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How in-depth are your sales conversations with prospects? Many sales reps unfortunately never get below the surface level when talking to prospects about their business problems. While reps do have to qualify opportunities according to BANT (Budget, Authority, Need and Timing), it’s imperative that reps get at the deeper problems to really understand what makes buyers buy.

The Sandler sales method offers a 3-step process to help reps reach those underlying issues, and discover the personal and business impact. Ask more questions, probe more deeply and you can have far more productive conversations with your prospects.

Level 1: Surface Pain

When you first get on the phone and talk to a prospect about their business problems, they’re likely to start talking about purely surface-level problems. They’ll probably start discussing whatever has been bothering them that day. Maybe the prospect is annoyed by the behavior of one employee specifically, or wasted a significant amount of their time on a painful or slow business process. The problems that are top of mind are easiest to discuss in the moment, but they don’t really get to the heart of their business pain.

If, for example, you’re selling a product to push adoption of among sales reps, the prospect’s general pain point is the behavior of their team. The surface level pain you’ll hear immediately is how they’re tired of searching through Salesforce for answers, they spent hours nagging reps for data, and they missed their sales forecast, but don’t know why. These are compelling problems, and most reps will latch onto these issues and start selling their product right away. However, if you jump in too soon with a sales pitch, you’ll miss out on the deeper level of the conversation.

Level 2: Business Pain

To get to this next level, sales reps have to ask more in-depth questions. Instead of just accepting the initial premise that prospects provide, you have to dig deeper to find out how these problems affect the bigger picture. You should ask, “How does this problem impact your overall business?” so instead of just accepting that the core problem, you can find out the deeper ramifications of this problem.

These Level 2 questions should all get to the heart of a financial problem – how much money is the business losing or costing itself because of this problem? If the prospect says reps aren’t using Salesforce and their sales forecasts are off, the business impact is easy to understand. An inaccurate forecast means the business has no predictable revenue source, leading to problems in hiring, funding, and more. Another problem is the sales manager won’t be able to properly visualize the opportunity pipeline. This means they may miss out on an opportunity that is ready to close, while focusing on an opportunity that isn’t ready – missing out on the revenue from both.

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Level 3: Personal Pain

The best reps can move beyond even the business level and get more personal – getting prospects to reveal their deepest and darkest pain points. Talented reps will ask, “How does this challenge affect YOU?” The prospect may say, as a manager, it’s really embarrassing to miss a forecast and lose the trust of the CEO and the Board of Directors. This mistrust could lead to not just the business losing a round of funding (a Level 2 problem) but could lead to the manager being fired. That’s the deeply personal angle you need to find.

If reps are able to reach this level of insight into the customer’s personal pain, they move beyond being a typical sales rep to become the Sandler ideal – a trusted advisor. If a prospect is willing to confide their biggest worries to you, they’re much more likely to think of you as a helpful, knowledgeable guide – not just a salesperson. When you have their trust, now is the moment to sell and show how your product can solve their problems. Hopefully, you can convert prospects into sales champions, who truly believe in your product and will push for it internally.


It’s just not enough to have a superficial conversation with a sales prospect anymore. Instead, you have to get to know your prospect at a more personal level, learning not just the surface-level pain points, but also the business pain and personal pain. Only then is it time to step up and offer your help, to sell them your product and offer a solution to all of their problems.

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