The Challenges of Moving to Sandler Selling
As one of the most respected Sandler sales trainers in the world, GuruGanesha Khalsa obviously believes in the power of the Sandler method. But while buying into the Sandler approach is all well and good, it’s not always a smooth transition for seasoned sales folks.
The first two parts of this series from my conversation with the CEO of the Sandler Training Institute of Virginia covered a 100,000 foot view of a Sandler rep and how customer pain feeds the qualification process. But before we said goodbye, I was sure to ask him about some of the challenges that salespeople face most often when moving to the Sandler methodology.
Unsurprisingly, Ganesh identified past experience as the biggest hurdle for most.
“The big challenge is [that experienced salespeople] sometimes have 5, 10, 20 − sometimes even 30 years of experience in doing it the old traditional way,” he explains. “So when somebody has spent their entire sales career in the mindset that, ‘I’ve got to get out there and convince people to buy,’ it’s very difficult.”
The Sandler sales method, in contrast, is a significant role-reversal (i.e. the idea becomes about making the buyer convince the seller to sell). Ganesh compares this fundamental shift of an experienced sales person’s psyche to re-engineering someone’s golf swing.
“It doesn’t happen overnight − but when you do it, you shave a whole lot of strokes off your round,” he adds.
Even the best Sandler sellers take time to get there
As a young salesperson in the early 1980s, Ganesh was number 13 on a team of 16 reps at an up-and-coming software company. After attending a Sandler selling seminar, he became the company’s leading rep for three consecutive years (even as the sales team more than doubled in size).
But it didn’t happen right away.
“I wouldn’t say I was an instant success a few weeks after taking the training,” he admits, noting that it took a couple years of implementing the Sandler system before he really found his groove. It shouldn’t be surprising that the biggest change involved the way he approached his initial sales calls.
“I went from where my first sales call was always a demo. That’s how we approached it,” Ganesh explains. “That was kind of the traditional way for technology sales people to sell. To get out there with this mindset of, ‘Our stuff is revolutionary! We have to educate people. They won’t understand it unless we show it.’ So you go out there and you give a demo, but then of course you find yourself handling all the ‘Yeah-buts.’”
He soon transitioned to scrapping the demo altogether when first meeting with potential clients, instead looking to develop an “up-front contract” to ensure that the first meeting worked more as a discovery process than a product demonstration.
“I say the four most powerful words in consultative selling is, ‘I don’t know yet.’ The mindset is to come in and basically say we might be able to help you, we’ve helped a lot of companies like yours, but everybody’s different,” says Ganesh, adding that Sandler reps believe this approach (rather than jumping straight into a demo) is truly in the best interest of both parties (seller and buyer).
A false perception of Sandler selling
Detractors of the Sandler method have described it as manipulative selling – a notion Ganesh dismisses as myth. But he also admits that such claims create another roadblock when it comes to making the transition, as salespeople are less likely to commit to an approach if they have negative perceptions going in.
“Sandler is not about manipulation, though if put in the wrong hands it could feel like that,” he explains. “Really, it’s all about getting to the truth.”
That truth, says Ganesh, can really only be discovered by taking the time to understand the buyer’s needs on a personal level – something he says more traditional salespeople fail to do. The challenge of buying in to 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.
Of course, Sandler itself comes in its own variety of flavors, and varying approaches could also bring their own share of unique speed-bumps along the way, something Ganesh himself realizes.
“It’s true that not every Sandler trainer approaches it the way I explained it,” he admits before adding, “but the better ones do!”
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