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The 9 types of selling that define today’s sales landscape

How would you describe your sales style?

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How would you describe your sales style?

Do you lead with solutions? Offer a consultative experience? Perhaps you’re the type that likes to provoke your prospect by stirring up a little data-driven drama.

How you answer that question depends on what type of selling serves as the foundation for the strategies, methodologies, and messaging used to convince buyers to make a deal.

In this article, I’ll look at five types of selling, their defining characteristics, and explain how successful reps use them today.

What is selling?

Before we dig into the different types of selling, let’s take a step back and provide a definition for what “selling” actually means.

At its most basic level, “selling” refers to any transaction where money is exchanged for goods or services. More specifically, it describes a process of persuading a buyer to make a purchase–using a series of planned and personalized communication tactics to influence purchasing decisions.

Done right, selling helps customers determine their needs, creates a sense of desire for products/services, and solves buyers’ most pressing pain points.

In these next few sections, we’ll take a look at some of the most common types of selling today’s reps use on the job.

1. Transactional type of selling

Transactional selling is a simple, short-term sales strategy that focuses on making quick sales. In this type of sales model, neither the buyer nor the seller has much interest in developing a long-term relationship.

While transactional selling sometimes gets a bad rap in today’s relationship selling era, it’s still a relevant approach–when used in the right context. Examples include situations where the
buyer wants quick, self-serve options or the organization sells low-cost, generic products and turns a profit by selling large quantities as fast as possible.

Transactional sales are most common in B2C situations–think e-commerce brands or selling movie or concert tickets. However, there are certain scenarios in which it works for B2Bs–think SaaS subscriptions that cater to individuals or small teams.

While the “sales” part of transactional selling is mostly hands-off, customer-centricity is, well, central to success. In this case, sales and marketing teams can work together to create a comprehensive self-serve knowledge base, product demos, articles, guides and other content.

Customer feedback and insights surfaced from sales interactions can be used to address common questions and target key challenges. Ultimately, the goal is to give consumers everything they need to make a decision and take action, without hitting any friction points along the way.

2. Solution selling

Solution selling moves away from the transactional approach and instead, focuses on selling outcomes over products and features.

In this sales model, reps lead with a problem and use various tactics to paint a picture of how the buyer’s life will be better once they solve that problem.

Over the past few years, many experts have pointed out some of the drawbacks associated with this type of sales strategy–particularly the fact that few reps have the skills and tech stack to present out-of-the box solutions that buyers can’t find on their own.

According to a 2019 McKinsey report, the average “B2B solutions provider” doesn’t necessarily close more deals than reps who focus on products, services, or features. In fact, researchers found that solution sellers don’t fare much better than those that follow a more transactional approach.

To be effective, a solution sales strategy must:

  • Focus on building genuine connections with buyers
  • Create innovative solutions and unique value propositions
  • Paint a clear picture of the total business value of the solution–not just the product, but the service and experience, too
  • Align around the solution–not just the sales team, but the entire organization

The McKinsey report notes that cultivating individual skills, giving sellers more time to spend interacting with customers, and quantifying the impact of lifetime value holds the key to successful solutions-based selling.

3. Consultative selling type

On the surface, consultative selling and solution selling appear to be the same strategy.

However, despite some similarities there’s an important distinction. Solution selling avoids talking about features and benefits, opting to focus conversations exclusively on presenting a solution to the buyer’s problem.

A 2012 Harvard Business Review article explains that solution selling was an effective strategy in the days before customers had the tools and the know-how to solve their own problems. Aka–before Google was a portal to a whole world of high-end B2B content.

Consultative selling takes it a step further and incorporates solution selling into a broader strategy that caters to buyers capable of identifying potential solutions to their problems on their own.

Here, reps apply a consultative approach to the sales process, using a combination of user data, market research, and insights from conversations with the buyer (in this case, the more connected data sources the better).

Sellers then use those insights to craft a narrative that puts the offer in context for the buyer.
This approach requires a skilled sales team that understands how to interpret data, ask questions, and unearth important insights during conversations.

Because this type of selling requires a lot of work on the part of the seller, it’s best suited for big-ticket deals, long sales cycles, and a high-touch, multi-platform buyer’s journey.

4. Provocative selling

In 2009, Geoffrey Moore published a piece in the Harvard Business Review entitled, “In a Downturn, Provoke Your Customers.”

In it, he explains that provocation is the best way for sellers to get buyers to move past a “buy nothing” mentality by helping customers see competitive challenges in a new light, bringing a sense of urgency to solving specific pains/problems.

Similar to consultative selling, provocation-based sales aims to uncover needs and pain points through market research, data analysis, and buyer interactions. Both types focus on guiding customers to the right solution, however, provocative selling adds a little antagonism into the mix.

Here, reps capture buyers’ attention by creating a sense of crisis and drive action by surfacing emerging opportunities and threats on the horizon.

In recent years, we’ve seen a resurgence in provocation-based selling, with the rise of Challenger Sales. And now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, provocative selling could be an effective way to create urgency in the face of uncertainty.

This can be an effective approach but it can be hard to pull off for a couple of key reasons.
For one, it works best with top-performing sales reps with true expertise. Reps must combine their market/industry insights with facts and figures that ground their recommendations into a tangible reality.

Second, provocative selling requires some seriously advanced soft skills. Sellers must be able to “read the room,” and have a clear understanding of when provocation will drive action or simply irritate and frustrate the buyer.

5. Collaborative selling

Collaborative selling is similar to consultative selling in that the core focus is on developing relationships and understanding buyer needs, challenges, and goals–but this approach takes things to the next level and places the customer at the center of their own narrative.

Here, the buyer plays an active role in the sales process and works collaboratively with sales reps–yes, multiple reps–to identify and implement solutions that help them achieve high-level strategic objectives.

Gartner calls this process “sense-making” in a 2019 report that called attention to the need for sellers to help overwhelmed buyers navigate the buying process by reducing skepticism and helping them build confidence.

According to the report, 89% of buyers say that most of the information they encounter throughout the sales process is generally “high quality.”

Meanwhile, 44% of buyers say that they struggle with the fact that multiple suppliers provide seemingly credible, fact-based information that is often contradictory.

The goal of collaborative selling is setting the stage for lasting relationships that look more like strategic alliances than traditional one-and-done transactions.

To pull this off, all customer-facing teams–sales, marketing, service, and support–must align around the same data, goals, and metrics, working together to continuously create value for the consumer.

Find out how Revenue Grid uses AI to make it happen here

6. Social Selling

Drastic changes in the buying process (75% of B2B buyers are considerably influenced by social media and 84% of senior executives use it to support purchase decisions) and the “one-sided” nature of the dialogue between the seller and the buyer in the traditional selling process led to the development of new strategies to search and build relationships with customers, in particular, social selling.

Social selling is an effective practice of using brand channels on social media to connect with potential customers, develop that connection, and build LONG TERM relationships with potential customers.

For every $1 invested in SS, you get $5 ROI!

Social selling is about making your interactions with potential customers meaningful and presenting your brand as a solution to a particular customer problem, building trust and loyalty. This requires a lot of thoughtful actions:

  • creating relationships, not sales;
  • gradually building a foundation for relationships;
  • interacting regularly and serving before selling;
  • social prospecting by joining and participating in groups and connecting with potential customers;
  • contributing to existing conversations about your brand;
  • providing value by sharing relevant content and offering feedback.

The correct social selling strategy will help you to:

  • reach your potential customers directly;
  • present your brand as a solution to the buyer’s problem;
  • gain trust and loyalty;
  • shorten your B2B deal cycles;
  • gain new opportunities;
  • sell 24/7;
  • improve customer retention;
  • go big for free (or almost free).

Consider if this approach is right for you since it:

  • takes time;
  • requires a lot of practice;
  • involves a lot of hard work;
  • is risky — you don’t have the right to misstep.

7. Partnership Selling

Partnership Selling is quite a smart approach to selling in today’s sales landscape: many companies are entering a highly competitive market, but the traditional sales process with its cold calling and emails is quite long and inefficient, forcing you to slowly move leads down the funnel until they convert into buyers.

Partnership Selling is an approach to sales that involves close collaboration between companies at every stage of the sale, serving customers as a partner, and helping to achieve sales goals faster. This selling type is often used in the SaaS industry when startups feel the need to scale in new geographies and markets.

There are two main types of partnership selling:

  • Technology/integration partnership that can bring together two partners— the software vendors (for instance, data visualization tool and data warehouse), offering different solutions to the same potential customer at the same time.
  • Channel partnerships — for example, a reseller and a supplier build an alliance to sell a solution to a customer. In this case, the sales teams combine the strengths already at the stage of identifying potential customers and work together to close the deals.

Partnership Selling helps companies to:

  • scale;
  • accelerate sales cycle;
  • share their customer bases;
  • enjoy all perks of partner’s exposure;
  • get new perspective for business growth;
  • gain reliability and trust;
  • cut costs;
  • increase the number of sales;
  • improve customer retention rates;
  • join a partner’s support network;
  • gain a serious competitive advantage;
  • build the basis for new effective strategies.

Also, there are some drawbacks:

  • sharing the profit;
  • the emergence of disagreements;
  • the need to have specific sales skills to sell the other company’s product;
  • losing focus (partnering with someone can lead you to side-track on what you need to achieve);
  • the consequences can force your company to drop off some leads to close others— so you need to keep your priorities in order.

8. High-Pressure Selling

The process of high-pressure selling (also known as “hard selling”) involves the use of psychological pressure on the buyer by the seller by appealing to his fear, pride, or greed to quickly close the deal, and forcing him to make poorly informed decisions just to put an end to a stressful situation.

One of the main reasons for practicing this approach is that it simply works. Also, the sellers argue that they have to resort to such methods because most buyers often postpone their purchase decision, even if they are interested in buying a certain product/service. Typically, this method is used by salespeople that have certain goals and get commissions.

The other reasons for practicing high-pressure selling include:

  • providing incentives for sales reps;
  • filling in the company’s portfolio;
  • gaining a better inventory control;
  • increasing production capacity.

As you can see, some of these reasons are, at the same time, the benefits of such an approach. The other advantages are fast sales, the possibility for the salesperson to gain the experience faster, and the chance to attract unpromising customers.

However, this approach has some serious drawbacks:

  • it’s unethical/provoking and implies forced decision making;
  • most buyers don’t like being pressured (which is why inexperienced sellers tend to fail when using this method).

The most popular hard-selling techniques are:

  • endless chatter;
  • emotional manipulation;
  • reciprocity;
  • time-limited offers;
  • making outrageous promises.

An alternative to this method is high urgency buying, which favors both customers and salespeople.

9. Insight Selling

In recent years, the B2B journey has become much more multifaceted: buying cycles have become more complex, longer, and less predictable, and it has become more difficult for the buyer to understand how to navigate his purchase decisions with AI-powered and digitally transformed companies.

In addition, the traditional sales approach focused on coaching, sales visits, and skill-based training is quite indirect and does not bring quick results for boosting sales productivity. And the main difficulty with boosting sales effectiveness is the lack of management data to support the whole process.

All this was enough for a buyer-centric approach that leverages how people buy today, known as Insight Selling, to appear.

The key of Insight Selling is a deeper understanding of customers on the way of establishing absolute trust and mutual understanding. This approach implies collecting key customer insights from sales and analytics software, multiple sales calls and meetings, trends analysis, and market research, and using them to align benefit and value, differentiate the solution, and, as a result, increase sales effectiveness.

Sellers can use either one of two types of insight selling, which often work in parallel:

  • Opportunity Insight: salespeople proactively put forward a specific idea to a potential buyer, involve and guide him through the process of realizing that their solution meets his needs;
  • Interaction Insight: reps proactively ask questions and encourage prospects to leave their comfort zone. As a result, potential buyers can understand which of their proposed solutions best suits their needs, while the seller is there to guide them through.

Insight selling offers companies many benefits, such as:

  • finding out almost everything about prospects;
  • demonstrating how the solution fulfills customer needs;
  • creating a better pitch;
  • getting comprehensive data about competition;
  • filling the gaps between customer beliefs and the desire to purchase your product/service;
  • building the whole sales process around the customer and his decision-making process;
  • gaining and strengthening trust;
  • tailoring content and conversations to customers’ needs to always stay relevant.

Also, you need to be aware of some drawbacks:

  • the need to keep track of overflowing prospect data before, during, and even after making a sale;
  • the need to invest in technology: only a cutting-edge CRM and integrated advanced additional software tools will work as the backbone of insight selling;
  • the approach implies actions, that are based on assumptions;
  • inability to maintain objectivity to deeply understand the needs. 

How to Make Your Selling Method Work? 

When selling a product or service, you need to focus on communicating the main benefit of your offer to the buyer’s mind. People tend to buy things that they believe will improve the quality of their lives or solve a particular problem.

Here’s a simple example: when selling long-term care insurance, you need to make the prospect understand how high the cost of long-term care can be, and show them the benefits of insurance (they don’t have to worry about paying those costs in the future). In other words, the prospect should understand that this solution satisfies his need, solving a potential problem.

Another simple example is selling a hula hoop. It is unlikely that anyone would think of buying a hula hoop as it is, as an individual item. However, a hula hoop can effectively help to lose weight, get in shape without leaving home, maintain health, give energy, and it’s so much fun!

Such an approach is a simple but straightforward example of selling benefits.

Final thoughts

Though the concept of sales dates as far back as humanity, we’re constantly evolving our approach to keep pace with the ever-changing buyer.

While there’s a clear progression from transactional to collaborative selling, the reality is, each of these sales types can be used effectively with the modern buyer–so long as the focus remains on delivering value to the consumer.

No matter which type of selling you choose, a complete toolset that covers your full sales cycle will set you on the road to repeatable revenue. Try Revenue Grid and see how it can benefit your business today.

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    B2B content writer & strategist

    Grace is an experienced B2B content writer & strategist for SaaS, digital marketing, & tech brands from Los Angeles, California. With a knack for turning complex concepts into compelling narratives, she has assisted numerous brands in developing impactful content strategies that engage audiences and drive business growth. Her wealth of experience in the ever-evolving tech world has equipped her with a unique perspective on industry trends and dynamics, enabling her to deliver content that resonates with a tech-savvy audience.