While there are some common techniques that are used and adopted by successful salespeople, there is truly no one-size-fits-all approach to mastering sales.
Take a moment to reflect on your sales process, and some of the recent deals you’ve closed. Has each deal followed the same steps? Did you connect with a prospect and follow a prescriptive sales process that culminated in you asking directly for the sale? That’s highly unlikely. Chances are, you’ve had to adapt your selling style to suit the buyer and your offering.
Direct, competitive selling is a widely adopted approach and is what most folks think of when they approach working with prospects. However, to be a well-rounded sales professional, it’s important that you have more techniques and strategies to draw from when direct competitive selling isn’t the right call.
Knowing that you’ll need to pivot and be flexible in your approach to selling throughout your sales career, we wanted to provide another selling technique that can be useful for your professional toolkit — missionary selling.
What is missionary selling?
In missionary selling, a salesperson focuses on building a relationship with an individual who can influence the buying decision, instead of trying to directly land the sale. This approach is a form of indirect selling.
In order to understand missionary selling, it is essential to know how it differs from competitive selling. Let’s dive deeper into the differences between the two.
Competitive Selling vs. Missionary Selling
Competitive selling, which many salespeople are familiar with, focuses on the actions and activities that directly help reps land closed-won sales. For competitive sellers, success is fairly straightforward, as it’s often measured by how many deals they are able to close, and the financial value of these deals.
In a competitive selling environment, the rep is focused on convincing their prospect to purchase their product or service, often framing their offering as the ideal solution to a problem the prospect is personally experiencing or responsible for solving.
Missionary selling, on the other hand, focuses less on selling products. For missionary sellers, their goal is not to complete a transaction — they are instead focused on educating an influential individual or decision-maker on the benefits of their product, in hopes that this individual can influence a purchase down the line.
Instead of focusing on selling their product to an end-user, missionary sellers are working to win over an individual who can distribute their product to end-users on their behalf. When salespeople educate people who can influence purchasing decisions on the benefits of their offering, their connections can be “missionaries” for their products leading to sales in the future.
Compared to competitive selling, it is harder to quantify success with missionary selling. Because a rep’s efforts cannot be directly tied back to each individual sale, sales teams relying on missionary selling may want to consider both qualitative and quantitative sales data.
Roles that involve missionary selling can be a great place for entry-level employees to begin their career in sales. Because these roles are often lower-pressure than competitive selling roles that are driven by quotas, missionary selling roles provide valuable sales experience without the pressure of needing to meet hard and fast numbers each month.
Additionally, missionary selling can be beneficial for products that are better suited for a low-pressure buying experience for the customer. The goal of missionary selling is to sell information and influence, instead of focusing on a closed deal.
This approach works well in scenarios where buyers want to be armed with the knowledge they need to make an informed decision instead of feeling pressured to choose a specific product in a competitive environment.
Missionary Selling Examples
Now that you know what missionary selling is, and how it differs from competitive selling, here are some examples that can deepen your understanding of when a missionary approach to selling is beneficial.
Individuals who sell educational materials are rarely selling to the end-users of their products (who are commonly students). Instead, those in textbook or education-related sales work with educators or administrators, providing information about the features, benefits, and successful case studies from others who have used their products.
Using this information from the missionary seller, the educators, administrators, and other stakeholders are able to make an informed decision on what they would like to purchase although they are ultimately not the end-user of the product.
Affiliate programs are also an effective missionary selling strategy. By partnering with brand affiliates, a company empowers individuals to get the word out about their products, driving sales in exchange for a commission. Affiliate partnerships are unique because nearly anyone can participate — no sales background required.
While some companies may have criteria they may want affiliates to meet or may partner with affiliates on a case-by-case basis, businesses that leverage affiliate relationships are relying on affiliates to serve as brand missionaries using their influence to encourage others to buy specific products.
One of the largest affiliate partners is the Amazon Associates program. Head to this post to learn how it works.
Missionary selling is a common practice in pharmaceutical sales. In this field, reps are not selling directly to patients who would potentially use their company’s medications.
Instead, they build relationships with and create sales collateral for doctors and medical staff in hopes of their medical partners prescribing their company’s products to their patients which would result in higher sales for the pharmaceutical company.
Whether you are a competitive seller or take a missionary approach to selling, the techniques that help you succeed in your role will depend on your unique organizational structure and the market you serve. Check out this post to learn techniques to master the art of selling in ways that work best for your role.