Sandler Selling System - Is It Still Relevant?

min read
April 2, 2024

Sandler selling, introduced in the 60’s, has become a legend in the sales world. Looking closely, is it all sunshine and success?

Here’s the kicker: some argue that Sandler Selling is outdated, too slow, or even manipulative.

“The challenge of buying into the soft approach of Sandler selling, where there is a mutual respect for the time of both the seller and the buyer, is a challenge that can take years to overcome.” says sales trainer Guru Ganesha Khalsa.

So, is Sandler's system really doomed?

Not really. Its core principles – qualification, relationship building, and addressing genuine needs – are still gold. All that Sandler Selling System needs is a digital reboot. 

How Does the Sandler Selling System Work?

The Sandler Selling System prioritizes a consultative, no-pressure approach, emphasizing asking the right questions and qualifying leads over pushing products.

There are seven steps in the Sandler Selling process. As Sales Specialist Kurt Michaelson puts it, “The 7-Steps of the Sandler system is best described by the Sandler Submarine, and as each compartment is effectively concluded, the door is closed to move on to the next compartment until finally reaching the Post-Sell stage.”

Let’s look at these steps in detail:

Step 1: Establish Bonding and Rapport

The Sandler Selling System prioritizes building genuine connections before diving into sales pitches. Salespeople initiate conversations by asking open-ended questions, demonstrating interest in the prospect as a person, not just a sale. This step encourages prospects to share challenges and goals, prompting deeper conversations. 

Pro tips: 

  • Before engaging with a prospect, thoroughly research their industry, company, and potential pain points. This preparation demonstrates your commitment and expertise.
  • Practice active listening to fully understand the prospect's needs and concerns. Pay attention to both verbal and nonverbal cues, and avoid interrupting or rushing the conversation.
  • Resist the urge to pitch your product or service immediately. Instead, focus on uncovering the prospect's underlying needs and pain points. This lays the groundwork for a more tailored and effective solution later in the sales process. 

Questions to ask:

  • What are some of the challenges you see in [industry]?
  • I've been following some trends in [industry]. Have you seen any impact on your business?
  • What are some of your biggest challenges in your role right now?
  • How would achieving [goal] impact your business?

Step 2: Setting Up-Front Contracts

The Sandler Selling System employs Up-Front Contracts (UFCs) to establish a collaborative "roadmap" for each meeting with prospects. This ensures clarity and alignment regarding the meeting's purpose, agenda, and desired outcomes.

UFCs set clear expectations upfront, allowing for a productive and efficient conversation. This approach avoids surprises, respects the prospect's time, and focuses on their needs.

Moreover, UFCs help save time by proactively addressing potential roadblocks. The increased transparency reduces suspicions about hidden agendas, further enhancing trust between the salesperson and prospect.

Questions to ask:

  • What are your biggest priorities for this meeting today?
  • Are there any particular challenges you're hoping to address in [industry/department]?
  • What would a successful outcome look like for you after this conversation?
  • Is there any specific information or next steps you're hoping to gain?
  • How much time can you allocate for this meeting today?

Step 3: Identify Pain

In this step, salespeople act as consultants and delve deeper to uncover a prospect's "pain points" - their challenges and frustrations.  By understanding these, they can position their product as a solution that addresses the root cause of the problem, not just surface-level symptoms.

The Sandler method categorizes these pain points as fear/loss or gain/desire, both of which can influence the present and future outcomes. This step is arguably the most critical but many salespeople can rush through it. 

Pro tip:

  • Aim for a 70:30 listening-to-talking ratio. Talking too much can lead to confirmation bias, where you guide the conversation toward the problems you assume they have instead of uncovering their actual challenges. 
  • Avoid asking questions that elicit simple "yes" or "no" answers. Utilize the "Sandler Pain Funnel" tool to ask insightful questions. For example, instead of asking, "Do you have any challenges with your current system?" you can ask the following questions.

Questions to ask:

  • Can you elaborate on the specific challenges you're facing in [area of your solution]?
  • What are your biggest frustrations with the current situation? (Pain/Fear)
  • What are you worried about if these challenges aren't addressed? (Fear)
  • What positive outcomes would you expect from a solution? (Gain/Pleasure)
  • How would achieving these results benefit your business? (Gain)

Step 4: Establish Budget

The Sandler Selling System emphasizes upfront discussions about budget (pre-qualification) to ensure a good fit. This transparency benefits both parties:

  • From the salesperson's perspective, establishing a budget helps in tailoring solutions that fit within the prospect's financial parameters, enabling efficient decision-making.
  • From the prospect's perspective, knowing their budget allows them to allocate their financial resources effectively and prioritize solutions that align with their budgetary goals and constraints.

Don't shy away from budget discussions—even if a prospect's budget doesn't initially align with your offering. By understanding their budget limitations, you can work collaboratively to find creative solutions or identify areas where trade-offs can be made to accommodate their budget.

Questions to ask:

  • What budget have you allocated for this particular project or initiative?
  • What constraints or limitations do you have regarding budget?
  • Can you elaborate on the ROI you're expecting from this investment?
  • How flexible is your budget, and are there any areas where you can reallocate funds if needed?
  • What factors influence your decision-making process when it comes to budget approval?

Step 5: Identify Decision-Making Process

The final stage of qualification focuses on mapping the prospect's decision-making process. This includes identifying key decision-makers and champions within the organization. By actively guiding conversations and exploring their ideal buying journey, you can tailor your approach for a smoother sales cycle.

Identifying all stakeholders involved, including both decision-makers and champions, is crucial. Missing these individuals can significantly reduce your closing rate – studies suggest by up to 80%.

Beyond internal stakeholders, consider external factors that might impact the timing of the decision. Changes in market conditions, new regulations, or competitive pressures can create a sense of urgency and accelerate the prospect's decision-making process. 

Questions to ask: 

  • Are there specific individuals or departments that would benefit most from the success of this project?
  • Who are the key stakeholders in the decision-making process for a project like this?
  • Are there any external factors or deadlines that could impact the timing of this decision? 

Step 6: Fulfill Agreement

This step in the Sandler Selling System is not just about presenting a generic solution.  Instead, it's about demonstrating how your product or service directly addresses the prospect's identified pain points. 

Here, you leverage the trust and understanding built throughout the process.  By reviewing the prospect's needs (pain points, budget, and decision-making process), you can tailor a product demonstration showcasing specific features that address their unique situation.

This targeted product demo is the key to a natural progression towards purchase.  It highlights how your value proposition solves their problems while seamlessly integrating with their budget and established decision-making process.

Pro tips: 

  • Throughout the Sandler Selling System, gather information that helps you personalize the product demo. A good way to do that is to share an interactive demo with the prospect before this step. You can analyze how they interact with the demo to identify what features are most important to them and personalize your future conversations accordingly. 
  • This closing stage should feel like a confirmation, not a high-pressure sales pitch.  If you've effectively navigated the previous steps, the prospect should be primed and ready to move forward.

Step 7: Confirm the Post-sell Process

A "yes" is great, but the Sandler Selling System goes beyond just closing deals. It focuses on building long-term customer relationships to prevent churn and create loyal advocates.

Here's how it works:

  • Smooth onboarding: For a successful start, ensure a seamless handover to your onboarding team. Avoid any unexpected issues or confusion after the sale, and provide a clear pathway to the prospects to utilize your new solution fully.
  • Proactive support: Preemptively address any concerns that may lead to buyer's remorse. Ask questions like "Do you have any lingering concerns?" to ensure that the prospect feels confident in their decision.
  • Building trust: The Sandler Selling System prioritizes trust throughout the entire process. Continue this by following up with the prospect regularly and keeping them informed about the deal's progress.

This focus on customer experience creates happy, satisfied customers who are less likely to churn. Think of it as an investment in long-term value, not just a quick sale.

Questions to ask:

  • Would you like a quick overview of what to expect during onboarding?
  • Is there anything specific you'd like to discuss with the onboarding team?
  • Is there any additional information you need from us to ensure a smooth onboarding process?
  • Would you be interested in receiving periodic updates on new features and resources?

Sandler Selling Techniques vs Traditional Selling Method

The Sandler Selling Method flips the script on traditional sales tactics by focusing on building trust and understanding customer needs. This method empowers salespeople to close deals with customers who see genuine value in the product or service. 

Aspect Sandler Selling Traditional Selling
Approach Consultative, no-pressure Persuasive, often high-pressure
Qualification In-depth, focuses on uncovering real needs Superficial, may miss unqualified leads
Closing Collaborative, guides prospect toward decision Pushy and may lead to buyer's remorse
Long-term Impact Builds trust and loyalty Can damage relationships
Buyer Centric Focuses on solving buyer's problems Focuses on selling the product

Benefits of using the Sandler Selling Method

Being a cult favorite, this method has many advantages; here are some key ones:

1. Higher Deal Value

The Sandler Selling System helps salespeople understand customers' needs and suggest value-added services or features that justify a higher price

2. Increased Conversion Rates

The qualification process helps sales professionals focus on the most promising leads, leading to a higher conversion rate. A study shows that 50% more reps hit their quotas with Sandler than without it.

3. Reduced Buyer's Remorse

Tailoring the solution to the buyer's challenges and goals in the Sandler Selling System leads to a mutually beneficial outcome with minimal post-purchase regret.

Cons of the Sandler Selling Strategy

Despite having numerous advantages, here are some potential drawbacks of the Sandler selling method:

1. Steep Learning Curve

Mastering the Sandler techniques takes time and effort, which can be challenging for sales professionals used to more traditional methods.

2. Overemphasis on Disqualifying Leads

While it aims to save time, the approach may lead to prematurely dismissing potential clients, resulting in missed opportunities.

3. Frustrated buyers 

67% of the buying journey is now done digitally. The Sandler method's emphasis on qualification and probing questions can come across as intrusive and redundant to modern buyers. 

4. Prolonged sales cycles 

The consultative nature of Sandler Selling involves multiple touchpoints and discussions, which can naturally extend the sales cycle. 

Modernize Your Sandler Selling Strategy with Storylane’s Interactive Demo Platform

Sandler’s initial stages can feel like an endless loop of questions and generic answers. Our platform helps you cut through the noise and close deals faster. 

Prospects who watch an interactive demo before they get on a call are much more aware and ask more educated questions, which leads to better conversations. You can save a lot of your precious demo time with the prospect by going deep into advanced topics vs. basic topics (like features, what the UI looks like, etc.). 

The interactive demo also automatically disqualifies prospects who feel the platform is not a fit for them. This saves you from the back-and-forth and helps you focus on the prospects with the highest chance of converting. 

"Previously, there was scope for error and we’ve gone from a process that could be time consuming and painful to a process that’s super quick."
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"Previously, there was scope for error and we’ve gone from a process that could be time consuming and painful to a process that’s super quick."

"Previously, there was scope for error and we’ve gone from a process that could be time consuming and painful to a process that’s super quick."


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