Sales Process, Methods, and Skills

If you are responsible for sales training in your organization, then you know that it can be difficult to make a true “apples-to-apples” comparison of different training alternatives. Many sales training solution providers add to the confusion by describing their capabilities imprecisely. They may use certain terms as interchangeable equivalents, even though they are actually very different.

All too frequently, many vendors use the terms process, methodology (or method), and skills as essentially the same thing. But, failing to recognize the distinctions between these important descriptors can lead to inaccurate conclusions about what a sales team actually needs. It can also potentially put you at risk of making a less than optimal choice.

Let’s define these critical terms and bring them to life using a simple example:

  • A process is a series of actions, where value is added in each step of the series to arrive at a desired result. In an automobile assembly plant, for example, components are added to a car at each step of the manufacturing process. At the end of the process, we have a fully constructed vehicle, ready to be driven.
  • A method is the means used to add value in each step. A method may be used in a single step or in several in a process. Going back to the automobile assembly example: a worker could use either a manual or pneumatic wrench to attach a wheel to a car. Each tool uses a different method and technique. Different methods could be used in the same process step, but one is usually more efficient or effective. Therefore, it will create more value. Many people confuse a collection of methods (a methodology) with process. But, they are actually very different. Process describes what to do. Methods are how to do it.
  • A skill is the ability to use a method to create value. Once again using our automobile example: the level of skill with which we use a tool to tighten bolts consistently, with the correct amount of torque, contributes to the quality and success of the assembly process.

Why does this matter?

We sometimes see clients confused about what kind of sales training they need, because they don’t fully understand the distinctions between process, methods, and skills. One client that SPI worked with recently was looking for help in improving their sales team’s discount rates. They had spoken previously with another vendor who had recommended a negotiations skills workshop.

Though sales skill training can often be helpful, it may not always address the root cause of a problem. After consulting with this client, we discovered that their real issue was that the sales team did not present the value of their solutions to customers early enough, nor were they conveying the value correctly because they had no consistent method for calculating it. The result was that their customers were not recognizing the full potential value of solutions, and therefore asking for price concessions at the end of the buying process.

For this client, a negotiation skills training solution would only treat the symptoms of the issue (price discounting) and not address the cause of the problem – inadequate value determination and communication. We provided sales process and value selling methodology training, as well as negotiation skills development content. The result? Our client reduced their average discount level by a double-digit percentage within four months.

We also speak with clients who think they have provided sufficient training for their sales team, because they have provided them with an account-level or opportunity-level planning methodology. For example, we recently worked with a large manufacturing firm who had trained the entire sales force on strategic opportunity planning, but they weren’t seeing the kind of improvements in win rates that they expected.

Certainly, opportunity planning methodologies can be useful (in fact, SPI offers an excellent one – R.A.D.A.R.). However, they may not be enough to improve sales results. In this case, our client’s sales team were producing good plans for pursuing an opportunity. They had correctly identified what to do in order to win. But, most of the sales team did not know how to execute on all aspects of their plans. They needed specific training in sales execution methods and skills to turn their opportunity plans into results. It was only after we provided this training that our client could reap the full benefits of their opportunity planning investment.

A Final Word of Caution

Be careful if a training provider recommends a specific offering without first weighing the potential impact of all three types of sales development training (process, methods and skills) for your organization and your sales team. Knowing the distinctions of each and how they can each help your sales organization, is critical to selecting the best training for your team.

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