Yesterday I wrote a post about Earl Nightingale’s idea that there is no success without suffering. Today I got a happy email from his widow, Diana, thanking me for sharing this historic interview with the world. Earl’s best-selling recording, The Strangest Secret, has encouraged many entrepreneurs, business owners, sales managers, and salespeople worldwide.
One of them was David Sandler, who created a sales-training company that has grown into a network of 220 training centers in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia, offering Sandler’s sales training in 12 languages. David was one of the brightest and most gifted sales trainers I’ve ever met. He shared with me how he got the courage to start his business. "Someone gave me a record by Earl Nightingale titled ‘The Strangest Secret.’ There was one message on the recording that had a life-changing impact on me. Earl Nightingale said that if you make a commitment to a given field of endeavor, and if you spend the next five years of your life with the magnificent obsession to learn all there is about that field, you can be certain [you will] become a success in that field. When I heard the recording that night, I made a commitment to go into sales training."
David has passed away, but his business model (in-person and online training with ongoing reinforcement) has survived, and his time-tested ideas have been published in a best-selling book The Sandler Rules: 49 Timeless Selling Principles and How to Apply Them by David Mattson.
Below is the first part of my interview with David Sandler.
Q: What makes your training so revolutionary?
Sandler: There is nothing wrong with the programs taught by Tom Hopkins, Zig Ziglar, or Dale Carnegie and other traditional trainers. The problem with those programs is that they're old.
Q: Can you explain this?
Sandler: Everybody knows these programs. Everybody knows the kind of questions Tom Hopkins graduates use. Don't you? Everybody knows how Dale Carnegie trainees repeat your name over and over. Thousands of people have gone through the Xerox selling skills course. Tens of thousands have seen Zig Ziglar on stage, on cable TV, and on video. The problem is these training courses have been around for so long that everyone knows your strategy the minute you start talking. So when you tell customers that [your product’s] price will go up next week, they'll tell you, "That's the `impending event' close, isn't it?" How can you win a Super Bowl if the opposing team has a copy of your playbook?
Q: How did you get into selling?
Sandler: I'm not a sales type. I didn't get into sales until I was 36 years old. When I started, they told me to be enthusiastic, jump up and down, make as many presentations as I could. One night I came home, looked into the mirror, and realized the way they asked me to sell made me feel like a clown. I realized that a sales call wasn't an adult/adult transaction, but a parent/child transaction where salespeople are expected to be subservient. I also realized that customers didn't do what they promised. Many of them lied and sometimes didn't even show up for appointments.
Q: How did you develop your own selling techniques?
Sandler: There were many experiences that led me to believe that I was doing something wrong. One particular experience was the beginning of the turnaround. I remember making cold calls one Friday afternoon and not succeeding. It was down at the shipyard on Aliceanna Street in Baltimore. As I walked up two flights of stairs, I said to myself, "If I don't make a sale here, I'll give up." The guy's name was Charlie. He was about 32 years old and weighed close to 400 pounds. He was breathing as if he had just run a five-mile race. It was painful for me to give the presentation.
When I finished, I used the traditional close: "Charlie, this is a red-letter day in your life!" He answered, "I'll take it." Since I expected him to resist, I was so surprised that I shot back, "Is that the only reason you hesitate?" Charlie laughed and said, "No, no, I want it." I got so excited that I forgot to ask for the money. I told him I would deliver the product on Monday morning and asked him to prepare a check for $600, which he promised to get ready. He said, "Fine, fine. I'm looking forward to it."
I had a great weekend. I was successful, and I was sure I was on my way to greater success. Monday morning I carried the package across the parking lot, walked upstairs, and knocked on the glass window. The receptionist was filing her nails. She asked, "Can I help you?" I said, "Of course. I'm here to see Charlie!" She gave me a puzzled look and said, "Haven't you heard? Charlie died over the weekend." True story. Now, I get back to the car, while I'm saying to myself, "There's a message in this." I was disappointed, I was mad, and I was ready to leave the profession of selling.
Q: What changed your mind?
Sandler: I thought that there must be a better way to conduct a sales call. I realized that I had nothing to lose,
so I simply starting telling my next prospect, "Look, you don't have to buy from me. I can't control your money or what you want. But we do need an understanding between us. The understanding is this: I'm going to give you a brief picture of what I have. If you have a need for it, I'll tell you how much it costs. You tell me if you have the money to pay for it. Tell me if you are the decision maker and, if so, will you make [a decision]?"Q: You began to take charge of the sales call.
Sandler: Exactly. Setting up contracts with prospects amounts to closing up front. With the traditional way of doing presentations, the customer tends to think, "I wonder what this is going to cost. I wonder when the close will come."
Q: In other words, the customer would not pay attention to your presentation.
Sandler: When I talk to a prospect about his pain, I find out if he has the money to eliminate that pain, then I make sure he is the decision maker. That way I know I have the order before presenting my product, and I know the prospect will pay attention to my presentation.
Q: What is your school background?
Sandler: I dropped out of college after two years. I went through the Korean War; spent 30 months in the service; came back; and worked in my father's pretzel, potato chip, and cookie business.
Q: And you worked there until age 36?
Sandler: Yes, until the stockholders who had controlling interest in the company decided they could do a better job without me and let me go. Since there weren't too many openings for company presidents in the pretzel and cookie business, I decided to go into sales. I worked as a distributor for a motivation company and became their number one producer for the next three years.
Q: How did you get into sales training?
Sandler: The idea came to me after I had been in sales for about six months.
Someone gave me a record by Earl Nightingale titled ‘The Strangest Secret.’ There was one message on the recording that had a life-changing impact on me. Earl Nightingale said that if you make a commitment to a given field of endeavor, and if you spend the next five years of your life with the magnificent obsession to learn all there is about that field, you can be certain [you will] become a success in that field. When I heard the recording that night, I made a commitment to go into sales training.And I just went out and did it. I wanted to know all there was to know. In addition, I had experienced enough failure with the traditional selling techniques.
Tomorrow: How David Sandler applied the fitness club model to sales training. Why price is never an object when the prospect experiences enough pain. How to create the winning mindset to win more business.
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