Sales Process vs. Sales Methodology: What’s the Difference?

6 minute read

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard sales and revenue leaders use the terms, “sales process” and “sales methodology” interchangeably and incorrectly. While the difference can be confusing, not knowing precisely what that difference is can be a costly mistake. An organization can make a considerable investment in a methodology, only to discover that it was not effective because there was no sales process to support it. 

What is a Sales Process? 

A sales process is a flow, and it is usually brand-free. It’s a systematic framework that outlines the steps, actions, and stages involved in converting leads into customers. It provides a roadmap for sellers to follow, ensuring consistency and efficiency in their approach. A typical sales process includes stages like prospecting, qualification, needs analysis, solution presentation, negotiation, and closing. Many enterprise organizations create their own sales process(es) with their specific sales stages, and they incorporate elements from one or multiple sales methodologies into it.

A Sales Process Typically Includes These 10 Elements: 

  1. It is usually customized to reflect the unique selling environment, organizational structure, sales channels, and customer segments (selling situations also referred to as sales motions). 
  2. Well-defined stages; each of which usually has a name like “Identify Requirements” or “Negotiate”. 
  3. Each stage has its own buyer-related exit criteria that captures the buyer-specific actions that indicate a deal has moved from one stage to the next. 
  4. Specific steps (also called activities) in each stage that are clearly defined. 
  5. A goal of reducing cycle time and increasing win rate. 
  6. The ability to create a sales forecast from a pipeline of opportunities by stage. 
  7. Role-specific guidance that directs the activities of the rep, the manager and the pre-sales support along with any others involved in the process; everyone knows what to do. 
  8. Some form of lead management process is integrated with the sales process at the beginning (prospecting, for example). 
  9. Some form of implementation and/or customer success is integrated with the sales process at the end (for example, sharing an implementation overview and introduction to the Services and/or Customer Success teams) 
  10. The sales, revenue/rev ops or sales enablement function typically “owns” the process and can improve and change it over time. 

Sales Methodology Defined 

A sales methodology, on the other hand, is the “how” to sell as a skillset. It’s the set of principles, practices, and strategies that guide the overall sales approach. It focuses on the philosophies and techniques that sales and revenue professionals adopt to engage prospects, qualify deals, uncover needs, address objections, and close deals successfully. Methodologies are usually thematic in nature and often branded by the individual or organization who owns it.   

Miller Heiman’s Conceptual Selling, Jill Konrath’s SNAP Selling are two examples of such branded methodologies. Methodologies usually come with job aids, templates and tools are used to support and execute the selling technique or philosophy. They’re typically sold based on a fee charged for the intellectual property, combined with a per-person, per-year charge for training and license fees. Some sales methodologies boast automation modules within CRM applications, but they lack the discipline of a structure.  Results will not be predictable or repeatable.  Even more important, there is little to no measurement unless it’s somehow connected to your sales process.  

Target Account Selling (TAS) Combines Methodology and Process 

Target Account Selling (TAS)(also referred to as account-based selling) is one of a select few sales disciplines that has both a methodology and a sales process baked into it. Many think that MEDDIC is a sales process, but it’s really a deal qualification framework with multiple processes for decision criteria, decision process, etc. aimed at helping sales teams assess the viability of a sales opportunity. Many companies that use MEDDIC still have to incorporate it into their actual sales process for it to be successful. A sales methodology, meanwhile, complements the sales process by offering specific training, job aids, templates and tools for different activities in the stages of a sales process. 

Sales Process vs Sales Methodology – Real World Scenario 

Now that we’ve articulated the distinct differences between process and methodology, it’s vital for sales leaders to understand – practically speaking – the importance of fully grasping their different but complimentary natures.  

What I see too frequently in business is sales and revenue leaders failing to fully grasp that difference – however nuanced it may be – and therefore making a costly mistake.  

Here are two common scenario I often come across: 

  1. Sales and revenue leaders buy a sales methodology, and it’s not easily adopted by their team. This is, in large part, because they don’t always know where or how to incorporate those job aids, templates and tools into their organization’s sales process(es).
  2. Sellers are following a sales methodology that is completely disconnected from their CRM where their sales process (stages and activities) lives. 

Taking a step back and designing your sales process to be inclusive of your sales methodology(ies) is worth the extra effort, and it’s not hard to do. Just knowing the difference between your sales process and your sales methodology will help you tie the two together in a meaningful way.

Benefits of More Than One Methodology in the Same Process 

One last point on sales methodology: you aren’t married to just having one. 

In fact, I’ve seen several successful B2B organization incorporate multiple sales methodologies into their sales process. Here are two benefits of incorporating more than one sales methodology into the same sales process.

  • Enhanced Adaptability: Every sales situation is unique. By incorporating multiple sales methodologies into your sales process, you empower your sales team to adapt and tailor their approach to the different business drivers of each buyer. 
  • Comprehensive Skill Set: Different sales methodologies emphasize distinct skills and techniques. By integrating multiple methodologies, your sales team can develop a broader skill set that encompasses various approaches. This enables them to handle a wider range of scenarios and respond effectively to different buyer behaviors. 

Achieving consistent revenue growth requires an approach that combines the structure of a sales process with the strategies of a sales methodology. In my next blog post, I’ll share some of my favorite sales process design best practices!  

Happy selling! 

About the Author

Deirdre Sommerkamp is currently VP of Solutions Consulting, Operations and Enablement for the Sales Effectiveness business unit at Upland Software. As a technology, customer experience and sales execution thought leader, she is passionate about simplifying the complex, solving problems with technology and delivering better customer experiences through revenue team collaboration. Her expertise and passion have made her an in-demand speaker at industry conferences.

Reliable products. Real results.

Every day, thousands of companies rely on Upland to get their jobs done simply and effectively. See how brands are putting Upland to work.

View Success Stories