An Interview with Richard Harris — Exploring Sales Methodologies

By: Teresa Weirich

August 6, 2018

At Costello, we’ve interviewed some of the smartest and most forward-thinking sales leaders in the industry. In April, we talked to Richard Harris, owner of Harris Consulting, about seamless SDR/AE handoff. In that article, he explained his focus on process, emphasized the importance of communication, and began to unpack his sales qualification methodology.

We’re welcoming Richard back for another conversation about how he views sales methodologies. A veteran consultant to organizations like Zoom, Intercom, and Headspace, he’s crafted his years of experience into actionable strategies.

In this interview, Richard shares his belief in sales methodology as a “true North.” He breaks down why a sales methodology is necessary, explores the gains made in sales training, and details his concept of a “respect contract.”

Defining a Sales Methodology

It’s a question Richard has been exploring for most of his career. Whether it’s MEDDIC, Challenger, Sandler, or homegrown, Richard believes the purpose of a methodology is to serve as a sales team’s “true North,” something meaningful that ensures best practices. The ultimate goal is not closing the sale. It’s actually reducing the amount of risk a potential customer has as it relates to solving their problem. From the reduction of that risk is the final solution, the sale. This should occur through an education process from the buyers’ perspective.

But even in that broad definition, Richard identifies several commonalities:

Asking questions is foundational. No matter what the methodology, aligning questions as they relate to your prospects’ goals and responsibilities is the first step.

No methodology is perfect. Each has its strengths and weaknesses and can be more effective depending on your true value proposition and your ideal customer profile.

A methodology is only as good as the sales rep using it. A sales professional who asks the right questions and offers the right solutions will be successful.

Methodologies improve with time and practice. A methodology can only make salespeople better—as long as they commit to it. This commit can easily be defined and seen in the sales organization as a simple KPI called “coaching time spent”.

The Respect Contract

Because asking the right questions during the first call is such an important element of a successful sales methodology, Richard suggests creating a process around it. He calls it the “respect contract,” and it helps lay the framework for the entire conversational process between a seller and a buyer (from the first conversation to the last).

The respect contract makes it clear that, if the deal doesn’t appear to be working, either party can walk away respectfully at any time. The goal is to ensure your reps have the courage and confidence to have meaningful conversations with the right people. And, if it becomes apparent they aren’t the right people, then move them out in a professional manner. Richard explains the respect contract in two parts:

  • Setup: “It’s important for reps to elevate themselves, the seller, to the same level of influence and respect as the buyer,” Richard said. That means sellers must bring their A-game. The “control” factor in a sales conversation comes down to the rep maintaining control while giving the prospect the ability and desire to let the rep take control.
  • Execution: If the setup is done well, execution should be simple. The sales rep should confirm the time they want to take on a call as well as the goals in order to reinforce mutual frame of reference. At the end of the call, the buyer and seller should decide together whether or not to move forward. Most importantly, a sales rep needs to be willing to say out loud whether it’s a great fit or not—and give the prospect the same opportunity.

The Evolution of Sales Training

Sales teams have been trained on a methodology for decades, but both the methods of teaching and the methods themselves have been revolutionized by technology. It’s led to a generational shift in how sales teams are taught, how they learn, and the tools they’re given to improve how they do their jobs.

But the fundamentals of sales training haven’t changed all that much. Rather, it’s the access to information that’s made all the difference.

Richard’s view of sales training is shaped by his own experiences. He notes that the lessons being taught now aren’t necessarily new. Old-school sales professionals with years in the industry learned these lessons through more formal training. “When I was early in my career, the only way to get real sales training was to work for a Fortune 500 company,” he said. “What’s changed is the ability for anyone to gain access to education and to receive it in a more effective, efficient way.”

He also believes the internet has equalized power between buyer and seller. “Buyers now have more information than ever, but so do sellers,” Richard said. “Today’s generation has embraced the ability to go online and find answers, while Gen Xers have to learn how to do that.” It’s a gap that requires some sales leaders to update their own training strategies. And that equally scares and frustrates them.

Choosing the Right Sales Methodology

Richard’s commitment to using sales methodologies is strong, but he believes it’s up to the company to find and implement the right strategy for their audience, their industry, and their unique challenges. Regardless of the methodology chosen, however, it should be focused on customer experience. He told a story about a very low-cost / high-volume transactional company he was working with recently; the SDR needed to qualify the customer, then transfer it to the AE to close the deal. While this approach may be appropriate in enterprise scenarios, Richard challenged the company as to whether their process was really customer-first. In this transactional scenario, why couldn’t a senior SDR just close the deal?

Sales leaders need to understand how they define the seamlessness of the customer journey, and write out every step of the sales process. Then, they need to look at different sales methodologies to determine which one fits best. Often, sales leaders choose a methodology because that’s what they know (and are frankly too lazy to explore a different option to make sure their belief system is right); but if they discover it doesn’t match their actual buyer’s journey, it’s time to start over and compare the desired customer journey to reality. Sadly, many leaders get tunnel vision and believe that their previous way is always the right way (even when it may not be).

Richard also suggests trusting data when searching for the right methodology—the data on its effectiveness will tell part of the story. But no matter what’s chosen, Richard cautions sales leaders not to be biased toward a particular philosophy—he reminds us that there’s no “best” methodology.

Richard’s Methodology Advice for Sales Leaders

Once a methodology has been chosen or developed, it’s important that every member of the sales team embraces it. The value, Richard said, is getting everyone on the team to speak the same language. The common understanding will come in handy in sales conversations, in understanding pipeline, and in helping sales professionals learn. For sales leaders, adherence to a methodology can improve forecasting.

“There is a difference between sales methodology, sales process, and sales playbooks,” Richard said. “Sales leaders need to understand how each plays into each other; if one is off, all of them will be impacted. This approach will lead to better sales.”

In general, there’s no right or wrong answer to sales methodology—other than results. Richard advises sales leaders to educate themselves, search for the philosophy that matches their customer journey which should then align back to the overall sales process, and then make the leap. Taking a wide view of sales is the best way to win.

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    Teresa Weirich

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