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Custom Growth Solutions, LLC | Sandler Training | Oklahoma City, OK

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Prospecting & Qualifying

Everyone loves referrals. They're the most efficient way of prospecting and building up your sales and your business. But are you actively and strategically working on building your referral network?

Or maybe you just have something like this in your email signature or on your business card: "The best compliment you can give us is a referral."

That's not active or strategic!

In sales, we tend not to dig deep enough. When a prospect shares a problem with us, often we jump ahead to a solution we provide that seems to fit the problem. But in reality, they're sharing symptoms, not the real problem! Instead, we need to dig deeper to uncover the true pain.

The Sandler pain funnel is a tool to dig deeper, uncover information, and discover emotion.

Prospecting is the life-blood of sales. But usually salespeople prospect when they have nothing else to do. Sometimes that's because they've been doing the same prospecting activities for years!

Your time is valuable. So why are you wasting it when you're prospecting? Quit doing the wrong type of prospecting!

One of the concepts we help our clients understand is active prospecting versus passive prospecting. Based off the names alone, you probably already realize that passive prospecting takes less work but is also less effective. Conversely, active prospecting takes more work but is more effective.

If a prospect is going to say "no," would you rather know right now, or months from now after you've poured tons of time, energy, and resources into following up with them? Right now, of course! That's one of the first concepts we help our clients learn. It saves tons of wasted time. And if you waste time on the wrong people, you're robbing the right people of that time. However, you can take that concept too far. If you're not careful, you can make assumptions and judgements that aren't correct, and end up disqualifying a prospect too early in the process. You end up deciding that they aren't a good fit instead of letting them discover that for themselves!

Just about everyone hates cold calling. David Sandler himself was quoted as saying, "Nobody ever had to wait in line to make a cold call." Then why are people still making cold calls?

A huge part of every sales interaction is having good bonding and rapport with your prospect. Most people do that accidentally and inconsistently, but we help clients learn how to do it intentionally and consistently.

I've met with hundreds of salespeople and business owners over the years. I have yet to meet one that wouldn't like more and better referrals.

Referrals shorten the sales cycle and your chances of success are greater. But most people have no system for building their business through referrals! And no, putting "The best compliment you can give me is a referral," on your business card and in your email signature does not qualify as a system.

So how can you build a referral system?

My team and I often share with people how good sales is a result of good communication. In fact, in several workshops we put on, we explain within the first few minutes that we'll use the terms interchangeably during the workshop.

If you're in sales, chances are pretty good you want to sell more. But selling more means better prospecting, which is often a salesperson's least favorite activity. In fact, we've done our best to boil it down to an equation: X hours spent prospecting = Y number of conversations = Z dollars in sales

Prospecting is a challenge for many salespeople, and it can be really uncomfortable! And if you're not careful, uncomfortable situations can lead to something we at Sandler like to call verbal vomiting. In other words, you stop asking all the right questions and start talking too much instead. You end up sharing features and benefits instead of really uncovering if you're a good fit or not.

Just because a prospect has a problem that we can fix doesn't mean it matters to them. One of our Sandler Rules is No Pain = No Sale. And while you can't take that too literally, a lack of personal impact definitely makes a sale much harder to make.


It's easy to get caught up in the trap of thinking when your prospect has pain, they must not have money. But that's not always the case. Plenty of times cash doesn't mean a lack of pain, and pain doesn't mean a lack of cash. Someone you're meeting with could be in plenty of pain and still easily be able to invest in your help.

Many well-known businesses around the country are franchises that are run by national organizations. Depending on your business and depending on the franchise, there could be some opportunity for you there, even when starting at the local level.

The key to good sales is good prospecting. And a huge portion of that is making your prospect feel OK. In Sandler, we talk a lot about the importance of bonding and rapport. Good bonding and rapport is not about finding a family photo or sports memorabilia in someone's office and commenting on it. It's all about the subconscious ways you can connect with someone. Then they feel OK and can have a real interaction with you without becoming defensive.

If you're like most salespeople, chances are good that you could be way more active in your prospecting. You obviously want to make the best use of your time. But often, I find that salespeople are staying inside their comfort zone and engaging in passive prospecting instead of active prospecting. They're being lazy!

Have you ever eaten something so often that you got sick of it? Or maybe you find something you like, and you end up eating it so often that those around you get tired of it? The same thing can happen in sales!

I hate sales scripts. Of course you need to be prepared for a sales call, but preparation doesn't mean you map out every single word you say. That's way too unnatural! Staying flexible is extremely important, whether the call is in person or over the phone. In fact, if you're doing the sales call the right way, you can't know ahead of time what will come out of it!

Our money concepts can really trip us up if we're not careful. What may be a lot of money to us personally or in business may be nothing to someone else. A few years back, I was on the phone with a prospect I'd never met in person. He actually lived in another state and had been referred to us by someone else.

One of the steps we talk about in the sales process is uncovering your prospect's decision-making process. That includes the who, what, where, when, why, and how.

Prospects and clients often use ambiguous terms without realizing it. In fact, we all do it. We say things like, "I need this cheap," "Get that taken care of ASAP," or "I don't have a budget for that." Any of those sound familiar? When your prospect or client says them, they're meaningless until you actually dig in.

Have you ever been frustrated because a prospect changed their mind in the middle of the sales process for no apparent reason? A while back, one of my clients...

Proposals and estimates can be a huge waste of time, especially if you're not diligent about sorting prospects before doing them. One method I use for sorting prospects is a white paper. Here's how it works.


A couple years back, I had an interesting experience. I was at one of our regional Sandler meetings in a room with about 15 other Sandler trainers and coaches. We get together and talk about a number of different things. Often, the Sandler office that's hosting us will have local experts come in to share something with us.


As salespeople, it's our job to identify the root of the problem when qualifying a prospect. It's our job to diagnose, because if we don't properly diagnose, we won't know if we can actually help.

You've probably heard the saying that people do business with people they know, like, trust, and value. One of the things we frequently ask our clients in Sandler is, "Are you doing enough to get in front of people so that they can get to know, like, trust, and value you?"

Have you ever known anyone who refused to ask for help? Or perhaps you struggle at asking for help, whether personally or professionally. It's not an uncommon trait for many people, but learning to ask for help can open the door to important conversations.

It’s pretty common for people to wait until their pipeline is completely empty to do something about prospecting, when they should have been doing it all along. Keeping a balance between active and passive prospecting can help keep people in your pipeline.

When it comes to finding the right prospecting mix, it may take some time to analyze your results and decide what's most effective. In last week’s blog, we talked about increasing the number of prospecting activities to find new options and to invest the most time in the most effective activities. Here are three more steps to help find the right prospecting mix.

One of the things we learn when we work with clients is that there's often not a very good mix, if any mix at all, of prospecting activities. But having the right prospecting mix is critical for success in sales. Here are the first of several steps to analyzing and creating the right prospecting mix.

We all run into painful situations with clients and prospects. Some more painful than others! Of course, we have to determine how to resolve the situations. But there's something else you should do. It's something that's easy for me to say, but likely not easy.

If you're not willing to dig in and ask a few questions of your prospects, it's easy to get things misaligned. If you don't have the guts to ask questions up front, you can end up in a very bad situation.

If you're working on a prospect and having trouble getting past a gatekeeper, consider switching your role.

A client of mine who's in manufacturing walked into a company he'd never been to before. When he attempted to talk to a specific level of decision maker...

A while back, I was in someone else's office. On their desk was a thank you card I sent them. The back was pointing to them, which meant that everyone that sat down to meet with them saw the other side with my logo on it.

The reason? The back of that thank you card...

If you're like most successful professionals, your calendar gets filled up pretty quickly. You also know that if something isn't on your calendar, there's a good chance that there simply won't be time for it. That's just a time-management fact for a lot of professionals. And it becomes even more important when...

Prospecting can either be a huge time sink for you, or it can be an efficient, valuable part of your sales process. What it looks like for you is going to depend a lot on whether you have a plan for prospecting or not. If you don't already have a prospecting plan, here's what you'll need to do to create one.

Professionals sort, amateurs sell.

What do I mean by that?

There’s an important balance you need to strike when you’re engaging in sales conversations, especially when you’re in the beginning parts of those conversations.

Are you getting useful, worthwhile referrals? Or do you get referrals that rarely end up doing business with you—and worse, eat up a lot of your time too?

Think about times when you have prospects calling your office. Maybe they're returning one of your phone calls; maybe they remembered meeting you at a networking event and wanted to reach out; maybe they are even calling you based on a referral they received from a mutual contact.

Networking events can be useful prospecting activities for some people, as long as you go in with a strategy. But they're not a good fit for everyone.

A while back, a client of mine shared that he was struggling with being put into voicemail jail. He had people—CEOs and business owners—he wanted to maintain contact with. He would call and reach the person responsible for screening their calls, known in sales as the gatekeeper.

Prospecting is all about tiny, incremental changes over time. That helps you improve your skills, so you can truly know if a prospecting activity makes sense in your world or not.

The first time you try a new prospecting activity, it will probably fail miserably. And that can create an enormous disconnect.

There are three ways you can grow your sales. You can talk to more people, you can talk to better people, or you can have better conversations. The first one requires more time than most people have. The best results come from focusing on talking to better people—people that are more likely to be a good fit for you—and having better conversations.

In sales, you'll find many of your prospects have raised a lot of defenses because of bad salespeople. Bad salespeople can be greedy, taking advantage of their prospects. Often, those of us...

Everyone's method or mode of communication is different. It's true with people of different ages. It's true in different industries. It's definitely true with business professionals versus those not in the business community. One method of communication doesn't fit all people! A client of mine...

It's crazy how many salespeople want to show up to a meeting and share all the features and benefits of their products. We like to call that "show up and throw up." In reality, they should be making the conversation about the other person. In fact, talking too much about yourself could end up costing you millions of dollars...

When you're asked a question about your industry or your product, how often do you think the question you're asked is the main question? If someone asks you about the type of work you do, it's possible they're interested in doing business with you. But it's also possible that they used to work in your field and hated it. Or they might have a complaint about someone else in your field and you're about to hear it.

It's usually pretty easy to think of a time when you've spilled candy the wrong way. Maybe you made a presentation long before the prospect was ready to decide; maybe you spent a lot of time and energy sending promotional material to a prospect who wasn't a good fit in the first place.

When a prospect says something to you that seems like it's coming straight out of left field, the way you respond can quickly determine rest of that sales dynamic. One of my clients recently shared a story with me that made me think of how powerful that response can be, either positively or negatively.

One of my clients recently shared an insightful question with me, a question that helped him move forward with large contract for a relatively new client.

One of my clients works in the roofing industry, and he was recently at a networking event where he met someone else in his industry. When the other person asked my client about his business, my client answered, saying, "Oh, you wouldn't be interested in what I do."

One of my clients recently talked with me about how challenging himself to make his prospects comfortable has benefited his commercial real estate business.

Not long ago, he was meeting with an acquaintance to look at a very large property. My client talked with his prospect about the building and the surrounding area, but he also shared with his prospect how and why he works with people the way he does.

Want to shorten your sales cycle? Learn how to qualify and disqualify leads early on in the process. Stop chasing leads that aren't going anywhere!

Most people spend an incredible amount of time chasing leads who aren't going to do business with them. People will often get a long-awaited appointment with a prospect, do a well-prepared presentation, and then realize that they weren't a good fit after all.

One of my clients has been in conversation with a prospect for many months, and there's been a lot of back and forth between them. After an initial proposal and another, revised, proposal to this prospect, my client finally got a phone call with the decision-maker himself.

One of my clients who is a trainer received a couple of referrals a while back. When he got in touch with one of them, she was immediately ready to get started training her staff, which is not typical in his world.

He called to follow-up on the referral and...

When you introduce yourself and what you do for a living, do you often see other people tense up? You're not alone. And it's probably not you they're reacting to. Experiences lead to expectations—and you can see it so quickly in a conversation.

In Sandler, one of the things we talk about is disqualifying prospects. If you go into an interaction with a prospect looking for red flags, you're likely to save a lot of headache later. However, as with all concepts, you can definitely overdo it. We call that literal versus reality. If you're too literal in applying the concepts we teach, and don't adjust them to fit your reality, you can shoot yourself in the foot. A client of ours who is in online marketing has been with us a number of years, and realized this not too long ago...

You've probably been asked before to discount your services. If you agree to the discount, you may gain that prospect as a client. If you say no, it may cost you in the short run-but could lead to better opportunities in the future...

One of the things I often see in salespeople is nervousness about asking people for their contact information. Too often, they accept, "I'll get back in touch with you," from their prospects, when they should really take more ownership for the next step. I've got a simple method I use that gets me the right contact information every time. In fact, with CEOs, it's gotten me their cell number every time but one!

When is the right time to start a new habit? When is the best time of the year in your industry? When is the best time to actually start a business? When is the best time of day to make cold calls?

Success is great. Maybe you recently made your best sale ever. Maybe you had your biggest year ever. Whatever the case, congratulations! But have you really dissected that?

Misunderstandings can lead to lost sales. Often, just asking one or two more questions can clear up roadblocks and lead directly to a sale.

Unless someone is in a lot of pain, they often don't seek out a solution to a problem they're having. As someone that has a solution, it's your job to find those people by asking the right questions. That's what prospecting is all about, and why it can always work, if you ask the right questions.

Often, prospects you talk with will have an expectation about what doing business with you will be like. If the reality turns out to be different, that can be a challenge. Their expectations are formed by past experiences. And if you're not careful, your prospects may have those expectations and you don't even know about it!

While traditional sales typically tries to get an appointment at all costs, in Sandler we talk about a different viewpoint: Disqualifying people rather than qualifying them. That way, you don't waste their time or yours if you can quickly uncover that you're not a good fit for each other. However, that can be taken too far. In fact, it's hard to disqualify accurately without exchanging two way information first.

Discovering the communication style of your prospects and customers is extremely important. It can often help you cut through the noise and communicate effectively, making a real conversation possible. One of my clients recently discovered...

One of our rules in Sandler is Sandler Rule #47 - Selling is a Broadway Play Performed by a Psychiatrist. In a play, people play different parts. In your role as a salesperson, how do you know which part to play?

Trade shows can be one of the greatest uses of an organization's resources. Or it can be one of the biggest wastes. It all depends on having an actual trade show strategy. At most trade shows, people are...

Everyone is steered by expectations. Sometimes they may not even be able to verbalize those expectations. And other times, they may actually result in you thinking the wrong thing is important to your prospect. Think about when you first talk to a prospect on the phone...

Prospects come in with different behaviors, and different expectations. Sometimes, prospects make up their mind before you ever interact directly with them. It may be that they want to do business with you, or it may be that they don't. Or they may not know yet. Regardless, the earlier you can figure it out, the better.

When people call you, if you're not careful, it's really easy to get sucked into wasting time. If people don't value their own time, they're never going to value yours. The quicker you can figure that out, the better it is for all parties involved. A client of mine...

Why are you in business? Many people are in business because they have a unique skill set or background, and want to use that to help others. Unfortunately, in some ways that can end up limiting them, and can ultimately hurt them. Sound familiar?

It's funny how some people don't realize they're confusing people by using industry lingo. Of course, if you're the one losing sales because you don't even know you're doing it, it might not be as funny to you. I met with someone last year who was in the digital marketing space. Talk about an industry with a lot of industry lingo and acronyms!

When talking to prospects or leads, have you ever heard someone say something like, "Oh, my brother-in-law does what you do"? If that's something you hear on a fairly regular basis, especially during sales meetings, it's time to start disarming that bomb before it goes off, not after. So how do you do that?

The question most buyers default to is How much? That's especially true when they don't buy what you sell very often, if ever. So if you set yourself apart by having high quality, it's entirely possible they'll balk at the price. There are three things you can...

In Sandler, we recommend a somewhat different approach to talking to new prospects. If your approach is to try to get as many meetings as you can and sign as many clients as you can, you end up with a lot of bad fits, and that can result in bad situations. Instead, we recommend making every attempt to disqualify new prospects.

There's huge power in finding out more information when you get a referral. Not just if the person was referred and who referred them, but actually WHY the person referred them to you. Recently a client of mine got a referral from...

There's danger in letting your prospect end a sales call or sales meeting. Often times, they do it for the wrong reasons. You need to pay close attention to their behaviors, because those are signs of underlying expectations they have. And they may not be based in reality!

Have you ever had a sales meeting, only to lose the deal later to a competitor? It's fairly common. But what's even worse is when you thought it was a sure deal, and didn't even know your competitor existed. So how do you find out?

A key to a successful organization is establishing what a good prospect looks like (and doesn't look like), then training all of your team to keep their eyes and ears open for that person. It's not just the job of your salespeople. It should be everyone's job!

Too often, I talk with people that are working with clients they shouldn't have. It could be that their client doesn't pay on time, can't invest the time needed to solve the problem, or just plain isn't a good fit. If you're honest, it's happened to you at some point in the past! There are two reasons people take on business they shouldn't have.

Prospects get defensive. They fortify their castle, and don't want to let any salespeople inside. Something causes them to raise their drawbridge, and retreat inside. And it's always because of a past experience!

Disqualification is completely up to us. Just because somebody comes in, wants what we have to sell, and has their checkbook ready, doesn't mean we have to sell it to them. For those that really like to help people, that can be a challenge. You can see your prospect is in pain, so it's hard for you to disqualify them, because you know you can help them.

Most salespeople operate on a scarcity mindset. They believe that there's not enough business out there for everyone. So the tendency is also there for your competition to bad-mouth you, whether it's really true or not, and whether you're really even their competition or not. The key is ...

You can't be more committed to fixing a prospect's problem than they are themselves. If you are, you'll end up in a bad situation at some point. A client of mine...

LinkedIn can be a great tool for prospecting, but only if you invest time and resources in knowing what it's really capable of, then actually taking time to utilize it on a regular basis. A client was recently on LinkedIn, and saw someone had looked at his LinkedIn profile. He then took five seconds to...

Typically when we think of professions that are universally respected, we don't think of salespeople. We may think of policemen, firemen, doctors, or even professional athletes. One of the things all those professions have in common is that they're always ready.


There is huge power in taking the time to slow down and be intentional about your actions. All too often, we rush around so much that we don't actually get anything done. But when we take that time and are purposeful with our actions, there can be huge impact.

One of my clients recently changed that very thing in her organization. She began to implement what sounds like a fairly simple step, and was able to uncover something that made a huge difference.

Having the guts to ask the important questions can really pay off. In the case of one of my clients, it recently dramatically increased his importance to a referral partner.

Some of you probably struggle to actually ask for someone's business. I was recently working with a client who lost a major opportunity because of that very issue. I was in a meeting with about twenty salespeople. They were all talking about...

You never know who around you is a potential prospect and who isn't. Because you can never know without having a conversation, it's important to engage in conversation with those around you. And in order to make it memorable for the other person, you have to make it much more about the other person than yourself.

If you get nervous about cold calling on prospects, you're not alone. It doesn't matter whether it's in person or over the phone, plenty of people don't like cold calling, and it makes them nervous. In Sandler, we have a rule about prospecting in general:

Sandler Rule #7: You Don't Have to Like Prospecting, You Just Have to Do It.

When a prospective client shares that your competition is way cheaper than you, how do you respond? Your response can make all the difference in the world. It's all about knowing your own value.

Have you found yourself making assumptions when it comes to how your prospects make decisions? Recognizing and stopping that are huge, and the key is in asking questions. A client of mine was having trouble connecting with a lead for about a month. His general philosophy was, If I haven't followed up with someone within a week or so, why would they want to do business with me? Thankfully, this time he...

Have you ever been in a sales situation where someone was trying to beat you up over price? There's a technique you can use that, in my experience, is the absolute best thing you can do. You've got to be ready to walk away from the sale, but it's a phenomenal tool to use in situations like that.

Whose fault is it when things don't work out in sales? Is it the prospect's fault? Or is it yours? If you're answering honestly, it's always your own fault! So what should you do when you screw up a sales call?

Who really likes to be told what they're doing wrong? If you're like most people, you don't like to be "told". So how do you think your prospects feel when you "tell" them something? It feels like you're a critical parent! And how likely do you think people are to buy from a critical parent? Instead, we should...

In sales, planning is huge, especially when it comes to prospecting. Without a prospecting plan in place that you're actively working, you're really just relying on luck. And why rely on luck when you can rely on a plan instead?

Talking about price too early in the conversation is dangerous! If you concentrate on giving a better price during the sales cycle, you can fall into the trap of discounting and becoming a commodity. But how often is price the first thing a prospect wants to talk with you about?

Do you know what your ideal prospect looks like? When thinking about your ideal prospect, it's important that you be able to describe their observable attributes. There are a couple reasons for this.

Remaining flexible is why we need a lot of tools in our sales toolbox. Coming prepared with a variety of tools mean we can deal with a variety of situations. And some of those tools can, if uses properly, help us avoid unwanted surprises during sales calls.


Having worked for some large, large organizations, I’ve had the following conversation several times.

Co-worker who isn’t in sales: “I want to be in sales.”
Me: “Why do you want to be in sales?”
Them: “They’ve got the best life. They don’t work very hard!”

Really? When that co-worker of mine punches their clock out at five o’clock, they’re done.


It is very easy for us as sales professional, business owners and professionals to look at certain prospecting activities and say to ourselves, “Oh, that would never work for me!”


You can’t say that without putting effort into it and really see if it would work. You can’t say that without actually trying it first.


A prospecting plan is instrumental in making sure you actually reach your prospecting goals, and therefore your sales goals. After all, prospecting is the life-blood of sales.

Let’s take a look at five key components for your prospecting plan.


Prospects generally don’t intend to lie. They’ve been conditioned that way by bad salespeople. In fact, many people wouldn’t like under any other circumstances. But when dealing with a salesperson, it’s a defense mechanism that pops up.

Let’s take a look at three lies prospects tell, and what we can do about it.


Your time is valuable. So when prospecting, you obviously want to make the best use of that time. If you’re mostly using passive prospecting techniques and don’t like wasting time, you’re making a huge mistake. Instead, the prospecting activities you invest time in should be active. What qualifies as an active prospecting activity?


Every salesperson probably already knows that prospecting is the life-blood of sales. Yet how many of us prospect with no real plan? Either that, or we just procrastinate our prospecting totally. You need to make an actual, written prospecting plan, then execute on it. Don’t go into it without planning, but don’t plan so much that you never actually do the prospecting. Let’s look at how you can create a step-by-step prospecting plan.