Is a sales process the same as a sales methodology?

Susan Niemchak, Director of the Sales Training Community at asked me a question that seemed innocuous at first:

Is a “process” the same as a “methodology?”

“Loosely speaking, ‘process’ and ‘methodology’ are synonymous,” I answered.

“Unfortunately, ‘loose lips sink ships,’ and may cause an occasional bar fight as well. Not to mention the quagmire of business language in general.”

There is a more important meaning hidden in the word “process.” Most people miss it:

  • The dictionary definition of “process” is “a pre-defined procedure.” Same as “methodology,” this meaning addresses a class of activities called “tasks.”
  • A “business process,” however, must also deal with a higher order of activities, called “work flow”

Work flow is the forest. Tasks are the trees.

Business people must step back from the task level to design their systems so work flow is accomplished correctly first, not tasks. To illustrate:

  • Dramatic example: “Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic”
    Arranging deck chairs is a process you can define and improve via a pre-defined procedure. Good luck.
  • Practical example:Lean thinking leads to cellular manufacturing”
    Traditional manufacturing arranges equipment in functional departments (machining centers here, heat treat there, etc.). Batches of parts are moved all over the plant so tasks get done in the right sequence. Moving parts adds cost and is of no value to the customer.

    The Japanese cleaned our clocks starting in the 80s and 90s, partly because they re-arranged  equipment so parts went short distances from one machine to the next, in small lots, with no wait time. This was Lean manufacturing and it continues to drive radical rethinking of production operations all over the world.

  • Sales example: Give salespeople a “pre-defined procedure,” and you get nowhere, because you are not really changing anything. They still have to do their job and your procedure may get in their way.On the other hand, when you strategically match marketing and selling tactics to the appropriate stage of the customer’s journey (instead of leaving everything up to the salespeople to do what they always have done), the earth moves, the sky opens up, and wondrous events occur!

This “work flow” or “strategic” view is not communicated by the dictionary definition of the word process (“a pre-defined procedure”).

Why it is So Hard to Help Salespeople Improve?

When people get frustrated with “process for process sake,” it is because someone is mentally stuck at the task level. A deadly misconception if there ever was one.

Don’t let your ships sink. Avoid bar fights. Define your terms when you use the word “process,” especially in sales and marketing!

This misunderstanding is one of the main reasons it is so hard to help salespeople improve.

We’ll be addressing one important aspect of this problem in August’s SPIF! Webinar, titled:

How to Get Salespeople to Call on the Right Customers

Visit  and sign up today for this important webinar.

Michael Webb
July 30, 2009

Michael Webb

Michael Webb founded Sales Performance Consultants to create a data-driven alternative to the slogans and shallow impact offered by typical sales training, sales consulting, and CRM companies. Michael helped organize and delivered the keynote speeches for the first conferences ever held on applying Six Sigma to marketing and sales. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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Michael Webb - July 30, 2009 Reply

My friend Bill Bently just sent me an email message:

Hey Mike,
You didn’t answer your own question!
You described in more detail what a process is but then
didn’t bother to say how it differs from a methodology.
Maybe you can finish the thought in your next SPUD. 😉
Bill Bentley

I decided Bill was right, so I called him to discuss it. We came up with these further distinctions between methodology and process (especially business process):

A methodology is simply a collection of rules, tools,
postulates, etc. that are employed by a discipline.

A business process applies methods for a specific purpose.
It must address the “work flow” level as well as the “task”
level, and it includes feedback mechanisms to enable the
process to maintain a given level of performance.

These are good clarifications, so perhaps I put the post out to hastily!

Michael Webb - July 31, 2009 Reply

My friend Bob Ferguson said:

A beginner in the Quality Sciences would be able
to answer the question of methodology vs. process.
Process encompasses Man, Methods, Materials,
Machines and Environment. Methods are only part
of a process.
Robert K. Ferguson

Of course Bob is also correct.


Do We Need A Sales Process Or A Sales Methodology? | Partners in EXCELLENCE Blog - July 31, 2009 Reply

[…] = ‘davidabrock’; Michael Webb poses the question:  Is a Sales Process the same as a Methodology?  He provides a thoughtful view (though doesn’t answer the question until his additional […]

omar - April 18, 2010 Reply

hello am doing a proposal for products and services sales methodologies but i didnt find any proper site to take information from all sites which i visited says about companies for training how to make the sales methodology. can you help me to where i can find information about the sales methodology


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