What is Miller Heiman Strategic Selling? Learn the methodology
Does the thought of selling to huge corporations with tons of stakeholders (each with their own agenda and priorities) scare you?
What if you have to lead the team that’s selling to those companies?
If this sounds like a total nightmare, you’ll probably want to hear more about Strategic Selling.
This sales methodology created and taught by Miller Heiman (now part of Korn Ferry) is built to maximize the power of enterprise sales and takes reps step-by-step through a repeatable process of identifying, convincing, and closing deals with multiple stakeholders.
In this article, you’re about to learn:
- Miller Heiman Strategic Selling: what is it?
- How this Miller Heiman sales methodology works
- Strategic Selling Model advantages and disadvantages
- How to master the Miller Heiman Strategic Selling model at your company
Miller Heiman Strategic Selling: what is it?
Robert Miller and Stephen Heiman (the founders of Miller Heiman Group) published the book Strategic Selling in 1985, and have since used this model to train sales teams around the world for decades. As the game of sales has changed and adapted over the years, Miller Heiman has continued to adapt their methodology. In 2005, The New Strategic Selling was published, and still maintains its reputation as an industry standard.
Today’s Strategic Selling model uses the principles of solution selling as a base and applies them to large deals with multiple stakeholders.
The goal: for sales teams to execute a consistent, predictable process for each deal and develop long-term customer relationships.
For reps to consistently apply this model, the (in)famous Strategic Selling blue sheet was created, a template that reps are supposed to fill out with every deal, detailing items like:
- Buying influence
- Red flags
- Ideal customer criteria
How the Miller Heiman sales methodology works
Since this B2B sales model is meant for enterprise deals with many moving parts, the process is built so that every salesperson has a consistent way of mapping the account, understanding the influence of each stakeholder, and finding a faster path to purchase.
Here are the main steps involved in Strategic Selling:
1. Discover who influences the purchase decision
Enterprise deals involve a lot of people, and it’s the salesperson’s job to find out who is involved in the sale, and how involved each stakeholder should be in the process.
This Miller Heiman sales methodology separates the different buyer roles into four categories:
- Economic buyer: The people who control the budget and have the final say as to whether or not the deal is closed.
- Users: The direct end-users of the product you’re selling.
- Technical buyers: Anyone who determines the technical compliance of your solution. This could include the engineering team, but also might include legal and other specialized teams.
- Coach: This is your internal champion, the person who’s on your side and helps guide you and your strategy. This role has to be built up over time as you develop relationships with key players in the company.
- When was the last time you purchased a similar solution?
- Can you walk me through that process?
- Who else on your team is invested in finding a solution to this problem?
- Do you have a list of criteria for a vendor? Who made that list?
- If I could give you a solution that fits what you’re looking for, who else would need to get involved in this process?
With this information, you’re better prepared to build an account map that tells you who to talk to, what to talk to them about, and how to get them on board with the deal.
2. Identify buying modes that could make or break the deal
The attitude that buyers approach you with can give you a clear view of how to push the deal forward or warning signs to prepare for. Strategic Selling gives reps four options to identify the ‘buying mode’ of their POCs:
- Growth mode: These people are ready to break out of the box. They’re not happy with their current solution and want to hear about something better, faster, stronger.
- Trouble mode: Buyers in trouble mode are in the middle of a critical situation and need to make a purchase in order to fix a problem.
- Even keel: These buyers are neutral, not particularly concerned about making a purchase decision now. They’ve satisfied with what they have and will take more work to convince of the need to make a change.
- Overconfident: These buyers are extremely positive about their current solution, and may be somewhat blind to how it's failing them. They’re resistant to change and will be much harder to sell.
3. Know where you stand in the market
Competition analysis is also a big part of Miller Heiman’s Strategic Selling. Reps need to not only be aware of the competition they're facing but also see which competitors are currently being considered by the stakeholders. Sales battle cards are a good way to make sure your reps know what sets your offer apart from competing vendors.
This is a great place to use specific qualifying questions like:
- Who else are you considering?
- How does our solution compare to the competitors?
- Are you considering building your own solution?
The new Strategic Selling blue sheet includes space for sellers to define competitive preference by buying influence, which gives a clear view of how much trouble the deal is in (eg. if the main decision-maker prefers your competitor, you have some serious work to do to save the deal!).
4. Clarify and evaluate red flags and objections
Strategic Selling places a high priority on nailing those red flags earlier in the process. The idea is that when you identify red flags early on, you’ll be in a better position to stop them from becoming bigger obstacles down the road.
These red flags may be a key piece of information that you’re missing, a new person at the company who becomes involved in the deal, or signs that the POC is skirting around an issue that needs to be addressed.
5. Align to solve and close
The win-win principle means that, with every deal the rep closes, everyone comes out a winner. This is a key aspect of Miller and Heiman’s Strategic Selling framework, and it’s the final step to close (and retain) high-value deals.
In Strategic Selling, this is called win-result: assess the wins that your prospect will have, and the results it’ll bring them.
When you align to your prospect’s needs and wants in this way, you get win-results all around.
Strategic Selling model advantages and disadvantages
Like any structured sales framework, this Miller Heiman sales methodology has its own benefits and challenges. Here are some:
Benefits & advantages of Strategic Selling
For B2B sales teams focused on large, enterprise deals, the Strategic Selling model works. Here’s why:
- Simplify highly complex sales: Enterprise sales is hard. A clear, structured framework that helps reps to identify key stakeholders and sell to each one effectively helps reduce the complexity of large deals.
- Create a consistent approach for your team: Consistent results are more likely with a consistent approach. Using a clear structure helps reps assess deals early on and creates a more predictable result each quarter.
- Forecast more accurately: With a higher level of qualification and deal analysis throughout the sales process, managers using the Strategic Selling model will be able to forecast more accurately, even with high-ticket opportunities.
- Quickly onboard new and junior reps: With such a structured process, onboarding new reps onto your team is faster and more consistent.
Challenges & disadvantages of Strategic Selling
While the Miller Heiman sales methodology is widely used by large sales teams, there are some serious drawbacks to this model.
- Lots of manual data entry required: With so much structured data that needs to be recorded for each deal, reps will spend a significant amount of time entering data that they gather through sales conversations. A sales CRM like Close, that automatically captures as much of the sales interactions as possible, and helps reps make sense of the data by structuring it effectively, and surfacing the right data at the right time, can be of tremendous value here.
- Extremely structured process limits rep freedom: While a structured process helps onboard new reps faster, it puts a ceiling on the skills of each individual rep. Rather than testing and trying new ideas and ways of selling, reps are forced into a framework that may or may not suit their personality and style.
- The repetitive process may stagnate growth: Salespeople are hustlers, they love the action and get a thrill from experimenting with different methods. Boxing your reps into a monotonous routine can stunt their career growth, make them bored, and lead to higher turnover rates among your top performers.
- Not ideal for startup sales teams: Building a sales model based on your experience, your audience, and the energy of your sales team will bring better results for your startup than sticking to a highly rigid framework.
How to master the Miller Heiman Strategic Selling model at your company
Decided that Strategic Selling is the best option for your enterprise sales team? Here are some tips to make the most of this methodology:
- Start high and work your way down: The Strategic Selling process works best when you start at the top of the ladder. Looking for the most influential stakeholders and beginning the process there is key.
- Present yourself as an industry expert, not a salesperson: Pulling from solution selling principles, the goal is that stakeholders view you as someone who can help them solve their problems, not someone who’s trying to sell them something.
- Make sure everyone ends up a winner: Remember the win-win principle—your sales team and your customers should end up winners at the end of the deal.
Test and prove your own sales methodology
Is the Strategic Selling model right for your company? Only you can tell.
But one thing is sure: it ain’t perfect.
The fact is, no one can tell you that one singular sales methodology is the ultimate choice for your business.
Your sales process, target market, and sales team are unique. As a sales leader, it’s your job to determine the strengths and weaknesses of your team, identify key methods that work in your market, and create a repeatable sales process that your team and your customers love.
If you’re managing a large sales team dealing with enterprise sales, Miller Heiman’s Strategic Sales may be a good place to start. But don’t be afraid to experiment.
What if you’re a startup heading into the world of enterprise sales? Try the methods we learned in the very same position, as detailed by Close CEO and Founder, Steli Efti: