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Strip-Lining: Secret Technique to Land More Sales

By david h. sandler

Several years ago, while bonefishing with a professional guide in the Florida Keys, I discovered a powerful selling technique that could make you a fortune – providing you’re willing to change the way you’ve been selling for years.

The first time a bonefish "hit" the guide’s line, he reacted with a technique which was unusual, but amazingly effective. Instead of "yanking" the rod (which is what most amateur fishermen would do), he gently tipped it forward and created "slack" in the line. As if that weren’t surprising enough, the guide began stripping line from the reel. The bonefish, feeling quite safe with the bait, turned slowly and began swimming down the flat and swallowed his prize. It was now a simple matter to "set the hook" and land the fish.

The guide explained that a premature yank on the line would have allowed the bonefish to spit out the bait and free himself. The guide not only showed me a new technique, he also taught me the meaning of patience. Trying to hook the fish too soon meant certain failure. Being patient meant increasing my chances for success.

This strip-lining principle can also be a powerful technique. It means presenting your product or service in a way which is opposite to that which your prospect expects. A mouthful? Yes, that’s exactly why this bonefish was landed. And that’s exactly why you will land more sales using this powerful technique. But can it apply to any prospect? You bet. No matter whether the prospect is positive, negative or neutral? Of course. Here is how.

Think back to your high school physics class where you learned Newton’s first law of physical motion: "A body in motion tends to stay in motion. A body at rest tends to remain at rest." Newton’s law can be used to close more sales. As you make your calls, you will encounter three types of prospects: 1) positive, 2) neutral and 3) negative. Just as Newton’s pendulum swings back and forth, so will your prospects.

The prospect resting in the neutral position is the most difficult to sell. "A body at rest tends to remain at rest." What’s the best strategy for dealing with this prospect? Get him moving. But which way? The traditional approach would be to move him to the positive side by turning up the enthusiasm. That’s exactly the reason why you should do the opposite. Your success lies in the fact that you will present your product in a way which is opposite to that which your prospect expects. Simply stated, you will strip-line.

Now is the time to get your prospect into motion by pulling him toward the negative side. Don’t be frightened. There is nothing wrong with pulling your prospect to the "no" side as long as you know how to swing him back to the "yes" side.

Watch Charlie Closer (a seasoned professional) use strip-lining to his advantage:

Prospect: (neutral) "I’m open minded. I’d like to see what you have."

Charlie: (stripping line) "I’ll be glad to, but let me ask you a question. Isn’t what you already have doing the job?"

Prospect: (still neutral) "Why, yes, but we’re always open to new ideas."

Charlie: (stripping more line) "Fine, but I get the feeling that even if my product were better than what you are presently using, you probably wouldn’t make any changes. Is that a fair statement?"

Prospect: (pulling against Charlie and moving off neutral) "Why no, that isn’t what I meant."

Charlie: (patient and in control) "Oh, I must have misunderstood you. What did you mean?"

Prospect: (beginning to swing to the positive side) "Well, what I meant was, if your product did a better job, I’d be interested in giving it a try."

Charlie: (about to set the hook) "When you say you’d be interested in giving it a try, what exactly do you mean?"

Did you see how the pendulum was at rest (neutral) when Charlie began his call? He gently put the prospect in motion by using the strip-line technique. The prospect, psychologically off guard – because of Charlie’s unexpected maneuver – resisted by trying to pull Charlie toward the positive side. Had Charlie used the traditional approach (hoping enthusiasm would turn the tide), the prospect would have sensed Charlie’s hard sell and simply spit out the bait.

While neutral prospects can be difficult, positive prospects present an even greater challenge. Remember Newton’s law, "A body in motion tends to stay in motion." If a prospect starts on the positive side, it’s only a matter of time before he will move to neutral and back to the negative side. Watch Wally Weakcloser (the amateur) use the traditional approach.

Prospect: "You really have something there, Wally!"

Wally: (excited) "Thanks, I couldn’t agree with you more. Isn’t it great?"

Prospect: "Great? I love it!"

Wally: "Well, in that case, how many do you want?"

Prospect: (feeling the hook) "Hold on, Wally. I only said I loved it. I didn’t say I would buy it."

Wally: (confused) "But you said you loved it. If I could show you a way…"

Wally is now trapped by what he has been taught for the past 50 years by sales trainers – enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm. Maybe it does, sometimes. The professional will not settle for what works sometimes. The professional wants better odds than that. Take a look at how our friend Charlie Closer would handle the same situation.

Prospect: "I’ve heard about your company. We can’t wait to take a look at your product."

Charlie: (sensing that the prospect is not where he wants him at this stage of the call) "I appreciate your interest, but just what is it about our product that you like?"

Prospect: "Well, we hear it will solve all our problems!"

Charlie: (stripping line) "It may solve some, but nothing will solve all of your problems."

Prospect: (calming down) "But the article I read said…"

Charlie: (more stripping) "Well, let’s pretend for a moment it could only solve some and not all, what would happen next?"

Prospect: (now calmed down) "Well, I guess if it even solved some of our problems, it’s better than where we are now."

Charlie is in control of the call. He can now decide when and where to take the prospect from here.

Remember, this prospect is already "in motion." Therefore he is often the easiest prospect to sell. Unfortunately, when confronted with a negative prospect, the amateur salesperson begins to sell even harder.

Prospect: "I’m not interested!"

Wally: "But, Sir, let me show you the advantages of what I have."

Prospect: "I am not interested, sorry."

The pro knows that the negative prospect is already in motion. Remember Newton’s law, "A body in motion tends to stay in motion." Where can he go? Only to the positive side – providing you have the patience and guts to lead the prospect.

Prospect: "I’m not interested!"

Charlie: (strip-lining hard) "You know, based on what you said, you shouldn’t be."

Prospect: (confused and off balance) "Right! This isn’t for me!"

Charlie: "Agreed. Is it over?"

Prospect: "Well, yes."

Charlie: (beginning to sell again) "Now that it’s over, can I ask you a question?"

Prospect: "Sure."

Can you see how the prospect shifts from negative to neutral, to positive? When faced with a negative prospect, you want to "strip-line" hard! Scary? Of course. But once you get him moving, there is only one place he can go. To the positive side – and to the bank.

Here’s a recap of the strip-lining rules:

1. When a prospect is neutral, get him moving towards the negative side by "stripping line."

2. When a prospect is positive, don’t yank the line, calm him down by "stripping line."

3. When a prospect is negative, "strip-line" hard.

© 1990 Sandler Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.