Modern sales is about building long-term relationships. That is especially true when dealing with large accounts, multiple decision-makers, and long sales cycles. If that sounds familiar, the Miller Heiman technique may be your ace card
This sales methodology, created and taught by Robert Miller and Stephen Heiman (now part of Korn Ferry), is built to maximize the power of enterprise sales by leading reps step-by-step through a repeatable process of identifying, convincing, and closing deals with multiple stakeholders.
Ready to learn how this strategy can help your team close more enterprise deals? Here's what you need to know.
What is the Miller Heiman Sales Process?
The Miller Heiman sales process, called Strategic Selling, is a repeatable sales framework for managing complex B2B deals. It focuses on understanding buyer's needs, identifying decision makers, and developing a custom, streamlined sales process.
The Miller Heiman sales process is based on the principle of win-win: sellers close deals by helping buyers solve their problems.
As the sales game has changed over the years, Miller Heiman continued to adapt their sales approach. In 2005, they published The New Strategic Selling, which 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. It opposes shady sales techniques, promoting a concept of Strategic Selling where you document the customer's business objectives, decision-making processes, and key stakeholders in a document called the Blue Sheet.
According to Miller Heiman, every deal you close must satisfy you and your buyer. In other words, the business pain you’re solving has to be the one your sales prospect has.
A great thing about this methodology is that it controls your sales process and clarifies what’s next. Hint: It also helps you stay out of your sales comfort zone.
Many sales professionals simply end up talking to the people with whom they feel most comfortable, who have approved their orders in the past, or who have the “right” titles on their doors.
None of these “methods” of identification is reliable. Even if one of them leads you to the right players for a given sale, it cannot help you understand why they were the right players, and why they were right for that sale only.
They’re not reliable, repeatable methods of finding out whose approvals count.
-- The New Strategic Selling: The Unique Sales System Proven Successful by the World's Best Companies
How the Miller Heiman Sales Methodology Works
Since this B2B sales approach 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 many 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.
What are the 4 Types of Buyers in Miller Heiman Sales Strategy?
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.
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 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 unhappy with their current solution and want to hear about something better, faster, and stronger.
Trouble Mode: Buyers in trouble mode are in the middle of a critical situation and need to purchase to fix a problem.
Even Keel: These buyers are neutral and not particularly concerned about purchasing now. They’ve been satisfied with what they have; convincing them to change will take longer.
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 be aware of their competition and which competitors are being considered by the stakeholders. Sales battle cards are a good way to ensure 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 (e.g., if the main decision-maker prefers your competitor, you have some serious work to do to save the deal!).
Strategic Selling places a high priority on nailing those red flags earlier in the process. The idea is 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 you’re missing, a new person at the company who becomes involved in the deal, or signs that your contact 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 emerges as 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 your target account's wins and the results it’ll bring them.
When you align with your prospect’s needs and wants in this way, you get win-results all around.
Who Should Use the Miller Heiman Strategic Selling Process?
Now that you understand the basics of the Miller Heiman sales process, you might already know whether it’s for you or not. If you're unsure, I'll outline a few types of sales teams that will benefit from this strategy.
This sales methodology is recommended for enterprise sales or account management teams.
Try it if you’re selling complex, expensive solutions that take more than one year to close and involve at least six decision-makers. That's because bigger deals demand a more strategic approach and good documentation.
Knowing the deal inside-out lets you know how to invest time and resources, and track your progress.
If you target smaller businesses, have sales cycles that don’t exceed six months, and deal with one or two stakeholders, the Miller Heiman methodology may actually slow your sales process down.
But if you think a few elements from this sales management technique can be useful, try it out.
What is The Miller Heiman Blue Sheet?
The Blue Sheet is a document that’s part of the Miller Heiman Strategic Selling concept. It gives you a complete view of the deal, so working with the Blue Sheet should help you:
Better understand your stakeholders.
Navigate the sales process with more confidence.
Evaluate progress and finally, close high-value opportunities.
Sales reps use the (in)famous Strategic Selling blue sheet with every deal, detailing items like:
Buying Influences: A person that can influence the final result of your sale. It can be anyone (don’t be misled by the job title or their position in the hierarchy).
Red Flags: Any issue that can mess up your deal. You should be aware of all the red flags, constantly monitor for new ones and manage them accordingly.
Strengths: If there’s anything relevant to your sales goal that moves the deal forward, use it. It can be a strong differentiator (that a competitor doesn’t have or a nuance that improves your selling position.
Win-Results: All the buying influences have to benefit from sealing the deal, each in its own way. If you’re not sure whether a buyer's influence benefits from the outcome of the sale, qualify it as a red flag.
Competition: It can be any alternative solution. No matter if your buyer chooses a direct competitor, stays idle, or goes with internal resources — all this falls into this category.
Ideal Customer Profile (ICP): Know the characteristics of your ICP. Support yourself with marketing data and collect all the demographics (location) and psychographics (values and attitudes) data.
According to Christoffer Ellehuus, the President of Korn Ferry Digital, the Blue Sheet makes you think deeply about all aspects of your sales strategy. Everything to better manage your opportunities, improve sales enablement, and strengthen your sales muscle.
If you’re wondering how to use the Blue Sheet in the digital age (think with your CRM), you can create a spreadsheet you’ll upload to your system.
By combining your CRM data with the Blue Sheet, you’ll get:
Enriched data on your deal performance and insights on why specific deals are lost.
Information about which deals drive better win rates (also how it compares to your ICP), categorized by features like deal size, location, industry, etc.
Information about which tactical skills among sellers are those that push deals forward.
You can also use the Blue Sheet in account management together with your CRM. It will help you spot issues early, keep a good relationship with your customer, and in general, keep the account healthy.
But if you already think that the Blue Sheet sounds like a lot of work, you can slim down this document and use sections that make the most sense for you.
The Miller Heiman Sales Process Advantages and Disadvantages
Like any structured sales framework, this Miller Heiman sales methodology has its own benefits and challenges. Here are a few to keep in mind:
Benefits & Advantages of Miller Heiman Sales Methodology
The Strategic Selling model works for B2B sales teams focused on large, enterprise deals. 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 Reps: With such a structured process, onboarding new reps onto your team is faster and more consistent. Sales training is easier to implement as well, because the process is well-documented
Challenges & Disadvantages of Miller Heiman Sales Strategy
There's no one perfect sales model. While large sales teams widely use the Miller Heiman sales methodology, this model has some serious drawbacks.
Lots of Manual Data Entry Required: With so much structured data that needs to be recorded for each deal, reps spend significant time entering data they gather through sales conversations. A sales CRM like Close, which automates capturing interactions, helps reps make sense of the data by structuring it effectively, and surfacing the right data at the right time.
Structured Process Limits Rep Freedom: While a structured process helps onboard new reps faster, it can feel stifling to experience reps. 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 enjoy experimenting with different methods. Boxing your reps into a monotonous routine can bore them, stunt their career growth, and lead to higher turnover rates among your top performers. Consider working some flexibility into the process to avoid this challenge.
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
Think 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 for stakeholders to 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.
Ready for the Future of Sales?
Sales has changed drastically in recent years. AI, automation, and more technology solutions than you can shake a stick at have made sales far more tech-driven industry.
Regardless of all the shiny new tools and tricks, some of the stalwarts of sales still work, like Miller Heiman's Strategic Selling model.
Is the Strategic Selling model right for your company? Only you can tell.
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.
Miller Heiman’s sales methodology may be a good place to start if you manage a large sales team dealing with enterprise sales. But don’t be afraid to experiment by adding automation and some flexibility into your sales process.
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