The Sandler Sales Method for Relationship Selling

The Sandler Sales Method for Relationship Selling

The Sandler Sales Method is a specific type of relationship selling and was developed in 1967.

The Sandler Sales Method (and relationship selling in general) prioritizes building authentic relationships between buyer and sales rep, increasing the likelihood of selling the right products to the right customers. 

This sales methodology is far less about the transaction and much more about how much authentic value the seller and product can provide to the buyer. This information is uncovered as a by-product of the trusting relationship between sales reps and potential customers.

In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know about the Sandler Selling Method, including why it’s so effective and how to apply the method to your own sales process.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

What Is the Sandler Selling Method?

The Sandler Selling Method emphasizes the importance of establishing trusting, value-based relationships with prospects and customers.

With this sales technique, the salesperson takes on the role of a trusted consultant or advisor. This position helps sales reps ensure that the prospect feels heard, understood, and valued, while also allowing them to maintain control of the sales process.

Sandler Sales Method: Trusted Advisor

The Sandler Sales Method works well for products with a higher price point, a longer sales cycle, and/or a more complex decision-making process.  

Relationship Selling Vs. Traditional Sales

To most 21st-century salespeople, building trusting relationships with potential customers is second nature. The rise in digital advertising — which has a tendency to seem fast-moving and impersonal — has made it more important than ever that sales reps make the effort to create personal connections with their prospects.

Still, relationship selling wasn’t always the norm. In fact, there are some stark foundational differences between relationship selling and traditional sales that have only become more common in the last couple of decades.

Traditional Sales

Traditional sales is typically very transactional. A deal is closed after a relatively simple exchange of time, money, and product. Traditional sales are typically much quicker and less personalized than relationship-based ones.

The priority is selling as many products to as many prospects as possible — regardless of how well-matched the product and customer truly are. The focus is on pushing products, not the person buying them or their needs and goals.

A traditional sales approach works well for low-cost, low-stakes purchases that don’t require a lot of time or consideration. In these cases, the effort it takes to create a meaningful relationship is not worth the payoff from the sale.

Relationship Selling

Relationship selling, on the other hand, is all about the prospect/customer. The entire premise behind this method is to build deep, trusting, mutually beneficial relationships with prospects and customers in your sales pipeline.

Sales Pipeline

Relationship selling relies on sales reps’ ability to provide personalized and valuable insight to prospects that are well-matched to the product and whose revenue-generating performance would benefit from a long-term relationship with your company.

This method of sales requires significant effort, research, and planning, and is best suited for longer sales cycles that allow for this kind of in-depth process.

The chart below outlines a few other significant differences in relationship selling vs. traditional selling.

Traditional Selling vs. Relationship Selling

In today’s sales world, where everything possible is automated and instantaneous, the personal connection inherent to relationship selling is more important than ever. In fact, 70% of customers expect companies to personalize the sales process to their needs.

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The Steps of the Sandler Sales Method

Although relationship selling is, in general terms, all about building relationships, the Sandler Sales Method has specific, prescribed steps that are the foundation of this sales technique.

Sandler described his sales method using the analogy of a submarine that was being flooded by water. 

In this scenario, the submarine’s sailors are tasked with closing each compartment of the submarine behind them, effectively sealing off each one while preventing the floodwater from progressing through the rest of the boat.

Similarly in the Sandler Sales Method, each stage of the sales process is designed to be treated as its own compartment. The intent is for salespeople to complete each stage and “close the door behind them” before moving to the next one.

Sandler Sales Method Steps

The Sandler Sales process is intended to be predictable and structured each and every time. Sticking to the process — outlined below — ensures that sellers secure each stage of the sale as it progresses through the sales funnel.

Develop a Bond

The very first step in the Sandler Sales Method — or any relationship selling process, for that matter — is to develop an authentic connection with the prospect.

Usually, the fastest way to do this is by providing value. Sales reps can bring value to the conversation by sharing relevant content, making a valuable introduction to another person in the field, or providing free insight into how the prospect can break through a challenge they’re facing. 

The idea is to show the prospect that, for the sales rep, it’s not just about the sale. The sales rep needs to demonstrate that they also care about the customer’s success.

Of course, it’s important to be honest — don’t promise something that will never come to fruition just because you think it will win you favor. Be generous, but be realistic and upfront too.

Provide Up-Front Communication

Once mutual respect is established, it’s up to the seller to outline the roles and responsibilities of each party for the remainder of the sales process.

The sales rep explains to the prospect exactly how the rest of the sales process will proceed. The goal is to create a comfortable and predictable environment in which it’s easy to do business.

Not only does this put the prospect at ease, but it also allows the sales professional to maintain control of the process without seeming manipulative or pushy.

Find Their Pain Point

After the sales process roles are outlined, it’s time to qualify the lead.

In this stage, salespeople should work to answer the key question: Can our product provide benefit to this prospect?

Spend time getting to the root of the prospect’s pain points, goals, and dreams. Learn about the long-term implications of buying or not buying from you.

In short, the salesperson needs to vet whether the prospect and product are a good match. Remember to prioritize the relationship over the sale. Don’t force the sale if it’s not a good fit.

Identify Their Budget

Assuming the prospect will be well-served by your product, the next task is to determine whether or not they have the means and willingness to invest in it.

Money is one of the most common sales objections, so salespeople need to be prepared to work through this objection and respond confidently.

One effective tactic is to frame the purchase in terms of what stands to be lost if they don’t follow through with the purchase; another is to frame the purchase in terms of how much the prospect will save by buying from you.

Make a Decision

If the prospect will benefit from buying your product, and they have the means and desire to purchase it, it’s time to talk brass tacks.

In the decision-making stage, the seller needs to hear the buyer’s wishes about the who, what, where, when, why, and how the buying process will take place. Confirm the purchase and solicit expectations and wishes for delivery and onboarding.

Of course, the process needs to work for the salesperson, as well. But the buyer should feel like an integral part of this stage, and like they are in control of the specifics of the deal. A win for the prospect here is a win for you, so their satisfaction is critical.

Fulfill That Decision

When the details are settled, it’s okay to talk about the transactional logistics of the contract.

Discuss how payment will be charged and received, and the specifics about how your team will deliver your commitments and fulfill their needs.

Support and Follow Up

One of the biggest mistakes a seller using a relationship sales method can make is to abandon the prospect once they become a customer.

Not only does that cast doubt on the authenticity of the relationship, but it also risks churning or losing the sale to competition at one of the most vulnerable times of the sales process.

Be intentional about staying in touch even after the contract is signed; look for reasons to contact your customers every few months. Send them relevant articles, congratulate them on accomplishments, or provide updates to their account.

For high-impact customers, you might even consider a more significant investment like event tickets or a fancy dinner once a year.

The Sandler Sales Method works, but it requires your team to be on the same page. Make sure your team has a common understanding that’s based on objective, measurable criteria about how each stage of the process is defined, including the trigger points that indicate when each “compartment” has been sealed.

Benefits of Relationship Selling

The Sandler Sales Method — and, in general, relationship selling — is very effective. Both sellers and customers report being extremely satisfied with the process — check out the stats below.

Sandler Sales Method: Benefits of Relationship Selling

One of the reasons this method is so successful is because it addresses both ends of the pipeline. Not only does relationship selling improve your ability to attract and connect with potential new business, but it also ensures high satisfaction rates and new revenue-generating abilities with your existing base.

Sales professionals who rely on relationship selling enjoy four major benefits: better prospecting, easier ability to handle objections, less time wasted on poor-fit opportunities and increased revenue.

Improved Prospecting

Relationship selling allows sellers to easily attract, identify, and bond with new prospects.

It also simplifies the lead qualification process so that the rest of the sales process flows smoothly and efficiently.

The Sandler Sales Method is designed to keep the prospecting and discovery process moving forward productively at all times so that only good-fit leads make it to subsequent stages.

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Easier to Handle Objections

The relationship selling approach eliminates a lot of objections before they even become an issue. Because the relationship is built on trust from the beginning, the prospect is a lot less likely to have their guard up or be looking for reasons to say no.

The predictable structure of the process also alleviates some of the potential for last-minute cold feet or inadvertent manipulation on the buyer’s side through asking for discounts or freebies. 

Save Time

The Sandler Sales Method helps salespeople save time by putting them in a room only with prospects who are likely to say yes.

Relationship selling makes it clear early in the sales process who’s worth pursuing for the long haul, and who would be better served by another product. 

Improve the Bottom Line

Ultimately, all of these benefits improve the overall conversion rate of your pipeline and ultimately contribute to the biggest benefit of all: increased and more reliable revenue.

Does your team use the Sandler Sales Method or relationship selling strategies? How have you found them to be effective?

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Casey O'Connor

Casey O'Connor

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