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The Wedge Sales Call

In the original Indiana Jones movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark,

Harrison Ford is confronted by a menacing figure who

pulls out a sword, putting it through a series of ominous

gyrations and flourishes until Ford, unimpressed by the villain’s

dexterity, casually grabs a pistol from his own holster

and brings an abrupt end to the performance.

There is a reason many prospects are similarly impatient

as they sit through sales presentations. In the traditional

selling process, there are two people—you and your

prospect. The sales call is about your ability to create rapport,

know your prospect, and ask questions to find out

where he or she has pain. Traditional selling assumes that

your prospects will know where they hurt, and will tell

you. You then fashion a solution for their pain, make a

proposal, overcome any objections that are raised, and

move to close the deal. Traditional selling is a workable

process. Many billions of dollars’ worth of services and

products have been sold using it. But too often it ends

short of a deal. Your prospect, figuratively reaching for his

or her holster like Harrison Ford, pulls out a revolver at

the end of your presentation and fires the fatal shot: “Let

me think about it.”

Why does traditional selling fall short so often? I believe

that there are two key reasons:

First, as we have discussed, traditional selling does not

deal with your competition. Because of this, when you use

traditional selling methods, your focus is not on beating

your competition. Moreover, if your prospect has a provider, there is a great chance that the provider will be able to leverage

his or her relationship with the prospect, match your

deal, and keep the business. This helps explain why, in many

industries, providers enjoy such a high retention rate with

their clients. Traditional selling does not recognize that for

you to win someone has to lose.

Second, traditional selling assumes that most buyers

know where they hurt. One of my core beliefs is that they

do not. They have lowered their expectations down to

what they are receiving and are getting what they now expect

to be getting. When you ask these prospects how

things are going, they will say “fine.” When you ask them

if they have any problems, they will say “not really.” Until

you can raise their expectations, thereby creating pain, you

have nothing to sell them.

Unlike traditional selling, The Wedge is about going

into your sales call already knowing where your prospect is

being underserved by the current provider, or is likely feeling

pain due to a situation that you can address better than

your competitors can. It is about getting your prospect to

feel that pain so that you can drive The Wedge between

your prospect and your competition.

This part of the book walks you through the six steps

of The Wedge Sales Call. We will look at how each step

works, and why. You will learn simple yet powerful phrases

that you can use in your conversation with your prospects

to guide them smoothly into inviting you to do business

and affirming that they will fire their provider or dismiss

your other competitors from consideration in order to

hire you.

First, however, we are going to take a look at how you create rapport with your prospects. Again, some of this will

sound familiar to you. However, we are going to deal with

rapport through the lens of The Wedge. The purpose of

creating initial rapport during The Wedge Sales Call is

more than simply to make your prospect comfortable with

you. Your purpose is to foster the open, honest dialogue required

for The Wedge to work.

Barriers to Rapport

It is a safe assumption that every account you seek is

wanted or already handled by someone else. If there is a

current provider, he or she already has rapport with your

prospect. The provider and your prospect long ago got

past their primary tension. By now, they speak in shorthand,

communicating ideas back and forth with no need

to get the preliminaries out of the way first. You, on the

other hand, are the outsider. The provider has the relationship,

and you do not. Moreover, even if the account

is open, your prospect has likely been wooed by your

competitors. Therefore, you are courting someone who

either already has a significant other or at a minimum has

been asked out on a date.

As we have discussed, your prospects have several reasons

not to be completely truthful and candid with you

when you walk in the door. For example, they may be

shoppers with no intention to buy. They may have extended

you the courtesy of presenting just so they could

find out what is available in the market. Moreover, your

prospect may have a current provider whom he or she hired. By being there, you are challenging a previous decision

your prospect made. Even if the provider has flaws, no

one likes to be told by someone else that he or she made a

wrong decision.

Also, most prospects, like the majority of people, want

to treat other people nicely. You may have gotten in to see

the prospect for this very reason, in which case your reward

will be a pleasant conversation and a free cup of coffee.

Or it could be that you and your prospect just did not

click when you walked in the door. The chemistry did not

work; and your prospect has decided to simulate interest,

hiding his or her personal displeasure behind a polite facial


How, then, do you overcome these barriers and create

the rapport you need to have an open, honest dialogue so

that you can move the conversation into the six steps of

The Wedge Sales Call?

Comfort and Credibility

To create an environment for truth telling, you must pass

two tests. Fail either of them, and you can pretty much

write off the sales call as a loss. The first of these is the

comfort test. You have to make your prospect feel comfortable

in your presence. The second of these is the credibility

test. Your prospect needs to have confidence that you know

what you are talking about, that you have what it takes to

address his or her needs, and that you are a straight shooter

who speaks honestly.

In his book, Instant Rapport, industrial psychologist

Michael Brooks discusses rapport as a technique that can

be learned, a way of behaving that is not merely a talent of

born salespeople. The point is that there are tactics you

can use to create an environment in which your prospects

are willing to tell you the truth. Why are they willing to be

truthful? Because they are comfortable with you, and you

are credible to them. You have met their need for someone

they can talk to about their problems, and who can do

something about those problems.

While it is true that communication is a two-way

street, the burden for establishing the rapport is on you.

You cannot rely on your prospect to break the ice and be a

good host. This is a sales call, not a social visit to someone’s

house. It is you who wants something. And so it is your responsibility

to make your prospect feel at ease.

When in Rome

I once had a meeting with a prospect about 25 years my

senior. We were having breakfast in a Dallas hotel, and I

was doing my best to make him comfortable. He was an

easygoing fellow with a Texas drawl and a slow manner

of speaking, so I slowed my own speech to match his, and

sat back in my chair with a relaxed posture. As we kept

talking, I realized my firm had the chance to win a

$700,000 contract. The more I thought about the

$70,000 fee that contract would generate, the more excited

I got. I leaned forward eagerly, and started talking

faster. It took me a while to recognize that his body posture

had shifted. He had leaned back in his chair, crossed

his legs, and turned 45 degrees away from me. He

seemed to be signaling me to back off. In my zeal, I had

created disharmony between us. He was protecting himself

from the pressure I was creating. He was still laidback,

and I was wired, stimulated by coffee and thinking

about that $70,000 fee. My unrestrained enthusiasm darn

near killed the deal. Fortunately, I caught myself, sat

back in my chair, crossed my legs, and slowed way down.

We were back in sync, and the rapport was restored. (Yes.

We got the contract.)

We have all heard the expression, “When in Rome, do

as the Romans do.” This does not mean that you have to

become a chameleon and submerge your own identity.

However, you can do a number of things to match and

mirror your prospects’ style, making them more comfortable.

You can dress similarly, talk at the same speed, assume

the same posture, and otherwise mirror their manner and

temperament. Generally, people like people who are like

themselves. Getting your prospect to relate to you is an

important step in building the rapport you need to create

the open, honest dialogue that will enable you to use The

Wedge successfully.

Rapport can be conscious or subconscious. For example,

if you see a picture on your prospect’s desk of

himself or herself skiing down the slopes at Aspen, you

can ask when it was taken and mention how much you

enjoy skiing yourself. Or you might point out that

the iPod you spot on the desk is the same one that you

have. Even though your conscious gesture is obvious, it

is a friendly way to create some commonality at the beginning.

From there, you can begin building a subconscious

rapport by matching and mirroring in the manner

previously described. You can adjust your talking speed,

tone of voice, and body language to that of your prospect.

These comfort-building tactics can go a long way toward

encouraging your prospects to open up and share their

real goals and concerns with you. They help create a willingness

on your prospects’ part to talk about what really

matters to them. And when your prospects begin frankly

sharing their thoughts and feelings with you, you can

move the conversation to the matter at hand with a much

greater chance of winning the business.

Tell a Story

Your prospects may be highly comfortable with you, but

are you credible? That is, do your prospects have confidence

that you can solve their problems? Do they believe

you are a well-informed, honest person who knows their

business? They might think you are a nice person, but not

the one for the job. And you cannot tell your prospects that

you are credible. People who make this claim invite suspicion.

You cannot create credibility by sprinkling your conversation

with phrases like “believe me,” “call Bruce if you

want confirmation,” and “I’ve been there and done that.”

Your challenge is to get your prospects to conclude on

their own that you are credible. One of the best ways I have

found to do that is to tell a story.

By story, I mean a well-rehearsed account of a third

party in a situation similar to that of your prospect. By recounting

for your prospect how you helped this other party

solve his or her problem, you are able to establish your

own bona fides without sounding as if you are reciting bullets from a sales brochure. Here is a six-step format that

you can use to tell your story:

1. “You know, Susan, I’ve found in working with other companies

like yours that . . .” [Show her you know her industry

and its market.]

2. “The owner of one of these companies, Richard Green of

Amalgamated Services, was concerned about . . .” [Tell her

about a specific problem like hers that you were able

to solve.]

3. “When I spoke to Richard, he told me what he wanted

was . . .” [Identify the desired solution in concrete,

specific terms.]

4. “So we went to work, and we were able to . . .” [Explain

how you gave Amalgamated that solution.]

5. “As a result, Amalgamated achieved . . .” [Quantify and

describe the benefits that resulted.]

6. “Tell me, Susan, about your situation . . .” [Find out what

she needs.]

On the surface, you have told Susan a story matter-offactly,

without hype and sales jargon. That was the text of

your story. But the subtext of your story, the underlying

message you were sending to Susan, was more assertive.

1. Look, Susan. We know your business, your industry, and

your market.

2. I’ve worked with people like you at the C level on problems

like yours.

3. You can tell me your problem, and I’ll get it fixed.

4. We can give you the same solutions we gave Amalgamated.

5. You’re going to get measurable benefit from this.

6. Let’s get started now on getting the job done.

By conveying your strengths indirectly through a

story, you have let Susan draw her own conclusions. You

gave her a clear and specific example to think about—one

that demonstrated your own capabilities and related them

to her situation.


Before we move ahead to each of the steps of The Wedge

Sales Call, let’s review what we have just covered:

• Traditional selling often does not work because (1) it

does not factor in the seller’s competition, and (2) it

assumes that buyers know where they hurt.

• In reality, (1) your sales success often depends on

how you deal with your competitors, including current

providers who have the power to match your

offer and keep the business; and (2) most prospects

have lowered their expectations to the level of service

they are currently receiving, pushing their pain

to the back of their mind. Buyers often do not know

where they hurt.

• Unlike traditional selling, The Wedge Sales Call enables

you (1) to get your prospects to see clearly

where they are being underserved, and (2) to raise

your prospects’ expectations above their current level

of service, creating the pain that you need in order to

have something to sell them—and it enables you to

accomplish both of these objectives without saying

anything bad about your competition or having to

sell yourself.

• For The Wedge Sales Call to work, you must create a

rapport with your prospect so that you can have an

open, honest dialogue.

• To achieve rapport with your prospect, you must pass

two tests—comfort and credibility.

• You can make your prospect comfortable by matching

and mirroring his or her temperament and style, and

by finding common ground.

• You can gain credibility with your prospect by telling

a story about a third party you helped whose situation

was similar to that of your prospect. This enables you

to establish your strengths and relate them to your

prospects’ needs without having to assert them directly

and invite skepticism.

Now let me ask you something. What if you had a

simple way of phrasing questions that made your

prospects see how they were being underserved without

your having to say anything bad about your competition?

What if you could get your prospects to see how great

you are without your having to tell them? What if you

could quickly measure your prospects’ pain to see

whether it is strong enough for them to switch their business

to you? What if you had a way to get your prospects

to invite you in and ask you to do business with them?

And what if you could get your prospects to confirm for

you that they are ready and willing to hire you, even if it

means firing your competition?

If you could accomplish these things during a relatively

brief sales call, thus reducing the time it takes for

you to win new business, would you be interested in

hearing more?

That is what I am going to show you next—how to

take your prospects through the six steps of The Wedge

Sales Call. Learn these steps, and you can start winning

more new business than you ever have.