Sandler Sales System: 7-Steps to Selling to Perfect-Fit Prospects
What is the Sandler Selling System?
The Sandler Selling System is a sales methodology focused on matching the right buyer with the right solution.
It helps sales teams prioritize the right leads and win deals through human connections and problem-solving.
Done right, convinces prospects the deal was actually their idea. It’s particularly effective for building strong relationships with clients.
What's more, Sandler stands to save reps and buyers a ton of time by surfacing deal-breakers early in the game. So--sellers can spend their time working the most valuable deals in the pipeline, while unqualified prospects aren't stuck dodging calls until they either switch jobs or retire.
In this article, we’ll cover the what and why of the Sandler Sales System, walk you through the seven-step process, and explain how to work Sandler into your current strategy.
What is the Sandler Selling System?
The Sandler sales methodology was created by David Sandler in 1967. It's a consultative strategy that emphasizes soft skills like relationship-building and lead qualification over pushy closing tactics–recasting the seller as a "trusted advisor."
No mind games, manipulation, or high-pressure closing tactics.
Compared to traditional sales methodologies, which tend to focus on closing as many deals as possible in the least amount of time—at any cost, the Sandler system is all about mutual trust and commitment between buyer and seller.
So, the system breaks the sales process into three stages:
- Building & sustaining relationships. The first stage involves building rapport with a prospect, gathering requirements, and establishing expectations for what the each stage of the sales process should look like.
- Qualifying the opportunity. The second stage focuses on fit. Does your solution solve buyer needs? Ease pain points? Can the prospect afford it?
- Closing the deal. The last stage focuses on presenting a solution, going in for the close, and nailing the post-close follow-up to set the stage for a lasting relationship.
Those three stages break into seven steps, which are represented as “compartments” in the Sandler Submarine.
Per the official website, David Sandler chose the submarine as a symbol as an homage to his favorite World War II movies--but also because:
- Professional sales reps (aka Sandler-trained reps), like submarines, are stealthy. They run silent and deep, taking care of business beneath the surface.
- By contrast, traditional salespeople are more like "traditional battleships." They make their presence known by advertising their intentions. They're loud, aggressive, and everyone can see what they're up to.
- When submarines are attacked during combat, the crew moves through each area, securing the previous compartment before moving to the next to avoid flooding. The Sandler methodology takes a similar approach to ensure reps arrive safely at the close. Each step must be completed before the next can begin, so disqualifying factors don’t "spill" into the next compartment and derail the deal.
How to implement the seven steps of the Sandler Selling System
To give you an idea of how this methodology works "IRL," let’s look at the seven Sandler sales process steps--and what each of those steps entails.
But–before we get started, it’s worth noting that you can’t just “paste” the Sandler system on top of the existing sales processes without making a few tweaks.
It's better to focus instead on using the Sandler sales method rules as more of a flexible template than a strict set of guidelines. It’s also a good idea to consider how Sandler might be used alongside other methodologies like MEDDIC or SPICED–depending on who you’re talking to or where they’re at in the buyer’s journey.
(Note: you can download a free checklist Sandler Selling System for your team here for reference)
1. Build rapport
The first step in the Sandler system is to start building a relationship with your prospect. This phase is important because it helps build trust – but also because it helps you understand your prospect.
Before getting started, make sure you can answer the following questions:
- Who are you?
- What is your goal?
- What’s your plan for achieving that goal?
- What does your solution bring to the table?
- Who does your solution help?
- Who is the prospect?
- What are their goals?
- What’s their role within their organization?
- Who else is involved in the decision making process?
David Sandler envisioned this stage as an initial discovery mission. It’s not about using anecdotes and introductory statements (i.e.: “oh, my best friend from college grew up there, too.”) to establish a connection.
It’s really about asking questions that will help you understand your prospect better, as well as increase the chances of closing by addressing problems or concerns early on.
Now, small talk and personal anecdotes have their place—and can be used throughout the sales process. But, those types of interactions typically take place after the sales rep has qualified their prospect.
Questions to ask:
- What were you hoping I could help you with?
- What motivated you to take this call with me?
- When did you first decide to look into solutions for X problem?
- What are one or two things you don’t like about your current solution?
- What are your concerns about changing solution providers?
- What should we know about your business in order to put together the right solution/terms/plan?
- Has anything changed since the last time we last spoke?
- Is there anything I haven’t covered you’d like to know more about?
2. Upfront contracts
Step two is "upfront contracts,” or UFC, which in this context, means setting expectations. This step focuses on establishing ground rules and creating a positive, comfortable space for conducting business. Essentially, it’s about mutual trust.
Per the Sandler method, upfront contracts should always include the following five components:
- Objective. Share your goal with the prospect—what is the purpose of the meeting, what do you hope the prospect will gain from this interaction? Ask the prospect what they’re hoping to gain by speaking with you, too—this will help guide the bullet points of your meeting and stay focused on the issues that matter to the prospect.
- Rep agenda. Explain what you’ll be doing before, during, and after the meeting. Essentially, you’re laying out what you’ll be doing to prepare,
- Buyer agenda. Consider what the prospect will be doing before, during, and after the meeting.
- Time. Be sure you tell prospects how long the meeting should take before they accept the invitation. If you anticipate it taking 45 minutes, communicate that with the prospect and confirm that they agree 45 minutes is sufficient.
- Outcome. Define your goals for this interaction. What topics will you cover? What will you do with the information gathered during the meeting? What happens next?
3. Uncover pain points
Step three takes us into the “qualification” stage. Here, the goal is to uncover pain points by asking the right questions. It’s important to note that uncovering pain points is about more than identifying the “what.”
The Sandler Pain Funnel was designed to help reps navigate this process by providing a visual guide to asking probing questions–without being invasive or jumping ahead.
Instead, discovery follows a three-tiered process. First identifying the pain, then probing deeper to define what’s causing the problem, and later–measuring and quantifying its impact.
Questions to ask:
- Can you tell me more about X?
- Give me an example of Y…
- Can you be more specific?
- How do you feel about Z?
- How long have you been dealing with X problem?
- Have you given up on solving the problem?
- What solutions have you tried so far?
- How did those solutions work?
- What was missing from prior solutions?
- How much do you think this problem has cost you?
- Has anything you’ve tried so far worked?
- How does X problem impact your day-to-day work?
- What do you think will happen if X problem persists?
Keep in mind, “step three” will likely take place over a series of calls, emails, and social exchanges.
Weflow Notes can help you keep track of prospect responses. It allows you to record calls and create automatic transcriptions that sync back to Salesforce and makes it easy to save notes as tasks, templates, or records you can refer to later in the sales cycle.
4. Discuss budget
This next step is all about getting the big, hairy money issues on the table. You’re trying to get the prospect to nail down a definitive budget early in the sales process. This gives them the opportunity to move forward or part ways–with no hard feelings or harassment from reps.
When sellers know how much money a prospect is willing to spend, it’s easier to put together a personalized solution that delivers the most bang for that budget.
Questions to ask:
- At this stage, buyers often tell us there’s no budget for this solution. Am I right to assume that’s the case, here?
- Does your department have room to invest in a more comprehensive solution?
- What are you spending on your current solution?
- How much do you expect to spend in order to resolve X problem?
- Where will the money for this investment come from?
- Who controls the budget—and should they be involved in this conversation?
Once you’ve covered objectives, budget, and pain points, you’ll want to look through the information you’ve gathered during steps 1-4 to determine whether your offer actually makes sense for your prospect.
Honesty is important here. If you see that the product/service isn’t a fit, you need to let the deal go and move on. If it does, your goal is ensuring that the solution they’ve put together checks all the right boxes.
Questions to ask:
- What’s your timeline for making a purchase?
- What other solutions are you looking at?
- Who else needs to be involved in this decision?
- What does your boss think about this?
- How can I make sure that everyone who needs to be involved gets the information they need?
Weflow’s Pipeline feature can help you assess deals in the pipeline before moving into the final stretch.
For example, you can review notes and tasks from earlier steps and update your to-do list, based on your latest findings. You can also receive signals that tell you if a deal is at risk, so you can take action before it’s too late.
The solution step is all about closing the sale. Here, your priority is making sure all decision-makers are happy with the proposed solution before making it official.
Questions to ask:
- Has your team tried the demo yet?
- What else can I do to help you finalize your decision?
- When can we get started?
- What would it look like if our solution helped you overcome your challenges?
- If we make a deal, what would it mean for you personally?
- Looking at everything we’ve discussed, is there anything we haven’t covered?
- If so, what haven’t we addressed?
Weflow’s Task Manager allows you to create deal-related tasks during prospect interactions that automatically sync back to Salesforce–and other essential apps. Reps can build and revise to-do lists throughout the sales cycle–then refer back to their list right before they close.
The final step is the “post-sell,” which is all about ensuring buyer satisfaction and providing support after the deal is “done.”
Here, your goal is making sure the buyer is happy with their decision–and that they stay happy long-term. This stage includes everything from following up for an onboarding session to upgrades, cross-sells, and renewals.
Questions to ask:
- What made you reach out to us?
- How can we help you get started with [Product/service]?
- Now that you’re a customer, what can we do to make sure your experience is perfect?
- What questions do you have about the onboarding process?
The Sandler Sales System is a great foundational methodology (like MEDDIC, MEDDPICC or SPICED) that integrates easily with just about any B2B sales strategy. Its power lies in the fact that it’s all about relationships, trust, and selling to people who truly stand to benefit from the products/services you’re selling.
But—you’ll need to adapt the methodology around real customer expectations, the needs of your sales team, and the big-picture objectives that define your business strategy.
You can put together your own Sandler Selling System templates using Weflow’s powerful notepad feature. Sign up for an account, then head over to Notes and follow the step-by-step guide–it’s that easy.