Sandler Selling: The 3 Levels of Pain

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In the first of this three-part series on the Sandler selling method, I drew off my recent conversation with GuruGanesha Khalsa, founder and CEO of the Sandler Training Institute of Virginia, to look at what makes a Sandler sales rep unique.

As Ganesh pointed out, the real magic of the Sandler selling method lies in the qualification process, where the goal is to be viewed as less of a salesperson, and more of a trusted advisor. While the first article presented a basic “100,000 foot overview” of what a Sandler salesperson does, Ganesh also took the time to dig deeper into what a well-trained rep looks for when qualifying a potential prospect.

Enter “The 3 Levels of Pain.”

Level 1 Pain — Getting Technical

“The three levels of Pain is something that I’ve kind of added into the [Sandler] program — I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s universally taught,” says Ganesh, who first started the Sandler Training Institute back in 1989. “I’ve focused on technology sales, and this makes constant sense to people in technology.”

As Ganesh explains, the first level of Pain is the most common thing that many sales reps (Sandler or otherwise) tend to latch on to: the technical issues that the buyer is experiencing. For example, a company that sells network monitoring tools might engage with a client who is having problems identifying issues that are affecting the overall performance of their environment.

“You get to that point, that means you have some first-level pain on the table,” says Ganesh. “If I’m the seller, then I’m saying, ‘OK, tell me more about it. Could you be more specific? Why are you having difficulties? What do you think is causing the problem?’”

He notes that while more inexperienced salespeople might hear about these technical issues and immediately dive into a demo, a Sandler sales rep takes the extra time to really explore the details of the issue. By taking that technical issue and expanding on it, the rep can then encourage the buyer to quantify the problem in business and personal terms – convincing the seller that purchasing a product/service to resolve the issue is worth their investment.

Level 2 Pain – The Business-Financial Impact

As Ganesh points out, there are only a few reasons why people choose to make a purchase, and technical issues alone usually aren’t enough.

Additional Information:

For more from Ganesh on the Sandler selling method, check out our previous podcast or reach out to him directly.

“The inexperienced seller hears some Level 1 Pain, and maybe it’s the first time all week they’ve talked to a buyer who’s got a problem they can actually solve [with their solution],” he says. “Their heart starts beating fast, they can’t control themselves, and immediately they start talking about how their solution can fix the problem.”

The result, he explains, is a shift in dynamics that is very un-Sandler. The sales rep suddenly morphs from being a trusted advisor who’s gathering information, to more of a stereotypical, self-serving sales rep who’s now trying to convince the buyer to make the purchase.

“It’s the seller’s job to say, ‘How can you quantify the impact this is having on your business?’ Because if the buyer can’t convince the seller that those issues are having sufficient business-financial impact, then the Sandler rep basically starts moving toward the door,” he explains. “The buyer has to convince the seller that they can cost-justify [the purchase].”

That business-financial impact is where the second level of Pain hits the table. He gave the example of a prospective client who is having technical issues that are taking up an inordinate amount of their team’s time. More importantly, with the right solution, that time could be spent on other projects that could be far more beneficial to the company.

“Now we’re starting to build value into the deal,” says Ganesh, who describes impact points like these as opportunity costs.

But it’s not just about the buyer being convinced that the issues they’re having are hurting the business financially. The process also provides clarity for the sales rep on exactly how to present their solution as something that can help them. “If I’m sitting there and I know I have a solution that can probably dramatically improve that situation, by giving the buyer clarity as to what exactly the problem is, I’m also starting to quantify the impact my solution can have,” he says.

When done properly, the Sandler sales reps find themselves in a position where they are already convinced that it’s in the buyer’s best interest to spend money with them before a price is ever quoted. “That’s a strong position to be in,” adds Ganesh.

Level 3 Pain – Personal Interest

“People do things for their own personal reasons, not necessarily they’re company’s reasons,” explains Ganesh simply.

If a Sandler rep has already gone through the first two levels of Pain, the next step is to find out if (and how) the problems being discussed are affecting the client on a personal level (i.e., how is it making their own life more difficult?). But the point here isn’t just about demonstrating why the buyer specifically would benefit from the solution – it’s also designed to ensure that he or she will commit to working with the seller.

Simply put, a potential buyer who has a personal investment in the problem being resolved is far more likely to “walk side-by-side” with the seller throughout the sales process. As noted in the first article in this series, that commitment is really one of the primary goals of the Sandler qualification process.

“The only way you can get that kind of commitment from the buyer is if they convince you and convince themselves that finding a solution is a very high personal priority,” Ganesh explains.

Relieving the Pain

As Ganesh puts it, identifying these three levels of Pain is the most important part of qualifying. By going through the proper questioning process, a Sandler sales rep can take a technical issue (Level 1) and magnify its importance.

“It can increase the sense of urgency, because a great seller is asking the buyer questions about the issues that they may not be asking themselves,” he explains. “As they’re answering the questions — if it’s done right — the buyer who thought he or she was fine all of a sudden realizes they’re terminally ill. And YOU are there.”

Therein lies the Three Levels of Pain. Next week we’ll finish up with a look at some of the challenges of moving from more traditional sales methodologies to the Sandler system. I’ll also have a blog post coming soon with insights from Ganesh on the three reasons why buyers buy. Stay tuned.

Photo by: Jenny Kaczorowski