Modern tips, tricks, and software certainly have their place, but they help you maximize an effective sales methodology — they don’t replace it.
The Sandler selling system has been around since the ‘60s and is still going strong. In fact, given the tendency for technology to make sales even more of a number’s game, Sandler’s method may be even more effective now than it was when it was first created.
That’s because it does away with pushy sales tactics and puts the client at the heart of the conversation. Sales reps focus on qualification, not closing — and everyone is better off for it.
So if you’re itching for a new approach, why not take a break and learn why this 55-year-old sales system is so effective and how you can implement it today.
What is the Sandler selling system?
The Sandler selling method was created by David Sandler in 1967 in response to three major issues he identified with his existing sales approach. He believed he was:
- Wasting time on inappropriate prospects
- Wasting time giving free advice
- Getting a premature no or a slow yes
Sandler’s solution was to develop a strategy focused on being a consultant, not a salesperson. By building relationships with buyers and offering advice on how to help them overcome pain points, Sandler realized that prospects were no longer hesitant to close the deal. If he could prove he could solve their issues, they wanted to make the purchase.
The Sandler method has seven steps in total, but you can break it down into three core stages:
- Building a relationship. In order to act as a consultant, you need to position yourself as a trusted authority. Building trust and rapport through honest discussions and questions is key.
- Qualifying the opportunity. Not everyone is a good fit, so it’s important to identify people you can help and disregard those you can’t.
- Closing the sale. By focusing on helping prospects solve their pain points (and positioning your product as that solution), prospects are keen to close the sale. You don’t have to be pushy to get the result you’re looking for.
David Sandler believed if you have something worth buying, you shouldn’t have to knock down the door. Buyers should invite you in. That’s what you achieve with this three-step process focused on providing value. No wonder 50% more salespeople hit quotas when using the Sandler way than those without.
Sandler selling can often save reps a lot of time. That’s because you qualify prospects much earlier in the sales process than you normally would. There will always be people outside your target audience who are unlikely to convert, and the quicker you root them out, the better.
How is the Sandler system different from other sales methods?
David Sandler designed the Sandler system to overcome what he called the “buyer-seller dance” — the situation where a buyer’s system is at work against the seller’s system. The idea that buyers and sellers have different goals may be an old one, but it’s still relevant. Today, 61% of sellers say they always put the buyer first, but only 29% of buyers agree.
When buyers feel like they’re not being put first, they are quick to put up defenses. No one likes to feel sold to or taken advantage of, so prospects put up barricades, come up with excuses, negotiate hard on price and scope out alternatives. The sale becomes a fight, not a discussion.
Instead of challenging the buyer, like the Challenger sales model does, the Sandler method aims to put sales reps and prospects on the same team.
Reps who use the Sandler system take the role of the consultant, not the salesperson. Rather than push a product, the Sandler system teaches reps to build trust between themselves and their buyers. In doing so, the salesperson becomes a trusted advisor who can consult on the prospect’s pain points and deliver a solution.
Another key difference between the Sandler sales methodology and other sales methodologies is the level of persistence of reps. There’s no place for high-pressure sales tactics with the Sandler method — they simply don’t work if you’re trying to position yourself as a consultant. The ABC acronym is still relevant, but doesn’t have the same meaning — instead of Always Be Closing and pushing towards a sale, try Always Be Consulting and building relationships.
Ultimately, the end result of the Sandler method is the same: the prospect buys your product. The path to get there is very different, however, and theoretically, it should be more successful.
The 7 Steps of the Sandler selling method
There are seven individual steps to the Sandler method, which Sandler outlined using a submarine model.
Why the submarine? Firstly, Sandler was inspired by the World War 2 movies he watched at the time, but he also saw similarities between submarines and the salespeople who followed his process. Unlike traditional sales reps who are brash, loud, and make their presence known like battleships, Sandler sellers were stealthy and achieved more by acting under the surface.
Finally, when submarines are under attack, the crew secures each area one by one. This is the same approach taken by Sandler sellers, who move through each section of the submarine to make the sale.
The Sandler system is built on a foundation of open and respectful communication between the sales rep and prospect. Reps need to build rapport as quickly as possible, starting on the discovery call.
You can’t win the sale on the discovery call, but you can certainly lose it. So refrain from selling and focus on building a connection. That starts by being honest the moment you pick up the phone.
If you’re cold calling prospects rather than getting them to sign up for discovery calls through inbound marketing, always clearly state the reason for your cold call. That will increase your success rate by 210%.
Reps must also use their communications skills to connect with the prospect. Common discovery call strategies like adapting your phone etiquette to each prospect, speaking their language, and asking meaningful discovery questions help build a sense of trust between you and the prospect.
Crucially, do not mislead the prospect in any way. When 48% of buyers won’t buy from sellers who offer misleading information, it pays to be honest. If you know your product isn’t the right fit, for example, don’t waste their time by selling it as a solution.
Reps should ask questions that show you are interested in the prospect and keen to help them, not sell them:
- I saw your company recently released a new product? How is it going?
- How are you hoping our company can help?
- What made you take this call?
- What’s wrong with your current solution?
Trust is built further by setting clear expectations upfront. By laying your cards on the table, you create a low-pressure environment and disarm prospects who come to a meeting prepared for a fight.
The Sandler method encourages reps to set ground rules for each conversation. This includes creating a contract before every meeting that includes five components:
- An objective. Be clear with your prospect about what you want to achieve from the meeting and what you hope they’ll gain. Ask them what they’re hoping to gain.
- The rep’s agenda. Lay out what you’ll be doing at each stage of the meeting.
- The prospect’s agenda. Highlight what you think the prospect will be doing at each stage of the meeting
- A timeline. Communicate how long the meeting will take.
- An outcome. Restate your goals and clarify what will happen next.
A clear contract like this shows you respect the prospect’s time and have no ulterior motives.
You can’t act as a consultant without understanding your prospect’s point of view. The third step in the Sandler sales method is all about delving into your prospect’s pain points and identifying the ways your product can be positioned as a solution.
Prospects typically have very emotive responses, which Sandler breaks down into pain/fear and gain/pleasure. Both of which can occur in the present or future. This is arguably the most important step in the entire process, but it’s also the one where most reps won’t spend nearly enough time.
Don’t be satisfied with these emotive, surface-level answers to your questions. Dig deep to get the very root of the problem.
Reps should ask questions that get to the heart of the matter:
- What’s the biggest thing concerning you right now?
- Can you tell me more about this problem?
- What’s causing this problem?
- What solutions have you tried?
- Has anything worked?
- What will happen if you can’t solve this problem?
The methodology relies on a tool called the Sandler pain funnel to help sellers understand their buyer’s true needs and adapt their sales approach.
Part of acting as the consultant is advising prospects on the matter of costs. This should be done as a pre-qualification step as early as possible to make sure prospects can afford your solution and increase your chances of success. Win rates are highest when sellers discuss pricing on the first call.
You’ll want to find out what budget the prospect has available, which department oversees that budget, and which employee is in charge of that money.
This is also a good time to make the prospect aware of the rough costs of your solution. The figure you quote won’t always be palatable. On average, at least 50% of your prospects won’t be a good fit for what you sell. If they don’t have the budget, let them go early in the process and focus on the buyers that do.
Reps should ask budgetary questions that thoroughly qualify the prospect:
- How much are you currently spending?
- What’s the problem costing you currently?
- Have you discussed a budget for a solution to your problem?
- Who is in charge of the budget?
- What is the process for signing off on purchase decisions?
- Whose budget is affected by your decision?
- Is there a deadline for securing budgetary sign-off?
It’s unlikely (though not implausible) that your prospect is the only decision-maker involved in the process. If that’s not the case, you’ll need to find out who else is involved in decision-making and what the process looks like.
The more decision-makers you involve in the deal, the more likely you are to succeed and vice versa. When crucial stakeholders and decision-makers are missing from potential deals, they are 80% less likely to close.
This is the final time you can disqualify prospects. So ask questions that help you identify how likely you are to close a deal:
- What does the decision-making process look like?
- What’s the timeline for a decision?
- Who else needs to be involved?
- What needs to happen before you can approve a purchase?
- Have you made a similar decision before?
- Have you asked anyone else to submit proposals?
Fulfill your promises
Six steps in, and we’ve finally reached the closing phase of the Sandler system. Here, you need to make a case for how your product solves your prospect’s pain points.
The fulfillment phase of the Sandler system has four steps:
- The review
- The presentation
- The close
- The confirmation
First, you review all of the information you have gathered so far, including the prospect’s pain points, their budget, and the company’s decision-making process.
Next, you present your product as a solution that ticks all of the previous points — as long as that’s true — and focus on how it can solve their problems within budget.
If you’ve executed effectively, you’ll be able to close the prospect with a yes. You can then confirm they’re happy to move forward with the deal by outlining the next steps.
Ultimately, if you’ve followed the process rigorously until now, this step should be a breeze. It’s simply confirming everything you’ve already discussed. No additional sales pressure or tactics should be needed because the prospect should be primed to make the purchase.
Nevertheless, keep asking questions to ensure you close the deal:
- Have you tried our demo?
- What would it look like if our solution could overcome your challenges?
- Is there anything we haven’t addressed yet?
Follow up post-sale
Many sales reps fall at the final hurdle, thinking their job is done once the client says yes. But there’s still work to do, I’m afraid. The Sandler method ends by ensuring there is a smooth handover from your department to your onboarding team.
You should also follow up with the prospect regularly to ensure they don’t suffer buyer’s remorse and are kept up-to-date on the progression of the deal.
You’ve done all of the hard work, but it’s important not to let them fall out of the funnel at this late stage. So keep asking questions and building that relationship:
- Are you happy with your decision?
- When do you need to get started using our product?
- How can we help you get started?
- Do you have any questions about onboarding?
- Do you have any concerns I can address?
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How to implement the Sandler selling method
You can implement the Sandler method into sales teams of any size across almost any industry. It’s particularly effective in B2B industries, but any sales rep can use it effectively as long as each deal is valuable enough that they can afford to take a high-touch approach with prospects.
But it does require your reps to have an in-depth knowledge of your industry. In order to be an effective consultant, reps must be able to speak knowledgeably and broadly about the market, understand the common issues that businesses face and be aware of all of the potential solutions.
If you or your team can’t do all of that, then the Sandler method may not be right for your company.
Another important thing to note is that you don’t have to rip up your existing sales playbook to incorporate the Sandler system. As long as the system matches your product and your team’s working style, it should be relatively easy to incorporate it into your day-to-day processes.
If you currently have a four-step sales process, there’s a good chance most of them will mirror one or more parts of the Sandler system. It’s then just a case of adding the remaining steps into your existing system to close more deals.
Alternatively, you may do things in a slightly different order than the Sandler method. For instance, you may wait until the end of the sales process to discuss budgets. It would be fairly simple in this case to move that discussion forward in the process to mirror the Sandler rule.
For sales reps who want to dive deeper into the methodology, Sandler sales training can be completed virtually thanks to the Sandler sales institute. The company behind the system runs over 500,000 hours of lessons and trains more than 30,000 people each year.
As well as Sandler training, there are assessments that sales managers can use to evaluate and improve the skills of their sales professionals before, during, and after training.
Training alone is not enough, however. David Sandler was a firm believer that as well as understanding the technique, reps must believe the method is the right thing to do and understand how to use it in appropriate situations.
He summarized this belief in the Sandler success triangle, which focuses on three key principles: attitude, behavior, and technique.
Your attitude comprises your beliefs and perception of yourself, your company, and your job. A positive attitude will go a long way towards making you a better salesperson. A negative attitude can be toxic and ruin potentially prosperous customer relationships.
Your behavior is everything you do to make a sale. That includes your goals, plans, and actions when speaking to prospects. It also includes your level of discipline. Do the right things time and time again, and you will eventually succeed.
Your techniques are the specific strategies and tactics you use when making a sale. Your behavior concerns effort levels, but your technique is all skill-based. Get better at executing each of the Sandler techniques, and you’ll start to see more success.
The Sandler method even provides you with a way to rank yourself on each of the three success triangles. Simply grade yourself from zero to 10 on your attitude (how often you have the right attitude about your job), behavior (how often do you do the right thing), and technique (how often do you use the right strategies and tools).
Multiply those three scores together and divide them by 1000. That will give you your sales average. Re-test yourself periodically and keep track of how you improve.
Making Sandler selling stick
The Sandler method is an excellent approach for reps and companies who believe the best way to close the sale is to offer massive value to each prospect. It removes the combative elements from sales calls and replaces them with a sense of camaraderie and teamwork.
Sandler selling can be implemented into sales teams of any size, regardless of whether you have an established sales process or not. And training is available should you need it.
Nevertheless, it is crucial when adopting any new sales process that you monitor your performance and reinforce the key principles. This is where Gong combines old-school selling systems with modern software to make the Sandler selling system even more effective.
With Gong’s revenue intelligence software, you and your team can identify which part of the Sandler method your team needs coaching on and how they can improve. As a certified Sandler selling training partner, Gong is here to help.