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An up-front contract is a Sandler concept that seems logical once you hear about it, but so few people use it. It is when two or more people meeting together agree on precisely what will occur during the meeting.

Have you ever scheduled a meeting on your calendar with a beginning time but no end time? Have you ever thought a meeting was going to be about one topic but the other person thought it was about something else entirely?

An up-front contract is all about getting on the same page as the other parties in two areas: behavior and expectations.

Let's take a look at why you should consider using up-front contracts, the key elements of an up-front contract, and finally, an acronym that can help.

Subconscious comfort

People will often decide whether or not to do business with you based on how you sell, not what you sell. And the "how" is all about creating subconscious comfort or discomfort.

Creating a comfortable environment isn't just about what you say. It's about your tone, body language, and communicating how the other person wants to communicate.

Discomfort will trigger defense mechanisms in the person you're meeting with. And someone whose defenses are up is not likely to buy from you. They're not likely to engage openly with you at all.

Think about the typical car salesman who tries to act like he's known you his whole life. Someone who tries to be too comfortable around you will raise your defenses! The same thing goes with someone who is too formal. Speaking in monotone with no enthusiasm or even disinterest can cause the other person to be uncomfortable.

A good up-front contract is all about creating subconscious comfort in the other person, making sure you're both on the same page, and starting your meeting off on the right foot.

Five elements of an up-front contract

So how do you start your meeting on the right foot? You agree on what will happen before it actually happens. This will help you save time, energy, and money, and there won't be any surprises. Surprises cause discomfort.

There are five key elements of an up-front contract.

  1. Purpose: Explain why you're having the meeting.
  2. Other person's agenda and expectations: Make sure you know what the other person—the prospect if you're in sales—wants and expects to happen in the meeting.
  3. Your agenda and expectations: At the same time, they need to know what you want and expect out of the meeting. This should also include what information you'll ask them for.
  4. Time and logistics: Make sure you both know the time, length, date, and location of the meeting. Allow enough time to cover all the necessary points.
  5. Outcome: What should happen at the end of the meeting? They should know what the clear next step is. They should also know that a "no" is okay. The outcome may be that it doesn't make sense to continue the process.

If you're on the same page, the meeting will be more productive, and the other person will be that much more comfortable.

Sandler's ANOT acronym

A great acronym we've developed at Sandler to help you remember the up-front contract is ANOT. It stands for Appreciate, Naturally, Obviously, and Typically.

  • Appreciate you taking the time to meet with me.
  • Naturally, you will have questions for me.
  • Obviously, I will have questions for you.
  • Typically, this is how the process works.

Let's look at an example. An insurance agent is sitting down with a prospective client.

She starts with, "Hello, I appreciate your taking the time to meet with me to discuss what insurance services we provide and how we might be able to help you. Naturally, you will have some questions for me, and obviously I'll have some for you. This conversation will help determine whether or not we are a good fit for each other. I wanted you to know that it is okay to say 'no,' and no decisions have to be made immediately. Is that all okay with you?"

That's a very simplified example. But you can see how that helps the other person be much more comfortable by avoiding vagueness. And you definitely want the other person to be comfortable saying "no," because you'd rather hear that early on in the process than after you have wasted time, energy, and money.

Up-front contracts are essential in having successful meetings. They can be used before meetings, at the beginning of meetings, or even when transitioning to a new topic. By creating subconscious comfort, they make someone that much more likely to buy from you. Practice using it, whether it's in email, on the phone, or in person. The more you practice and apply, the more it will become a skill and eventually a habit.

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