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A few months ago, one of our clients told us how he used a powerful technique to help one of his team members who was having some problems with moving buyers toward a decision. During a role-play session, he shared a Sandler strategy called “stripping line.”

This is a technique you can use to get clarity on what’s really happening in the buyer’s world.

Stripping line is a trick familiar to experienced anglers. That strategy is analogous to attempting to close a prospect at the first sign of interest or enthusiasm. Think of it this way. Novice fishermen, when they feel a fish nibbling on their bait, try to set the hook by yanking the line. They usually end up with an empty hook—no fish—because the fish was only nibbling; it hadn’t swallowed the bait.

Experienced fishermen know that they will have a better chance of hooking the fish if they do the opposite of what their first instinct tells them to do. They strip some line from the reel and create some slack. The fish then pulls the bait deeper in the water and, feeling more secure, swallows it—and the hook. Then, setting the hook is easy. It only takes a slight tug on the line.

Applying this idea to sales simply means remembering that pushing against buyers just makes them push back harder… so that no one makes any progress. Instead of pushing them in the direction you want them to go, by asking a question like, “What kind of solution are you looking for?” try pulling them away from that direction and then letting go. Even positive buyers need to be “discouraged” a bit, so that they swing back in the positive direction.

Here is an example:

Buyer: I’m glad you could come in today. As you know, we’ve been thinking about upgrading our equipment for some time now. Your information looks quite interesting. I’ve looked at a lot of literature, and your equipment stacks up very well against your competition. I think we may be able to do business.

Salesperson (pulling the prospect toward the negative): I appreciate you telling me that. Frankly, I had come to the conclusion that we’d never have an opportunity to work together. I found that companies that are continually reading literature and comparing specs rarely get around to actually making a decision. I figured that’s what was happening here.

Buyer: Well, I suppose we have been dragging this out for a bit. But, that doesn’t mean we’re not serious about moving ahead with the project. It just means that we wanted to have all of our ducks in a row before we proceeded.

Notice how the contact in the last example, a “neutral” buyer, began moving in the positive direction as a result of the salesperson’s comments. Specifically, this buyer:

  • Acknowledged “dragging out” the process.
  • Pushed back on the salesperson’s (negative) conclusion.
  • Explained the reason for the actions.

This kind of response from prospects is quite common when we pull them gently in a negative direction. The objective with neutral prospects is simply to get them moving. Once they are moving, you can apply the appropriate strategy to keep them moving. For instance, the salesperson could gently tug in the negative direction with the following question:

Salesperson: I understand. But, that’s not going to happen this quarter…is it?

By learning, practicing, and mastering the “stripping line” principle, our client was able to help his rep get a better sense of what was really going on in each opportunity, and eventually improve her closing ratio.

Strip-lining is not just a sales tactic. It comes up in almost every area of our business, including when offering a job and working with venture capitalists. Next time your sales team feels backed in a corner, have them give strip-lining a try.

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