You've got a sales meeting with a big company. You're suited up, you've got a shiny demo deck, and you could rattle off your pitch in your sleep.
And still, when the meeting ends, the client looks doubtful. You know that look. Closed-lost deal. For the fortieth time in a row.
Look up as many sales best practices as you want, but the key to closing large sales accounts is not a firm handshake or an amazing presentation.. At best, these are the sizzles, not the steak.
Abraham Lincoln famously said, if he had six hours to chop down a tree, he’d spend the first four sharpening the axe. In other words, laying in the groundwork. That’s the same philosophy behind Miller Heiman Strategic Selling.
Introduced in 1985 by consultants Robert Heiman and Stephen Heiman, the sales method provides a proven framework for sales professionals to understand B2B selling and consistently close large accounts.
Let’s take an in-depth look at what this sales strategy is and how you can use it to boost sales.
Miller Heiman Strategic Selling: A sales methodology
Before we delve deeper, you're probably wondering, what even is a sales methodology?
Think of a sales methodology as a blueprint to guide your actions as a sales rep. It provides you with rules and best practices to align your goals with that of customers.
The Miller Heiman Strategic Selling method promotes the concept of selling as a strategic partnership between the buyer and seller, and the idea of creating a win-win for both parties.
Further, the method teaches salespeople to look for "red flags" in a deal, and presents them with a base for controlling big accounts called the "Blue Sheet".
Thus, a sales framework such as Miller Heiman helps teams lay a strong foundation for closing deals, and guiding customers through the different stages of the buying process.
Objectives of Miller Heiman Strategic Selling
The average sales cycle can be 4 months long, while the average sales rep may have to make multiple attempts to get in touch with leads. After expending so much time and effort, what would you prefer: signing a one time contract with a client, or having a long lasting partnership? Having your hard won sales conversions leave after a month or two, or onboarding long term customers who're happy to upgrade?
If in both cases, you'd prefer the latter, you'll find the Miller Heiman Strategic Selling strategy valuable.
The main goal of the Miller Heiman Strategic Selling concept is to help consumers derive maximum benefit from a product. This, in turn, makes each closed-won deal more valuable for the company too.
Elements of the Miller Heiman Strategic Selling method
Now you have a better understanding of what Miller Heiman Strategic Selling is and what its objectives are, let's dive into its different elements.
Since the major goal of this approach is complete satisfaction for the customer, it aims to provide SDRs with a granular understanding of the customer's needs, issues, and objectives.
The modern B2B buying process is complex.Various team members influence the purchase of a product, each with their own beliefs and motives. Miller Heiman Strategic Selling takes each of these into account, and ultimately provides sales reps with a sales funnel or process they can apply to all deals.
Let's break down the various elements of B2B selling, as per the Miller Heiman Strategic Selling method.
Let's say you sell content collaboration software for teams. There are likely various influencers involved in the purchasing decision - the founder/CEO who may give the final sign off, the manager who may decide if the software is actually necessary, and of course, the actual users.
Thus, Miller Heiman Strategic Selling proposes dividing your purchase influencers into:
#1 The decision-makers
The key to a successful sale lies in their hands, as they announce the budget and give permission for purchase. For a large company, this will usually be the CTO/CIO. For small and medium businesses, the key decision makers could also be the CEOs and founders.
Decision-makers are usually thinking, "What's the ROI of this product?"
#2 The users
Users are directly influenced by the possible purchase of the product. It's important to clearly spell out how the product will help them do their jobs more easily or efficiently. These users want to know, "Will this tool work for me?".
#3 The guardians
Not to be taken for granted, the guardians are responsible for analyzing different purchase options, differentiating them based on technical features and reviews, and making recommendations. While they don't have the final word, they can definitely influence the decision-makers.
Guardians are also known as gatekeepers or technical buyers.
#4 The coach
Compared to other roles, this one develops during the sales process. The job of the coach is to guide both parties through the sales process. The coach is of great importance for salespeople because he can initiate new contacts and provide insider information on an account.
The coach is also referred to as a champion, as they help you win the account.
To apply the Miller Heiman method, first spend some time identifying the purchase influencers for each new deal - analyze their problems and motivations. This will help you craft a more compelling pitch for each stakeholder.
Once you've got the main purchase influencers tied down, it's time to step back and analyse their attitudes.
Why? Because it's easier to convince someone to buy your product if they're already looking for a solution. On the other hand, if they're content with their present tools, you may have a tough time getting them to convert.
There are four types of buyer attitudes as per the Miller Heiman Strategic Selling Methodology:
- The growth attitude: These buyers are not satisfied with the status quo. They would like to maximize growth and productivity for their teams. For such buyers, you want to focus on the growth potential your product offers. Think more sales, more leads, more efficiency.
- The problem attitude: These influencers are not as unhappy with the current situation as those above. . However, they still acknowledge that there is a problem, and if they see your product as a solution, they'll likely convert.
For these folks, you want to promote your product as a problem solver. Think less manual work, less errors, fewer working hours.
- The “Everything is Fine” attitude: These buyers are pleased with the current state. They don't have a reason to change, which lowers the purchase opportunity.
However, you may be able to convince them by showing alternate scenarios your product can bring to life. This could mean doubling the rate of conversions they now have, or 10X better workflows.
- The euphoria attitude: As described, these folks are over cloud nine about their existing product or solution. They feel that any change to the current situation will be detrimental to their business.
It goes without saying that these people are the hardest to convert.
Most salespeople are in a rush to explain their product's features, but they ignore an important aspect of selling - listening to buyers and understanding their needs and attitudes. As one survey found, buyers consider active listening as the top skill for salespeople.
Try to gauge the attitude of each new prospect as closely as you can. The more accurate you are, the more customized your pitch will be to suit the person, and the better your chances of conversion.
The breakneck pace and the constant competition of sales can make us forget one of the most basic truths - this is not a war and the prospect is not the enemy. For us to win, the prospect does not have to lose. The best result is when everyone wins. The Miller Heiman Strategic Selling methodology is all about creating a Win-Win situation for both sides, sellers and buyers.
Thus, SDRs must sell products that buyers would truly benefit from. If you're focused on long term growth, this approach makes sense. Let's say you somehow persuade users to buy a product they don't need. You've scored a sale. Great. But if the customer finds little value in their purchase, do you think they'll come back for more?
For sustainable growth, the method advises sellers to think about the long term, and not short term gains.
Red flags are possible hurdles that may put a sale in jeopardy. Some examples include missing buyer information, new buyer influencers (new employees), unidentified buying influencers, and reorganization.
After every contact with purchase influencers, sales teams should analyze the red flags. This way obstacles are always top of mind, and salespeople can actively work to remove them.
Sales funnel: Tying it all together
Miller Heiman Strategic Selling divides the selling process into a three-stage sales funnel. This is where the different elements come together, and help salespeople crack deals.
- Level One: The sales rep contacts the purchase influencers and goes through all the available information. Anything that is not relevant to the sales process is then removed.
- Level Two: Now is the time to categorise the influencers based on their attitudes, roles in the organisation etc. Also, try to identify as many red flags as possible. This information will help you formulate a winning strategy.
- Level Three: By now, you should have a number of strategies on paper. At this stage, you have to pare them down to those strategies that are likely to work. Strategies with low probability of success should be removed.
Strategic selling helps you close more deals
The Miller Heiman Strategic Selling methodology recognizes there's no one-size-fits-all approach to sales that converts every lead into a customer. It provides a framework for analyzing buyers, coming up with a suitable strategy to convince them of a purchase, and most importantly, ensuring they come back for a repeat purchase.
One of the main advantages of this strategy is, it forces sales reps to think about all possible buyers in the decision-making process, rather than the contacts they're most comfortable talking to.
On the flip side, any sales strategy is only as good as the practical benefits it provides and shouldn't become another checklist sales reps have to tick off.
If you're struggling to convert leads into sales, maybe it's time to ask, what red flags have I overlooked? Do the buyers fall into the “euphoric” category? Am I convincing the “guardian” influencers to take action? This is a more practical way to close deals, than say reading up on the 50 best ways to impress sales clients.