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Mastering Sales Methodologies, with Paul Butterfield [Episode 1159]

In this week’s podcast episode, hosts Alastair Woolcock and Howard Brown engage with Paul Butterfield, founder of the Revenue Flywheel Group, to dissect the nuances of sales methodologies versus processes. The trio delves into the findings of a recent study about the lack of structured sales processes and methodologies in many organizations, leading the discussion to a more disciplined approach to sales that focuses on the buyer’s journey rather than rigid methodologies. They span the evolution of sales methodologies, emphasizing the significance of personalized engagement with customers, effective discovery meetings, and the role of empathy in sales.


Podcast Transcript:



Welcome back everybody to this week’s sales strategy enablement podcast. I’m Alastair Woolcock joined by Howard Brown, my co host pioneer at all things AI revenue science. Howard, how are you doing today? Great Alastair. It’s good to be here. Hi Paul. Hi Howard. Hello Alastair. Thanks for having me on. 



Welcome. Paul, we are thrilled to have you with us and for everybody listening in. Paul Butterfield is the founder of the Revenue Flywheel Group. Also is part of the former executive board with the Revenue Enablement Society. Decades of experience in terms of helping organizations with how they are approaching their sales, how they’re approaching customer success. Paul it’s excellent to have an expert like you with us. Experts always make me a little nervous, but I do enjoy talking about this stuff. So excited. As we like to say, we’ll let our audience judge accordingly. So we’ll go in from there. 



That I’m very comfortable with. Yeah. They can decide who’s the expert and who’s the poser. Paul, I want to start off today and I’m actually going to cite a corn fairy study that just came out at the beginning of this year. And they came out and have shown that 31 percent of sales organizations now will state that they have a random sales process or informal one. In that same study, they also went on to say that 37 percent of sales organizations actually have a random sales methodology as well.

And I think it’s interesting, one that he said that more than a third of the market is considering their random on this. What I actually also think, is the lack of understanding of what’s the difference between the process versus the methodology, and why should we improve that? What’s the causality of that? What outcome should we expect? How do we measure it? And does that number, those numbers surprise you from what you’ve seen out in the market? 



The numbers don’t surprise me. I would even wonder if some of that’s underreported. But what did strike me about what you just said is the phrase random methodology is an oxymoron. Because I would say they probably don’t have any methodology. Because when it’s not consistently applied. 

Then it’s not going to get results, but that’s an interesting study. I haven’t seen that one. I’m going to look that one up. And Howard, as you think about, I think Paul’s exactly right, the random side of it. Now, I, I will counter argue that I know many a person that has a randomized exercise methodology in terms of how they approach it, they seem to get pretty random results as well. 

But, Howard, as we think about, So much is shifting and changing right now in terms of just go to market broadly, right? The advent of AI, all of these things going on, what are you hearing in terms of how companies are taking to Paul’s point, methodologies and random, but they’re clearly struggling to apply it, right? 



You have to spend time, energy and focus. And in order for organizations to really adopt a methodology and a process, right? They need to invest in those programs. A lot of times it’s, you bring in a new sales leader or a new enablement leader and they have some new ideas and they want to implement that on top of what you already have. And so there’s always, it feels like the program’s always in flux rather than coming up and spending the time and the cycles necessary to really, to your earlier point, Paul, before the recording, it’s really about the buyer’s journey, really.

Understanding what the buyer is looking for, understanding what their concerns are and how to be sellers aligned with their needs, not with our sales process. And so really, truly understanding your customers, your buyers, and then adopting a methodology that serves their interests, as opposed to whatever new sales leader or sales process you think. It makes sense today. 



Yeah, I would agree. And it’s interesting, I’ve been a student of sales methodologies going back to my days as a sales leader. I think the first one that I learned that I really felt was effective, I was leading Microsoft sales group 20 years ago. And so I’ve been at least paying attention for that long.

And it’s funny to watch it. There’s in cycles and certain sales methodologies. I don’t even know if they’re always methodologies, but we’ll just go with that for now. Become hot. And it seems like everybody’s talking about them. Everybody’s implementing them. And I worry about that too, because it’s not a one size fits all, I don’t believe there’s only one methodology that’s the right methodology, but I’m afraid that sometimes, social network noise and that sort of thing influences people as well.



I remember, When I used to work at Gartner as an analyst, it was during the period when we bought CEB. And Nick and those teams and brand back in the day the Pioneers behind Challenger, right? Challenger was a provocative book. It was a brand new approach. A lot of people simply just took Challenger as I gotta literally they, they’d never even read the methodology. They just read the book and said it means I gotta challenge it, right?

I didn’t even understand it there. But is Challenger, in your mind, one of those examples of a hype methodology? Or is that really practical? And is it actually a methodology versus process? Like, where’s, where do those things end? And where do you separate hype from non-hype? Challenger got a lot of hype, but I don’t know that it was unjustified because to your point at the time, it was pretty revolutionary stuff.



And at the time I was fortunate to work at a company where we had a CEB subscription. And so I was able to dig in and read some of the research that Matt and the others, had done behind that. And a lot of it was incredibly informative. However, At that same company, we made a real effort to roll out Challenger as a methodology.

I was leading, I was a sales director at the time, and we had a CRO that was all in on it. It was not just a book reading exercise, we did that, but we even brought in, Matt Dixon, to speak at our mid year kickoff. So I feel like we went about as all in as a company could. And here’s what I observed among my sales team, those that already instinctively understood how to be a challenger.

And by that, in the true sense of how they intended it, getting prospects to think about things differently, educating, push teach, tailor, take control, right? But the ones that didn’t get it, if that wasn’t already something they had picked up or was in their DNA, they really struggled with it.

There wasn’t enough. Prescription, I think, is the right word there for them to take it and run with it. So to me, Challenger became, I think it’s a very, I think it’s a great sales philosophy is how I look at it. I have used some of the Challenger principles and the teaching that I’ve done and the coaching I’ve done with, salespeople reported to me, or, when I’m rolling out and teaching salespeople as an enablement leader, but that’s how, where I put it, there’s just not quite enough there.

And it also focuses a lot on the top of the funnel and early stage, which is important. But what about things like deal velocity, control, negotiating? How do you reignite a stalled opportunity? Some of the things like that some of the other methodologies do address that I think are helpful. But some of the concepts are really strong. Especially some of the things they talk about discovery. I think that they were one of the first to really start to talk about what discovery should be. Which is not selling, stop selling and start talking and listening. 



Paul, I really agree with you. I think Challenger is a really interesting one. Alastair, I’m glad you picked that one to start. I think of challenger in many ways as a mindset, a philosophy, as you said, and what I’ve experienced both from a sales perspective and also a buyer’s perspective. When you don’t have that challenger mindset or DNA, as you called it, and you’re taught challenger, if you’re not of that make, a lot of times it comes off as actually being rude.

A sales rep who’s trying the challenger methodology, isn’t a good listener, isn’t able to show empathy, isn’t able to actually mirror what someone is talking about. It’s really uncomfortable. And so it’s fascinating how we think of things as methodologies. And yet in some ways, their mindsets or philosophies that fits some personality styles, but do not fit others.

And I think while it’s super important to have a sales methodology, you also have to take the human beings and who you’re working with. Always that has to be a core component to what you’re teaching to what you’re training, because at the end of the day, it’s really about human relationships, right?

It’s really about two people or a group of people engaging and exchanging value and understanding when you try to slam them into a philosophy or mindset or methodology that doesn’t fit. That’s where you see a lot of people being unsuccessful. 



At the time, my sales team all were in North America, and I have since rolled out methodologies all over the world and taught it to, I don’t know, probably thousands of salespeople. And I was always curious though, how Challenger did in other regions. And why I say that is the methodology that I rolled out, for example, at Vonage, when we taught that all over the world, still had to be modified. A lot of the things that we consider value added selling. 

And coming in and having that business conversation feels like sharp elbows in a lot of Europe and in APEC, a lot of the APEC culture countries that I’ve worked in. So even that we’ve had to modify. So I’ve always been curious and was wondering how is Challenger working in those models? Because in my experience, that could also come across as bit rude, even. 



To double down on that Paul. Because in the Mideast, almost more amplified than the European market of highly relationship orientated in terms of how the deals work in those markets. But I want to piggyback off of what you both just said there and be deliberately the contrarian on this, right? In the sense, I agree, there’s the personalization that needs to happen. One, how do you do that? So imagine just put yourselves there and let’s say we each had a thousand person sales team.

You’re in an enterprise, a thousand person, global sales team. Let’s just say north America, make it easier. Like there does come a point where you say what you’re what you’ve described in that personalization, that need for empathy, the need for the other pieces, those are all the excuses that reps give as to why they’re not using the methodology.

They’re not using the process. You’ve literally now introduced the element that I’ve tried to solve as the leader by instilling to say, no, I need this because I’m locked, darn stared at my middle funnel that’s not going anywhere. And I need you to do a series of things. It’s just, it becomes a bit of this, dare I say, cog and wheel mentality. How far do you take cog and wheel versus allowing what I actually tend to agree with is you need the last mile of personalization to go with it. But. It’s really hard if you’re both running a thousand person team. 



An effective methodology, never mind what it’s called, is going to take A player behavior. I’ll just use a player for now. The thing, there are people that I’m sure we’ve all worked with that are instinctual sellers. They’re talented. They’re just, it’s just what they’re meant to be doing, but it doesn’t mean that others can’t learn to do it.

And the best methodologies that I have used in the field, encapsulate what a players do. In a way that can be taught, but at the same time, you never want to over script how a salesperson is doing. And I know what I’m saying. It’s a very fine balance to achieve, but it is possible. So you’re teaching somebody that kind of A player behavior, but you’re teaching it to them in as a con as concepts that they can internalize and through practice and coaching, can put it in their own language. 

They can inject their own personality into it. But that’s, to me, like I say they’re, and that, and we may get into this. That’s because, that’s why implementation and adoption are so critical. Teaching a methodology, that’s the easy part. The hard work starts the day class ends. And that’s where you really start to find out if what you’ve selected is achieving that. But that’s my take on it. Howard? 



Yeah, great points. I think that the difference between a process and a methodology is a very important piece of this discussion, right? We want people to follow a process. Methodology can be a system or a set of processes that people follow but they could be principles as well. And so I think a lot of times we just mesh a bunch of things together. So to Alastair’s point, we want people to follow best practices. 

We want people to follow a process that works very well for, as you call them, A players or people who have instinctive selling or follow some process to align to their buyer from beginning all the way to end of sale. Now, I think the term methodology is used very loosely and I think a lot of times we’re just assuming that we all mean the exact same thing where if you ask 10 people what a methodology is, you’ll probably get 10 different answers.

You never want people to have excuses for soft skills like questioning and empathy and mirroring. You simply don’t want that, but you also need to require them to align to a bio process and follow certain stages and processes that are hopefully directed from a well organized strategy that’s been enabled through your sales enablement and operations folks. So. I think sometimes we conflate these different pieces into this is the way it needs to be.

And hopefully in most sales organizations, there are not a sales leader who’s simply in charge of managing a thousand people. You have a sales leader who has many managers who are offering a one on one coaching and training to their individual reps. That’s where the rubber meets the road.



Yes. That makes a lot of sense to me. When I think of process versus methodology. This is a little bit generalized, but the process is the order that you’re doing things. It’s a series of steps that are being taken consistently, repeatable.

They need to be auditable or else you can’t track and measure success. The methodology is the how are you going about doing it? How are you interacting and thinking and talking about things with the prospect? How are you managing stakeholders? How are you interweaving throughout the org, especially in an enterprise sale, but they work very much hand in hand.

In fact when it, two of them are integrated really well, what I’ve seen, for example, is a great methodology is teaching sellers how to go collect consistent customer inputs, predictable customer inputs through the process so that we know where are they in their journey. And we’re not trying to shoehorn them in at the end of the quarter with silly discounts and things like that, which would sometimes work.

And I’m a pragmatist. Sometimes that does have to happen, but it’s not an ideal customer experience and it shouldn’t be the default. So if a rep is good, if teams are getting good at collecting those customer inputs, then why shouldn’t those customer inputs become the stage gating within your process so that you’re eliminating most of the guesswork. Or gut feel from forecasting and your accuracy will go up as you get better at basing it on what you’re hearing from a customer and documenting that. Easy to say, hard to do, but it’s really the only way to get that alignment with the buyer journey.



I think you’re spot on, both of you. And I would just add as a tip, think when I think of the tasks you’re talking about there, Paul. I’ve always advised people, just think of them as that, they’re tasks. And you actually just need to check to make sure the task happens.

It’s not always as important that the task happens sequentially or linearly. We know that a series of things actually just need to happen. And then I like how you both define the methodology being the things I need to ensure occur, but how I make sure they occur, how I engage, what I engage with, how I do mirroring, how I do all of those things that Howard was talking about, is choose methodology the best suits you for that. 

Now, just, I want to click on one more thing because Paul, you said it, we’re going to assume these are the A players. Are companies successful with sales process and sales methodology? A players will be successful often in spite of not.

Despite of right, but at the end of the day, they’re probably a third of the org, right? If you use rule of thirds, they’re probably, you got third that are 80 percent plus successful. You got another third, they’re in the 50 to 80 bands and you got to the bottom third. They’re either new hires coming in or they’re just underperforming. 

For most sales leaders, most enablement leaders, most people in the space, right? They’re going to sit there and go. It’s not the A people I’m worried about, it’s all the Bs and Cs where I have huge capital expenditure that if I could just nudge them 10, 20%, that’s the difference of making my number as a company. So if the A player is successful in spite or despite of, how does all this work for the Bs and Cs? Like how do we get the Bs and Cs to B pluses and so forth? 



As I said a few minutes ago, my experience, a good methodology. It’s going to enable you to teach and coach those B’s and C’s in A player behavior. You’re not going to clone those people. You’re not going to clone their personality, but you can teach the concepts and you can teach them how to develop. Actually you’re helping them develop the business acumen. One of the things that I’ve seen in A players and one of the things I always tried to do when I was still carrying a bag individually was really understand.

What my buyers are going through know enough about their market, their role, the folks, the ICPs that ICP when I was starting in selling, we didn’t have SDRs. We didn’t have ICPs. But that whole concept though, is I remember there was a book, what was the book about zebra marketing? Do you remember that one?

I don’t remember what the might’ve been called something like that, but the concept of the books probably. 15 years old was that when you see a zebra, if you’re hunting for zebras, there’s nothing else, no other animal you’re going to stumble across and accidentally shoot because you thought it was a zebra, they’re very distinct.

And so it was one of the first books I think I read on the concept of buyer personas or ICPs. And so understanding who your zebras are in your market. It goes a long way to making sure that you’re being productive, but also you know how to talk to them and that’s so key. And so going back to your question, a good methodology is going to help those BNC players develop the acumen and the confidence to go in and talk to people in the fields and have business level conversations with them as opposed to product led conversations.

I can clarify that. So when I, and I work with a fair number of companies, this is what I do. I, they’re my client. There are still so many companies. I work a lot in tech, and so I don’t know if it’s as big a problem elsewhere, but that are like, Hey, get an appointment. We’re going to do a demo.

We’re going to hit them with a pitch deck, maybe the pitch deck first, then the demo. And maybe we’ll hit a few discovery questions along the way. I honestly don’t understand why that’s still a thing, because when. What I try to help salespeople understand is if a buyer chooses to take time to meet with you, no one does that as a hobby, so something in their business isn’t working as well as it should or is outright broken.

And the purpose of a real discovery meeting, an effective discovery meeting, this is where I get excited about some of what Challenger talked about, is two things. One, understanding, is there, what are the gaps in their business? Why are they choosing to talk with us? Even if they don’t come particularly well prepared to define it that’s what a skilled seller does, to understand what that is, to draw that out of them, and understand what is that gap between their current state of affairs and where the business needs to be.

Because if there’s not a gap, there’s not a sale. Move on. Politely, but move on. The other part of it is, Through doing effective questioning and listening, you help the buyer create at least an early vision in their own mind of two things. One, that yes, they need to change, but more importantly, you’re someone’s worth talking to that may be able to help them make that change effectively.

Remember, it’s just the end of one meeting. But if they don’t walk out of that meeting without feeling that and thinking that for themselves You didn’t have a great discovery meeting because our opinions really don’t matter. It’s what they’re thinking because they’re the ones we’re going to be asking us to talk with other stakeholders, et cetera.

So that’s what I’m referring to. To me, that’s effective discovery. That should be our goal. Demo. Yeah, at some point, but I heard, I wish I could remember who said this. I heard this quote recently that demoing without discovery is sales malpractice, which I absolutely loved. And I made me think, because what if you went into your doctor, any of us went into the doctor. And they just immediately started writing out some prescription or some instructions for us before we had a chance to really talk to him about what’s wrong. That would be malpractice. 



So Paul, real quick on this, because I know we’re running out of time. You’re coaching a bunch of leaders and reps on this very issue. The number of times I hear from reps that they got the right person on the phone and the person just wanted to see a demo. They just wanted to see the technology. They weren’t interested in discovery. How do you coach people on that? 



Two things. Number one, especially in SaaS, we only have ourselves to blame for that. We have conditioned buyers that’s what they should expect and that’s what they should want. However, you can break that cycle. Now, what I’ve found is that, and you can teach salespeople to do this, but if someone is seriously evaluating you, they’ll want you to understand what they’re trying to achieve, they’ll appreciate the fact that you’re not just going to do a spray and pray demo and see what sticks, but you’re going to take time to be thoughtful and understand.

And my own experience shows that if you have somebody that actually has zero interest, even when you try to, talk to them, but they still won’t do any discovery with you. They just want a demo and a quote. Your column fodder, and it’s probably best to move on. Now, there’s always exceptions, but I’ve found that to be true a lot.

But serious buyers will appreciate thoughtful discovery, once you explain. Yeah, and teach your SDRs how to set that up. That’s the biggest problem a lot of times, too. By the time the AE gets involved, this is why I call it customer journey enablement. Sales processes, methodology, this has to be something across all go to market teams so that they’re supporting one another, and it doesn’t feel disjointed to the prospect.



As Howard pointed out, we are near our time, so I would just finish with this thought. For those listening in today, I think what Paul and Howard have outlined in this final point being really poignant, the world of creating top of the funnel right now has been massively disrupted over the past 14, 18 months.

It is more important than ever to understand the discovery aspects. But discovery needs to be coupled with empathy and you need to have a thought and some insights you’re bringing to justify the discovery with it. You can’t just question people to death, have an idea, research the company, come in with some concrete advice, even if you, it may be wrong, but at least it’s showing you’ve thought for a second about maybe how we could drive some change of a critical priority that company is probably struggling to achieve.

And then ask, can I measure it? And if I can, here are some discovery questions around. And if we could just improve that, a lot of us would improve the disruption on the top of the funnel. From there, we can improve our process or choose any methodology. And for our friends at CEB and now SBI and elsewhere, we love Challenger for the record. We’re just using it as a little shade of example here today in terms of the commentary. 

Well, Howard, fantastic conversation, but we always love to wrap up changing topics a little bit with a little bit of a quiz before we let you go and get where your take is on this question. Okay. So we’re going to shift gears off the sales process methodology and put your mind, put your mindset on customer centricity so a recent study just came out that said customer centric brands report profits. that are what percentage higher than those who fail to focus on CX, customer centric approaches. Okay, so we’re looking for the profit difference. Is it A, 20%? B, 35%? C, 50%? Or D, 60%?



B, 35%. The answer is actually D, customer centric brands report profits that are 60 percent higher than those who fail to focus on CF. That dare I say also ties into customer centric selling, customer centric processes, a whole bunch of things there. And Paul, if you’re up for it, Howard and I would love to have you back.

And as you now pick your brain on exactly that, how do we enable the sales experience? And how do we actually look at it from outside in and inside out and change that experience? Let’s do it. That would be a great conversation.



Howard, Paul, thank you for joining us. And final word, Paul, how can people get in touch with you if they want to? I’m pretty active on LinkedIn. Easy to find there. They can also go to revenueflywoodgroup.com and book an appointment with me directly that way. Either way is fine. Awesome. Paul Butterfield, thank you so much. Howard, great to see you as always. And everybody, please remember to like and subscribe. And we will see you on next week’s episode.