The foundations of the Sandler sales methodology
Sandler sales methodology: where does it come from?
The Sandler sales methodology or Sandler selling system, as officially named, was designed and developed in 1967 by David Sandler. The idea was to address 3 issues he was too often confronted with as a sales rep:
- Investing time in prospects that are not a good fit;
- Providing free advice without fruitful outcomes;
- Getting rejected too early or approved too late.
David Sandler addressed the challenge by adopting a consultant-oriented approach rather than a sales-centric one. By cultivating relationships with buyers and providing guidance to address their challenges, he observed that prospects became more willing to close the deal.
Being perceived as someone here to help rather than someone here to sell was a welcome change for sales reps and potential customers both.
Sandlers sales methodology: new paradigm and tenets
So the Sandler sales method is a complete paradigm shift from the old ways of selling, similarly to BANT. Sales used to be a confrontation, the Sandler methodology makes it a cooperation. It was what Sandler called a “selling dance”, now both parties openly admit they are in the context of a sale. It was all about the proverbial “Always Be Closing” and “Don’t take no for an answer”, the Sandler sales process adds building trust and qualifying leads to the mix.
Indeed, the Sandler sales methodology is first and foremost a qualification methodology: it is meant to help sales teams not to waste time trying to sell a product or service to someone who has no intention nor the possibility to buy it. Think of it as a new tool in your sales prospecting techniques.
Along with this change of perspective, the Sandler selling system also introduces new concepts. One of the most prominent ones would be the pain funnel. As we’ll see a bit further, pain is one of the 7 steps of the Sandler sales methodology. The pain funnel is simply a method to help salespeople run it smoothly. How does it work? When inquiring about pain points, start off with broad questions. These don’t even need to be about pain points at first. At some point, you will detect a pain point or at least something that might be one. Proceed with a question that goes a little bit deeper, such as “would you mind telling me more about that ?”. The more you uncover, the more you dig, asking increasingly precise and specific questions:
- “Could you give me an example?”
- “How long have you been dealing with this issue?”
- “What did you do about it?”
- “How did it go?”
- “How much would you say it cost you so far?”
- “What do you think about it now?”
Of course, adjust your questions to the circumstances and the person you are talking to!
When and why should you use the Sandlers sales method?
Since it is a grounded approach focusing on genuine communication, you’ll get better results if you’re passionate about it and manage to communicate your enthusiasm to your sales teams. The Sandler sales model is a key to achieve sales goals and align with your prospect’s values by providing specific sales support that balances the interests of both the salesperson and the customer. It fosters trust, benefiting the company’s reputation, revenues, and profits. For sales professionals, the method offers a less pushy approach, allowing them to focus on productive interactions and it also does a lot for teamwork and camaraderie.
To implement it successfully, early qualification is the name of the game as you avoid wasting your time on non-qualifiable leads. Ultimately, all of this leads to:
- bigger deal sizes ;
- higher margins ;
- shorter sales cycles ;
- improved forecasting accuracy.
It can be adjusted to any size of sales teams, whether they already have an established process or not.
The 7 steps of the Sandler sales methodology
The 7 steps are subdivisions of three phases, each of them aiming at one of the 3 main goals
of the Sandler sales methodology:
- Creating a meaningful business relationship (steps 1 and 2) ;
- Qualifying the prospect (steps 3 to 5) ;
- Closing the sale (steps 6 and 7).
1. Bonding and rapport building
In the initial stage of the Sandler sales model, officially named “Bonding & rapport,” you need to genuinely connect with your prospects. It should be an open and honest conversation: this phase is all about building trust by asking insightful questions to uncover the prospect’s desires and needs.
David Sandler stresses on the fact that a business deal’s outcome is often shaped during this first step. Rather than starting providing information from the get-go, the inventor of the methodology suggests deviating from the expected and traditional selling route. During the initial discovery call or sales meeting, you should strive for authenticity and focus solely on bonding and rapport. But before doing any of this, make sure to conduct thorough research to raise meaningful questions that genuinely demonstrate your interest in the prospect’s activity.
Effective communication skills are pivotal: you must adapt your language and questions to
each prospect. In any case, honesty holds significant value for buyers. So, the emphasis
should be on:
- understanding the prospect’s needs;
- conveying a sincere willingness to assist.
2. Up-front contracts
Up-front contract is another concept first introduced by David Sandler. In this initial step, the goal is threefold, as you want to:
- establish roles;
- set expectations;
- create a comfortable business environment.
Think of this as setting rules before a game so that everyone is clear and ok on how this is going to play out, building up on open communication.
This is when you should be covering aspects like the prospect’s availability and meeting agenda. This proactive strategy is designed to respect everyone’s time and proactively prevent potential hurdles down the road. This process is needed in order to establish a low-pressure sales environment and effectively manage client expectations: you and the prospect agree on the roadmap for future communications and discussion topics.
In this third step of the Sandler sales method, you start to focus on qualifying leads by understanding your prospect’s challenges and pain points. This phase involves asking insightful questions to uncover the primary concerns and underlying issues your product can address. The pain funnel we previously discussed finally comes into play.
By thoroughly identifying your buyer’s pain points, you enable yourself to position your product as an effective solution. In any case, prioritize active listening : some aspects here can get a bit emotional, besides, you are here to ask questions, so your prospect should do most of the talking.
Instead of delaying budget talks until later stages as is common practice, start right now. This proactive strategy aims to save your time by swiftly assessing whether the prospect’s budget aligns with the cost of your product or service. It involves asking nuanced questions to gather information about what they need in terms of:
- human resources.
Questions such as “How much is this problem costing you?” and “What is your budget range?” serve the dual purpose of establishing the budget and reframing costs by highlighting potential losses for the prospect.
Functioning as a consultant, provide advice on costs, this way you increase your chances of success. Indeed, discussing pricing in the early stages results in higher win rates because you can focus on buyers with compatible budgets.
As you conclude the qualification phase with the “Decision” element, your focus shifts to understanding the overall decision-making process:
Assess the alignment of the offered product or service with their needs. Engage in detailed discussions covering who, what, when, where, why, and how the customer envisions their purchasing journey. This can be achieved by asking the right questions, for instance:
- “Who participates in making this decision? Are approvals required?”
- “Can you elaborate on your decision-making process? What milestones precede
approval for a purchase?”
- “When do you anticipate reaching a decision?”
- “Which other members of your organization will be affected by this decision?”
- “How do you differentiate between proposals? Have you encountered similar decisions
This way you’ll be able to make informed decisions about whether you should qualify your
Here, present your product or service as a tailored solution to your prospect’s challenges :
you know it checks all the boxes so tell them all about it! This step is essentially a recap of previous discussions. The Sandler selling system divides it into four sub-steps:
- a comprehensive review of gathered information, considering pain points, budget, and decision processes;
- a presentation of product as a tailored solution, emphasizing its alignment with the identified criteria;
- the closing step where you try to secure a positive response;
- the confirmation phase outlines required paperwork and administrative processes for further progress.
The ultimate goal is to gain approval from decision-makers and proceed to contract signing, marking the successful conclusion of the deal.
Closing the deal is not the end of the process. You still need to see it through. You have to adopt a proactive approach, addressing potential challenges such as buyer’s remorse or the risk of losing the customer to competitors at the eleventh hour.
As the customer progresses through onboarding or implementation, be on top of things:
- deal with essential paperwork ;
- clearly state where you are on your side ;
- provide accessible contracts ;
- consider offering solutions like a money-back guarantee or a trial period.
Post-sell is more than a conclusion; it’s an opportunity to cultivate a lasting relationship. Stay in touch, be on high-alert, periodically check in, seek referrals, lay the foundation for repeat business, and collaborate with the customer success team for reviews.
This phase also opens avenues for upselling or cross-selling additional products that complement your initial purchase.
Implement the Sandler sales methodology into your team’s processes
Is the Sandler sales methodology adapted to your business?
The short answer is yes. But it needs to be tailored to your sales processes. The Sandler sales method has been popular for quite a number of decades and the main reason is that it’s ahighly flexible approach.
But first you have to align with its general principles : Sandler’s emphasis on genuine communication, establishing trust, and fostering long-term relationships sets it apart. If your business values a consultative, relationship-driven approach over traditional hard-selling tactics, Sandler might align with your objectives.
Then, you’ll need to fit the Sandler practices within each stage of your existing sales process. Consistent use of elements like the Sandler Up-Front ContractTM across various stages ensures accessibility for both reps and managers : remember, it’s your roadmap!
Think long-term, do your research and be sure to fully grasp how it works before taking action. Granted the Sandler method is versatile, it suits a broad array of industries and it particularly excels in B2B scenarios where a high-touch approach is most welcome.
However, it requires reps with profound industry knowledge. The Sandler system need not overhaul your existing sales playbook; instead, align it with your product and team dynamics. Whether adjusting the sequence of steps or adding missing components to your current process, the objective is to enhance deal closures by incorporating Sandler’s proven principles.
The Sandler triangle of success
But theoretical knowledge isn’t experience and David Sandler was a strong advocate for learning by doing. He thought that to truly master his sales qualification methodology, you need to be able to balance the 3 core elements of what came to be known as the Sandler success triangle: attitude, behavior and technique.
Attitude comprises your beliefs and outlook, it wields substantial influence over your effectiveness. A positive attitude elevates your salesmanship, while a negative one can detrimentally impact customer relationships. Behavior encapsulates your actions, plans, and goals in sales. Success emerges from consistent, disciplined efforts aligned with objectives.
Technique revolves around the strategies and tactics deployed in sales, emphasizing skill-based execution. Proficiency in Sandler techniques serves as a catalyst for overall success, underscoring the critical synergy among attitude, behavior, and technique in attaining optimal results in sales.
To wrap it up, the Sandler sales methodology is quite straight-forward making it a good starting point to build up on with complementary methodologies, such as MEDDIC, should you want to explore other options. Plus, it’s one of the best consultative approaches out there and an excellent way to challenge assumptions.
At CoachYZ, we firmly believe that every business owner, every team manager has a hidden potential they can tap on, if they are ready to open themselves to new horizons for the sake of self-improvement. If you are of the same mind and you want to become the best leader you can be, then try CoachYZ.