If you’ve ever felt like sales reps have a bad reputation, it’s likely because the buyers you interact with have worked with sales reps whose ulterior motivation guides the discussion. They don’t really care about customer needs. They want to hit their quota. No one likes to feel like they’re being sold to, and no one likes being interrogated. And that may be why so many sales methodologies aren’t as productive as they should be.
Luckily, we’ve learned from our past mistakes and have developed sales methodologies that shift focus to listening to the customer and addressing needs rather than delivering rote questions.
The N.E.A.T. sales qualification method values listening and delving into the deeper needs of a prospect over speaking. We’ll provide a bit of N.E.A.T. sales methodology training and show why the N.E.A.T. sales method might be ideal for your sales org.
What is N.E.A.T. Selling™?
N.E.A.T. stands for:
- Economic impact
- Access to authority
We’ll dive more into each part of the acronym later, but for now know that the N.E.A.T. sales technique is really about locating the most prominent needs or pain points of the prospect and then responding to those with your product positioned as the solution. N.E.A.T. Selling™ focuses on listening and understanding first.
N.E.A.T. is considered to be more effective as a lead qualification process—it helps you understand your prospects’ needs while eliminating prospects who wouldn’t be a good fit for your solution.
How N.E.A.T. Selling™ evolved
Customers change with the times, so it’s no wonder that sales techniques that may have worked just fine before now feel obsolete. N.E.A.T. evolved from a realization that the sales process is no longer linear. Right around the time when marketers were starting to realize that customers didn’t follow a linear path to purchase, sales reps began to realize that a linear sales approach didn’t address the nuances and variables of customer needs.
Here’s a short look at processes that have come before to help you understand why they fell short and how N.E.A.T. was developed to address those shortcomings.
BANT stands for Budget, Authority, Need, and Timeframe. Sales reps used to ask each prospect about their budget, the person who would be signing off on the deal, the date the deal would potentially close, and a brief understanding of what the prospect’s needs were.
But those questions—especially when used as a checklist—weren’t enough to encourage a meaningful dialogue, nor would they develop a relationship between prospect and sales rep. In short, BANT sales qualification can be a one-way interrogation that left both parties feeling unfulfilled.
ANUM’s acronym stands for Authority, Need, Urgency, Money. ANUM prioritizes authority because it all comes down to the right person signing the check. ANUM acknowledges that most prospects are at least somewhat familiar with your product (thanks to the Internet), so it doesn’t waste much time going into the details of the offer. Rather, it prioritizes those who have the authority to close the deal.
The problem is that, by focusing on reaching those with the authority to make a purchasing decision, sales reps miss out on valuable contacts who may lead them to the person in authority. In other words, it’s unlikely you’ll be given access to a C-level right off the bat. And this selling methodology still doesn’t foster a relationship with a prospect, nor does it attempt to understand deeper needs.
ANUM was eventually reduced to just Authority and Need, which cuts out any discussion of timeline and money. As you may imagine, it does an even weaker job of understanding a prospect’s needs and current situation.
N.E.A.T. Selling™ was developed to solve for the unpredictability of sales while also really getting to the root of how prospects will benefit from your particular solution.
How to perform the N.E.A.T. Selling™ process
It’s worth reiterating how detrimental it is to approach prospects by treating them like interviewees. Each section of the N.E.A.T. methodology has recommended questions, yes, but they should be part of a larger, more organic discussion. You might even change the order of these questions depending on what the buyer reveals.
As a starting point, consider these stages and questions of the N.E.A.T. Selling™ process.
What does your prospect really need?
In this stage, you’re looking for the root pain. We’re not talking about things like Mike from marketing stealing all the Reese’s peanut butter cups from the break room and hoarding them at his desk (even though that’s egregious). Instead, put yourself in the shoes of the prospect to understand not only the surface pains, but the core issues that are causing deeper issues. Use empathy here, and listen more than you speak.
Learn how to build a better relationship with prospective customers as you go through the discovery process.
How are those needs impacting finances?
There’s a bit of a math problem here: the economic impact of their current situation/methods versus the economic impact of your solution. If, for instance, your prospect is currently losing 20% of website visitors from broken forms and your solution makes perfect forms, you can position your solution as potentially saving 20% of leads.
Access to authority
Who has authority and how can you reach that person?
The path to closing a sale will involve many people, not just one or two. It’s important to understand who has the authority to sign off on the deal and how relationships work in an organization.
This is a great time to use account mapping so you can visually understand the complex interrelationships of your account. Again, you may not be able to directly approach the director in charge of approving a deal—especially not at first—but you should be able to make a plan of action for getting from a more accessible member of the organization to one with greater authority.
Peter Chun, VP of Sales at Lucidchart, walks through how account mapping has impacted his sales org.
What’s the practical timeline of getting the deal?
This isn’t about perception: This is about reality. Because there are so many moving parts to sales, it’s important to take them all into consideration when establishing a pragmatic timeline. As part of managing the deal, it’s recommended to establish a go-live date—if the client is eager to implement your product or service, this timeline will put pressure on them to sign.
There are thousands of self-proclaimed sales masters who champion certain sales techniques above others. The N.E.A.T. sales methodology is unique in that it builds on lessons learned from previous methodologies—like BANT and ANUM—to develop a process that addresses the modern customers.
Sticking to an outdated methodology because it used to work is folly. There will eventually come a time when prospects and their needs will evolve beyond the effectiveness of N.E.A.T., but for now, its focus on core pain points and positioning your product as a balm to those pain points is the best approach to qualifying leads.
To see how all of these steps come together, check out our N.E.A.T. Selling™ example below.
Empathizing with your prospect will go a long way to developing a mutually beneficial relationship. People want to feel understood, and it’s in your best interest to try and understand. Ask follow-up questions that indicate you’ve been listening, you are trying to understand, and you genuinely care. The best part of N.E.A.T. Selling™ is that it recognizes the humanity in your prospects and allows for greater facilitation of ideas and solutions.
See how Lucidchart strengthens any sales methodology, creating adherence and uniformity across your org.