Qualifying Prospects Is the Better Way to Sales

In our last blog, “We All Live in the Sandler Submarine”, I talked about the seven steps of the Sandler system and how working through these steps will improve your sales process. Step 3 – Pain; Step 4 – Budget; and Step 5 – Decision; are the qualifying steps in the Sandler system. If your prospect reveals 3 to 5 issues to you that are clearly various levels of pain, they have money budgeted to fix the problems, and they have the authority to make the decision to buy your product or services, then congratulations! You have a qualified prospect.

The Sandler way of qualifying prospects before you ever present to them, is substantially different from the traditional way of selling. In the old traditional selling methods, sales people present benefits and savings to prospects who may not even need their products or services at that time. And worse, you often give away free consulting and walk away empty handed. That’s why qualifying the prospect before any presentation is made, makes so much sense to both parties. Nobody’s time is wasted.


In the traditional selling method, the prospect is typically in control of the sales meeting, leaving the sales person in a weak position. Here’s why:

1. Traditional Selling Step one typically means the prospect plays his or her cards close to the vest and reveals very little to the sales-person. In fact, the prospects are so guarded they may outright lie to the sales-person, rather than share the truth about their problems. Some sales scenarios may even include manufactured reasons for the meeting because the prospect is just seeking information about your products and services, especially pricing, so they can use it as leverage in negotiations with other vendors, or to get you to offer major concessions in your pricing. Either way, it’s not a winning situation for the sales-person.

2. The prospect wants to know what the sales-person knows, and they eagerly launch into a presentation and talk, in detail, about all the benefits and advantages of their company. He or she offers a quote, a proposal, references, and a lot of free advice. But, Step two typically ends with the prospect offering what sounds like a big compliment. For instance: “You really know your stuff, and I’ll get back to you in a week.”

3. All too often, though, more than a week goes by and the prospect does not get back to the sales-person at all. The salesperson has entered step three in the prospect’s buying system. Step three is very similar to step one because the prospect has misled the sales-person again. Even though they didn’t live up to the promise of returning a call, the sales-person will still make an inquiry to the prospect in hopes of progress.

4. The sales-person may connect with the prospect, but the prospect is likely to put them off. They will usually make up excuses as to why they haven’t gotten back to you or made a decision. They want to keep the sales-person on the hook, or they are too embarrassed to let you know they chose a different vendor. The sales-person is left dangling in limbo and continues to pursue a prospect that won’t be buying.

5. Finally, that’s how the process ends: in voicemail jail. The prospect doesn’t pick up the phone and “goes dark” on the salesperson. You may never hear from them again.

Notice that the prospect’s system for buying things is the same as the traditional salesperson’s approach for selling things. It works for the prospect, so they won’t change it. The Sandler System, on the other hand, is designed to level the playing field so the salesperson and the prospect can establish an Adult-to-Adult relationship, where both parties have something to gain. Working at the same level, they can decide as adults whether to proceed with the sales process, rather than remain in limbo. The key to knowing whether this relationship will work is uncovering the prospect’s degree of pain. Stay tuned to our next blog for more on identifying a prospect’s pain.

Guiding Prospects Successfully Through the Pain Funnel

We’ve been talking about pain a lot in our recent blogs, which leads us naturally to, talking about Sandler’s Pain Funnel. But, I’d like to tell you a quick story first:

It’s 5:30 in the afternoon on a beautiful summer day. Mom hears little five-year-old Jimmy charging up the back porch. He tears open the screen door and roars into the house. He jumps into the kitchen where Mom is busily cooking dinner. Before she can even ask Jimmy if he had fun playing outside, he says, “Hey Mommy, can I have an ice cream cone?”

His mom replies, “You may have ice cream after dinner.” The next afternoon, Mom hears Jimmy running up the steps. He bursts into the kitchen again and asks the same question: “Can I have an ice cream cone?” His mom says, “Jimmy, after dinner, you can have one.”

On the third day, Jimmy comes running in just the same. He looks at his mom and says, “Mommy, can I… ” As soon as these words get out of his mouth, he sees that look on her face. He already knows what her answer will be. So he says, “What time’s dinner?” “In about 25 minutes,” she says. Jimmy says, “OK,” and heads back outside.

So you ask, “what’s the point of the story?” People are taught at a very young age not to lay down all their cards, or not spill the beans. Why? Because you typically don’t win if you reveal your hand too early in the game. In our story, Jimmy was driving his mom nuts with the same question every day at dinner time, until he realized she was at the boiling point and was going to get angry. Jimmy didn’t want to face the pain of making his mom angry, so he changed his question to one that made mom happy. He avoided pain, much like most prospects want to do when you visit.

Most people are raised to avoid revealing their true agenda in potentially difficult situations. Knowing this, we address this issue in the Sandler Sales process, using the patented, Sandler Pain Funnel, a powerful tool used to uncover a prospects true agenda, or “pain”.


The Pain Funnel is a strategically organized set of questions designed to uncover a prospect’s pain. On the other hand, it might also help you discover the prospect doesn’t have any pain. Either way, this is good for you. Why? It allows you to qualify or disqualify the prospect as a true prospect. If they have pain, then you can lead them to resolving or eliminating their pain. If not, you can shake hands and part as friends.

Before we go further in to using the Pain Funnel, keep in mind, the funnel works great by itself, but it works best when you combined with other techniques we use in the Sandler Sales Process, especially with the Sandler Pain-O-Meter and reversing tools. So stay tuned for future blogs on these topics.

Again, the Pain Funnel is a series of questions an expert salesperson utilizes during the Pain Step, either in a face-to-face sales call or on the phone. It includes eight pain questions designed to sequentially bring the prospect closer to sharing their true agenda or pain.

Here’s the 8 questions in order:

1. “Tell me more about that… “

2. “Can you be more specific? Give me an example.”

3. “How long has that been a problem?”

4. “What have you tried to do about that?”

5. “And did that work?”

6. “How much do you think that has cost you?”

7. “How do you feel about that?”

8. “Have you given up trying to deal with the problem?”

You saw earlier in the story about Jimmy, how people prefer not to reveal their hand up front. Many people fear the consequences of unbridled honesty and showing their true colors. So, the Pain Funnel assumes the prospect’s agenda will remain hidden, and helps you bring the truth to the surface. But, you need to be subtle and methodical in your approach when using the Pain Funnel. If you try too hard too quickly, you will most likely hit some resistance. The prospect may feel threatened or vulnerable, and quickly shy away from telling you the truth. So stick to the tried and true questions in the funnel along with the other techniques you learn in the Sandler System and you will surely put your prospect at ease and lead them through the discussion of their true issues and pain.