Sandler Selling System – A Sales Methodology Review and Best Fit Analysis


  • The Sandler Selling System is best used in one on one, seller to buyer, sale opportunities with relatively short sales cycles.
  • It's approach is designed to shift from the stereotypical pushy and aggressive seller to a collaborative and consultative approach. While nearly all sales methodologies adopt this approach today, Sandler was the first to make it a hallmark in a commercial sales methodology.
  • Much of the method is a sales call-based approach, designed to guide sales meetings and ensure the seller and buyer share a mutual commitment and agreed upon process.
  • This method should not be used for technical, complex or enterprise sales or sale opportunities where the seller is selling to the C-suite or buying committee.
Johnny Grow Revenue Growth Consulting

David Sandler developed the Sandler Selling System and founded Sandler Training in 1967.  Some of the primary tenets of this selling framework include the following:

  • Sandler noted what he called a Buyer's Strategy where buyers have adopted a self-defense posture against the typical seller. To counteract this predisposition the rep strives to achieve a trusted advisor role rather than be perceived as an aggressive salesperson.
  • He positions the role of sellers as trusted advisors who are as invested as the customers in finding the right solution. He rejects the notion that sellers should convince buyers to purchase something and instead advocates that both parties should be equally invested.
  • The process is designed to uncover the needs of the buyer and then tailor the sales pitch pursuant to those requirements.
  • The Sandler Selling System's goals are twofold. First, use questioning techniques to convince the buyer they have a problem that can only be solved with your solution. Second, convince the buyer that their problem is a top priority and that your solution fixes that problem for both them and their company. Taken one step further, this process states the goal is to convince the buyer that they are the one pursuing the offer instead of the salesperson pushing the offer.

While many sales processes are depicted as a sales funnel, the Sandler Selling System is visualized by the Sandler Submarine.

Sandler Sub

David Sandler was inspired by World War II movies that showed when a submarine was hit the sailors navigated among sequential compartments to avoid flooding. They would enter a new compartment and close the door of the previous compartment behind them.

His methodology requires a similar procedure to avoid disaster on sales calls. The seller is instructed to move through each compartment, or step of the selling system, until they arrive at a completed sale.

There are three phases and seven components of the Sandler Selling System.

The three phases include relationship building, lead qualification and sales closure.

Sandler Selling System Process

The seven steps, or seven compartments of the submarine, include the following.

  1. Bonding and rapport. To start the sales cycle, the seller engages in a dialogue and demonstrates a sincere desire to help. Over time the dialogue will develop a relationship and mutual trust. The framework advocates a 70/30 ratio to illustrate how much time the seller should spend listening and talking. This allocation contributes to open and honest conversations (Sandler Rule #14).
  2. Up-Front Contract. Establish roles and set expectations for each step in the sales process. A sales cycle requires considerable investment by both parties. Here the seller identifies mutual commitments for both buyer and seller. Up-front contracts will include meeting commitments with specifics such as purpose, time and place, agenda, outcomes and agreement to take next steps.
  3. Pain. Here the seller surfaces the buyer's problems and their impact. This will identify how the seller's solution can help. Buyer's often reveal symptoms of problems so the seller will need to dig deeper to understand the root causes, and how these problems personally impact the buyer and their company. It's critical the seller flush out the buyer's real challenges so the seller can present a solution to meet their true goals. (Rule #38). When questioned by the buyer, this method recommends answering every question with a question (that's one of the Sandler rules). More time invested up front in this step will result in less time needed in later steps. This sales process puts much more emphasis in the qualification steps than the closing steps.
  4. Budget. In this step the seller confirms if the buyer is willing and able to make a purchase. The sales rep will determine if the buyer has budget, decision making authority and power to complete a purchase. For buyers without budget or formally approved funds, the seller needs to ask for realistic financial guidelines and how much money the previously identified pains are costing the company.
  5. Decision. Here the seller identifies the specifics of the decision-making process. This will include who will make the decision, how they will make it, when they will make it and why they will make it. At this point the seller may decide to disqualify the prospect, or to speak with other people in the company to qualify the prospect. The sales rep assesses whether this deal is truly right for the prospect. Objective analysis and honesty are paramount. If the seller determines that the product or service isn't right for the buyer, he lets the deal go. With this method, it's not about getting the buyer to say "Yes", it's about finding a buyer who’s right for your solution. If the rep decides to move forward, their goal becomes to convince the buyer that their problems can be resolved by the seller's product and create a conviction that solving these problems is a high priority for the buyer and the company. If done correctly, Sandler suggests that the buyer and seller roles will be upended, with the buyer moving to convince the seller to sell.
  6. Fulfillment. This step shepherds the buyer to sales closure. Rather than a hard close, the seller continues to ask questions or tell stories that help the buyer reveal the solution and what needs to be done. The key is not to tell them what you can do for them, but rather to let them figure it out for themselves. It's a process of self-discovery designed to circumvent a buyer's pre-programmed resistance to being told what to do. This step will include a presentation. However, the method recognizes sales presentations don't seal deals. The prospect should know that they will be buying from the seller well before the final pitch or proposal (Rule #15). This step should end with a completed purchase.
  7. Post-sell. In this step the seller demonstrates a commitment to a long-term relationship. This is an effort to prevent buyer's remorse, keep competitors at bay and begin an extended relationship.

The 7-step sales process is further substantiated with Sandler's 49 Rules.

The Sandler Rules are many and varied and include guidance such as, "All prospects lie, all the time. Never ask for the order. Get an I.O.U. for everything you do. Don't spill your candy in the lobby." The Rules are available in a guidebook with supporting tactics that promote the methodology.

The Sandler Playmaker for Salesforce can be used to integrate the sales methodology with a sales process in a CRM system. The app facilitates the techniques and offers training templates so sales reps can integrate and automate the practices.

Sandler Playmaker for Salesforce

When to Use the Sandler Selling System

This system is best used for one on one, transactional sale opportunities.

It's techniques focus on asking questions, talking less, educating more and knowing when to walk away. It's a broad and versatile approach that works for many smaller value, shorter duration sales types.

This sales process is designed to achieve repeat business. This method filters out clients who aren't the best fit for your company or your ideal target market. By walking away from poor fit deals and focusing on the best fit opportunities, sellers create long-term relationships and repeat business.

This method should not be used for technical, complex or enterprise sales or sale opportunities directed to a C-suite or buying committee.

A few points of caution.

I've worked with many sales leaders than consider this system to be an old school method.

These veteran sales pros suggest Sandler was ahead of his time, but his sales method is more evangelistic than research based, and the concepts it promotes are table stakes. For example, Sandler suggests its system is unique because it requires a candid analysis of the buyer's needs. I think pretty much every sale methodology promotes thorough qualification and discovery processes.

Similarly, starting with a rule that "All prospects lie, all the time", can be contentious or even a non-starter for many reps. As the Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) of a client shared, "it doesn't take a sales methodology or even an experienced leader to apply integrity-based sales principles and shift away from unethical or sleazy tactics. We figured that out decades ago."

When this system was created, there was no Internet, email or CRM software. In that era, buyers had no choice but to engage sellers to get product information. Today, buyers complete about two-thirds of their purchase decision online, and before agreeing to engage sellers.

The balance of power in commerce has shifted from seller to buyer and sales methodologies have evolved. Whether this system still applies is a question for any seller considering this sales methodology.

See the Sandler Selling System review with strengths, weaknesses and recommendations where this sales methodology best fits.

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