Playing the Dummy Is Really Smart in Sales

In the past few blogs we’ve been talking about the highly effective Dummy Curve technique, where playing the dummy pays off big time when it comes to sales. By playing the dummy and disarming your prospect’s concern, you can get them to reveal pain and establish trust with you. In this blog, we will finish up this series on the Dummy Curve with some math.

A very effective technique is to strategically dummy-up when it’s time for you and the prospect to “do the math.” Amateur salespeople frequently make a mistake in the second phase of the Dummy Curve, mostly because they want to show off. Believing they’re on their game, the salesperson decides to quickly calculate a discount or some other metric to impress the prospect. However, they’re letting the Little Professor part of their Child personality come out so they can feel good, but instead, they’re making the prospect feel not-OK.

If there’s math to be done in your sales discussion, I encourage you to let the prospect do the math. Struggle a little bit, but not too much. You don’t want to appear stupid or weird, but, be sure to ask the prospect for help. Again, use Lt. Columbo as your role model. Remember how he asked for the pen and paper? Columbo always struggled on purpose to disarm his suspects and gain their trust. This “dummy” detective, always got his killer.

So, be Columbo, and struggle on purpose, letting the prospect feel good that they can help you, especially with the math. Never forget that people feel empowered when they help others. People let their guard drop, and they feel even more OK. Prospects will feel more comfortable and continue the conversation with you as you use the third phase of the Dummy Curve to progress through the Sandler sales submarine.


Playing dummy with the math portion of your discussion is the icing on the cake for the Dummy Curve technique. Keep asking questions too, and you will uncover more and more information, eventually leading to the prospect’s pain. Dummying up can even be thought of as the fuel that drives the Sandler Submarine. By burning that fuel efficiently, you get better at identifying exactly what the pain is, or you may find out that your prospect doesn’t have any pain and you can disqualify them. That’s a win, too. I encourage you to try the dummying-up techniques I’ve shared with you before confidently disqualifying any prospect. Prospects who don’t seem to be qualified are a great practice ground for your mastering of the Dummy Curve. Who knows? Some of them might even become customers. Wouldn’t that be awful?

In our next blog, we will begin a series on another wonderfully effective technique called Negative Reverse Selling.

Strongman Solution Selling Model

Solution selling is complex and very exciting. Whether you’re selling Business Process Automation (BPA) or another form of solution, it is likely that you have a tough job that involves a great deal of complexity.

This stuff’s chess; it ain’t checkers.

There may be dozens of decision makers, and while all of them may not be required to say “Yes,” chances are that ANY of them could say “No.” You could be faced with all sorts of competing projects across the enterprise, and political and financial landscapes can change quickly.

STRONGMAN offers a compelling model and simple acronym to help you succeed in your solution selling.

I’ll spell it out and then very briefly speak to each key area.


S is for Solution

T is for Timeline

R is for Review

O is for Options

N is for Need

G is for Galvanization

M is for Money

A is for Authority

N is for Negotiation

These are critical areas to address in your sales cycle.

S, Solution.

Whether or not the prospect fully agrees at the onset of the engagement, you need to be sober in your assessment of whether or not you have a bona fide, legitimate solution for them. Otherwise, why bother?

T, Timeline.

If the customer has a legitimate project that you are selling to, what is the exact timeline? The implementation timeline? Is there a compelling event or deadline driving this project?

R, Review.

Forget about entertaining and servicing a prospect that is not actually in review of the project. If they are simply in research mode (vs. review mode), I would suggest that you balance this project with more advanced-stage opportunities in your pipeline to increase your sales success.

O, Options.

What options exist for your customer? Chances are there are at least five options:

1. Your solution

2. Your competitor(s’) solution,

3. Build it themselves or develop it in-house

4. Do Nothing

5. Improve or upgrade their existing process (perhaps by adding resources or conducting training). You need to be able to sell against their available options, especially the option that most companies choose — which is “improve or upgrade existing processes.”

N, Need.

Is there a need, do you understand the need and does the customer agree with you on what their need is?

G. Galvanization.

This is my favorite one. Remember, you are not in sales to entertain and serve — not completely anyway. If you are working with customers who are not returning your calls promptly, not bringing other key contacts into meetings, not exposing you to post-purchase processes or display other key indicators that they are not as active and committed to the sales process as you are, you should either gain their commitment or move on.

M, Money.

If there is a project in motion, is the funding of the project pre-approved? Does that funding meet your solution’s cost and all of the related costs — such as the staff the prospect will need to devote to deploying your solution? Are you sure of the fiscal cycles? Is the funding coming from resources such as:

1. Project Budget,

2. Cap Ex (Capital Expense requiring a high level sign off),

3. Op Ex (Operating Expense)

4. Departmental Budget

And keep in mind, most companies have the ability to overspend on budgets, or borrow from other budgets, at about the same rate my wife does — which means they can do it — so don’t ever let a negotiator whittle you down solely because of a specific budget.

A, Authority.

A Champion is one thing, an Authority is another. Is the senior executive even aware of the project? Who is the specific authority relative to: signing contracts, producing purchase orders, reviewing legal documents, developing and implementing training programs, technical review and implementations, user acceptance, etc? If you are selling solutions, you had better be exposed to a variety of individuals with legitimate authority over each one.

N, Negotiation.

Many times the real selling doesn’t start until it is time to negotiate. But you want to hear the saddest piece on solution selling: The negotiation process is typically when the sales rep gives up the most concessions and it is also the point at which, in most cases, the customer has already made the decision to go forward. They’re exposing the sales rep to resources that are post-purchase resources (such as legal, technical deployment folks, training folks, purchasing people) and somehow the sales rep feels obliged to start whacking away on their own proposal. It’s insanity.

That’s STRONGMAN. I’ve used it for almost ten years in my own business and as a tool for enhanced empowered sales training. I hope you find it an effective model for your solution selling success.

Breaking Down the Strip-Lining Sales Technique

In our most recent blogs, we’ve been reviewing Negative Reverse Selling and how it is very effective in creating great bonding and rapport with sales prospects. Negative Reverse Selling is a way of saying and doing the opposite of what the prospect expects from a salesperson, disarming them and creating trust with them. One of its more compelling techniques is called strip-lining, a method of using reverse questions to get the prospect talking, and you keep “throwing more line and let them swim”. However, you need to do this step right or it could backfire on you. When you do it correctly, prospects feel like they are in control of the conversation, and you have a better chance of making a sale. Practice this step frequently in low risk situations before using it on your biggest and best prospects.

What should you practice? Getting the fit right means executing as follows:

• Neutral prospects get very hard strip-lines, such as, “It sounds like you’re very happy and I should leave. Before I go, what do you like about who you’re doing business with now?”

• Negative prospects get hard strip-lines, but not as hard as neutral prospects. For example, “Based on what you just said about your current vendor, it makes sense to me why you’re not interested in switching your business to another company. We get great feedback like that from our customers, too, but your vendor sounds really good at what they do. I don’t know if you can do any better than that. There doesn’t seem to be much opportunity for us to work together here, is there?”

• Positive prospects get strip-lines that are just a light tug: “Thanks for reaching out to us. I have to say, your friend Bronwyn gets almost all the credit for having a great experience with us. She was very good about explaining the application problem, and that really helped her have a happy outcome with us. Since I don’t know your application, I’m not sure if I can help you at this point. Could you be nice enough to tell me about it?”

In all three examples, you’ll find three components. Look at each of them, and you’ll see how strip-line responses are structured.

1. The first component is a build-up (a compliment or validation of the prospect’s point of view). In the above, an example of that was, “It sounds like you’re very happy.”

2. The second component is a takeaway (a conclusion that goes in the opposite direction to what the prospect expects). In the above, an example was, “… and I should leave.”

3. The third component is a question (a continuation of the discussion). In the above, an example was, “Before I go, what do you like about who you’re doing business with now?”

Looking at the example above for positive prospects, notice the buildup portion of the response validates how well things went “with Bronwyn” and gives most of the credit to her: “Thanks for reaching out to us. I have to say, your friend Bronwyn gets almost all the credit for having a great experience with us. She was very good about explaining the application problem, and that really helped her have a happy outcome with us.”

The takeaway portion includes words to the effect that you’re not yet convinced you can help the prospect. “Since I don’t know your application, I’m not sure if I can help you as well at this point.”

The third part, the question, is pretty obvious; you ask a question to start to understand the application, the problem, and ultimately the prospect’s pain: “Could you be nice enough to tell me about it?”

When you strip-line a prospect using all three components of the technique, you are likeliest to uncover the most meaningful information. You now know what a good fit looks like. What does a bad fit look like? Let’s say a prospect calls your office and says, “I’ve heard really good things about your company. A friend of mine, Bronwyn, told me all about you, and I’m very interested in doing business with you.” Obviously, that’s a positive prospect. It wouldn’t be appropriate for you to do a hard strip-line since the prospect is almost ready to buy. Saying to the prospect, “You must have used some other vendors in our space. Why wouldn’t you want to use them now?” will not only confuse the prospect, but would probably ruin the sale. So that’s a bad fit. Instead, you’d want to use the approach I shared with you above, the one that begins “Thanks for reaching out.”

Sometimes the prospect says something that more or less does the buildup for you. In that case, you don’t need to do it, but you still need to do the takeaway and pose the question. For example if the prospect says, “I heard really good things about your company,” you could strip-line by saying, “That’s nice to hear, but we’re not for everyone. Would you like to tell me why you thought it might have been a good idea to call, and hopefully we find out that we’re a good fit”?

In summary: Strip-line very hard with neutral pros-pects, even sounding like you are getting ready to leave the sales call or implying that you think the sales call is over; strip- line hard with negative prospects; strip-line lightly with positive prospects.

Strip-lining is a great way to uncover pain because it’s extremely disarming and helps build trust. When you do it right, it doesn’t sound like you’re selling. Prospects feel like you truly embrace and care about their goals and pain. (As, of course, you do!) If you don’t uncover pain with strip-lining, then perhaps that particular prospect doesn’t have enough pain to do business with you. Strip-lining combined with other pain-finding Sandler approaches will put you in a different league from all those other salespeople who traditionally start with the hard sell, list off features and benefits, and offer prospects free quotes.