engaging decision-makers, techniques for opportunity analyses and account planning approaches.
  • Selling Skills are the capabilities needed to follow the processes and apply the methodologies correctly and successfully. These include questioning skills, negotiations, listening, social selling, presentation delivery, resolving concerns, and uncovering latent needs.


As the book summarizes, ”Process defines the steps, methodology provides the what, why and how, and skills allow sales professionals to follow the steps and the methodologies successfully.”

It is not so important whether you agree with these specific definitions or if your salespeople can draw a clear distinction among them. It is not important if you never use the word methodology (which doesn’t really roll off of the tongue anyway). But it IS important that salespeople are honing, mastering and leveraging all three in their craft. If you are missing one, then you are missing part of the equation for being World-Class.

The lack of a master plan: sales process gaps

In the 2017 World-Class Sales Practices Study, 50.1% of sales organizations told us that they either have a random sales process or an informal one (meaning it is defined, but not reinforced or always used). Such a process might be part of onboarding training or built into the CRM, but may not reflect the actual progression of an opportunity or include enough detail to make accurate staging decisions, align forecasting models, validate the need for resourcing, etc. As a result, the sales organization runs inefficiently and the cost of sale escalates.

Execution challenges from methodology gaps

In our Sales Enablement Optimization Study, 41.6% of sales organizations said that they were using a random or informal sales methodology. If an organization misses the “how to,” sellers do not effectively move opportunities from one stage in a sales process to the next. They chase opportunities longer than necessary, they lose opportunities to unanticipated competitors, and they miss opportunities to maximize deal potential – often settling for superficial and easier-to-close solutions.

The fallacy of assuming they are born with it: skills gaps

Finally, skills bring the methodology to life. Too often sales organizations rely on hiring profiles and assume that if they hire sellers with a customer orientation, those sellers will somehow find a way to succeed. In actuality, sending a “natural” presenter through presentation skills training produces a much better result than using training to fill in gaps in a seller who is not predisposed to present well. Even the “naturals” need skills training.

Why it matters

We often point to having a customer-orientation, supporting a customer’s journey or path, and being customer-centric as guideposts for sales. But those are just words and concepts. Truly building your sales organization around your customers means formally mapping (and dynamically adapting) your sales process against the customer’s path, then deploying a methodology to make the connection between the sales process and the path and finally mastering the skills needed to execute the methodology. All that can be seamless in the eyes of salespeople, all part of the “Acme Co way of selling” or spelled out in one comprehensive playbook. But behind the scenes, it is important that those architecting the sales organization understand the difference and ensure all three critical elements are covered.

Questions for you

  • How well defined is our sales process? How effective is it in marrying up to the customer’s path?
  • How consistently is our sales process followed?
  • Do we have well-adopted sales methodologies? Are they aligned with our sales process?
  • How complete is our inventory of competencies for key sales roles?
  • What skills are strengths for our sales organization? Which are opportunities?
  • How well aligned are our sales process, sales methodology and selling skills?


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  • Dave Brock
    Posted at 13:34h, 29 May

    Great post, a further refinement on “process.” It is usually unique to the organization, based on it’s strategies, priorities, value system, the customer experience it wants to create, it’s win/loss experience, and many other factors. Some organizations, may have multiple sales processes.

    A simplistic example, the sales process for a company selling semiconductors will be very different from a SaaS company, which is very different from an industrial products/capital equipment company.

    While the process is different, these companies may leverage similar methodologies in executing the sales process.

  • Seleste Lunsford
    Posted at 16:27h, 30 May

    Good clarifying point Dave. I’ve seen some examples where the sales process rightfully varies in the same sales organization based on customer segment. They, in effect, create a family of sales processes. There is a overall high level sales process (think 5-7 very generic phases). Each business unit or selling model will then translate and refine those phases into very different sub-steps, actions, measures and transition criteria. What the BU selling to federal government uses as a sales process will look very different than the BU selling B2B and perhaps even the inside sales team looking at SMB. Yet they all leverage the same methodology. Thanks for adding depth to the conversation!

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