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SandlerBrief - January 2024

Sandler Rule: When Your Foot Hurts, You’re Probably Standing on Your Own Toe

There's a Radiohead song called "Just," with a lyrical hook that says, "You do it to yourself." That's the soundtrack to the modern sales professional's life.

We don't always want to believe it, but the hard truth is, when there's a problem, the odds are pretty good that we did it to ourselves. Think about it. When the battle goes badly, who's responsible? The general. When the company underperforms, who's responsible? The CEO. Just as the leader of a team or an organization is responsible for the group's results, we, as sales professionals, are responsible for what happens in our discussions with buyers. All the missed signals, all the bad communication, all the unexpected twists and turns we didn't ask about, and failures to create a good backup plan – all that is on us, by definition. We are the ones who chose to drive this vehicle. If it runs into a ditch, it's likely because we didn't do something we ought to have done. It's not the passengers' fault. It's not bad luck. We work from the assumption that the driver's decisions make the difference.

We are the ones who opted to get behind the wheel. This means that what happens during the sales process is always down to us. If something stalls our progress, we accept responsibility; it's happening because we didn't identify and deal with the potential roadblock in advance.

Here's an example. After your presentation, your contact reveals that she is extremely impressed with the presentation. You smile because you like hearing that kind of thing. You believe you're about to close the sale. Then she informs you that she will give you a decision in a few days. . . just as soon as she reviews your information with the procurement committee.

You think, "Committee? What Committee? You didn't tell me about any committee!" Time out. You've got no business getting angry with her for doing something that appears to you to stall the process. In fact, you stalled the process by not asking about (and confirming) the decision-making process and not planning accordingly.

Your foot hurts now, but it's because you were standing on your own toe. You can't get upset with her for not telling you about the Committee. All you can do is take personal responsibility for not asking who else, in addition to the prospect, would be involved in making the decision.

Take responsibility for your process and your communication. Your job is always to lead an open conversation between adults so you can mutually decide on a course of action that makes sense. That means performing your own due diligence by asking the right questions and listening carefully to the answers that come back. It means leaning into your own experience to identify the potential roadblocks and discuss them with your prospects before they occur.

Key Takeaway: Identify the part of your sales process that has bitten you in the rear end. . . not just once, but repeatedly. Then ask yourself: What could I add to my exit criteria checklist to keep that from happening?

If you do that, you'll have far more control over your selling efforts, the results will be more favorable, and your foot won't hurt so much.

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