The 4 Eras of Sales Methodologies
English, Key Account Management

The 4 Eras of Sales Methodologies

Looking at the evolution of B2B sales methodologies during the last fifty years, one can distinguish four eras.

  • Era 1 (Demonstration) had its focus on the product to be sold
  • Era 2 (Solution) on the problem to be solved
  • Era 3 (Insider), today, focuses on the added value to be brought in addition to the solution
  • Era 4 (Networker), tomorrow, will be focused on aligning on client’s politics and being a source of business advantage to its own customers, while capitalizing on Era 1 to 3 best practices.

After the famous 1937 book by Dale Carnegie began, the Era 1 “push” mode, with its associated “demonstrator” competency level, developed in numerous methods. One of the most famous era 1 method is PSS – “Professional Selling Skills”, a structured process developed by Xerox in the 60s. PSS places a significant emphasis on the following steps during the call: opening, probing, supporting, closing – presentation, overcoming objections, and various closes.

Then came the Era 2 “solution” mode, with approaches like Selling Solutions, a customer-orientated selling method dependent on identifying implicit needs through client’s problem, and then match them in a bundle or ‘solution’. It is similar to ‘needs-creation’ interview structure, which also became popular in the 1970s-80s, with its flagship SPIN® (Situation, Problem, Implication, Need-Payoff) – A popular selling method developed by Neil Rackham, and its recent enhancements like SURF®.

Similar to SURF®, the purpose of SPIN goals, as stated by Hubspot, is for « the four SPIN questions to guide prospects to come to realizations of their own, » approaching the situation contrary to the typical « why purchasing a product or service is a good idea. »

Era 3 and the buzzword is Value. This was initiated in the 80’s by Jim Holden who founded Holden Corp., followed by TAS, and by Miller Heiman. For the first time the focus shifted to back-office and applying methodic principles in addition to interviewing skills. Today countless vendors propose their own derivatives, called Value Selling, Consultative Selling, Insider Status, Strategic Value Selling, etc. As Lars-Johan Age explains in Business Manoeuvring: A Grounded Theory of Complex Selling Processes, 2009:

« …consultation selling not only aims to differentiate the actual product but also aims to add value to the offering…. »

They are all based on the same (small) set of what we call invariants: buyer roles, sales strategy, inclination, value statements, multi-criteria opportunity analyzer, demand creation plans, close plans, etc. These are and will remain of great importance to any complex sales person today.

No doubt that we all will continue to build on Era1, Era 2 and Era 3 teachings for the coming decades. We name the corresponding level of competency “Insider” on the graph below. The Insider area on the horizontal axis represents being “inside” the customer key business issues; on the vertical behavioral axis it shows the art of getting inside our interviewee mind, being able to find his or her deep concerns.

But meanwhile the Art of Selling has evolved significantly, due to the emergence of powerful procurement services, the ever-increasing number of people involved in any significant sales, the world-wide competition, internet and its instantaneously available information, social networks, relationship-based business culture one finds in rapidly expanding new economies.

And finally, Era 4, the latest approach, RiiM, Relationship Intelligence and Influence Management, has been designed to address the challenges of winning big deals and conquering large accounts in the Era 4 market.  The Networker, who takes advantage of RiiM, is focused on developing proactively relationships with influential people, deciphering influence paths, understanding power issues, aligning on client’s politics, and being a source of business advantage to their own customers.  This evolution is shown in the complex sales competency map below.

Blog post photo


© Perfluence 2000-2015                                       November 2015

Before his 20 years experience as head of sales and management of consulting firms, Hervé has held national and international top management positions, including CEO and Senior VP at companies involved in IT, services & consulting. He has led numerous management consulting assignments and given to-date hundreds of seminars in management and sales and numerous conferences. That experience, combined with 15 years of research in strategic sales and relationship capital management, led to some significant in-roads like the RiiM method (Relationship Intelligence and Influence Management). RiiM is implemented in PowerScope, a one-of-a-kind collaborative platform, used successfully by more and more Key Account Managers and large deal makers in large companies.

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