The Sandler Rules (a short review)

It is helpful to think of The Sandler Rules: 49 Timeless Selling Principles and How to Apply Them like Parenting Teens with Love and Logic. Both books suggest shifting from helicopter parent or pushy salesperson to more of a consultant. For Sandler it’s principle 39. 

For Sandler, for sales, the customer’s progress is all that matters. It’s not how hard you worked. It’s not the feature. It’s not what you think. It’s not the last time this happened. 

It’s. Just. The. Customer’s. Progress. 

To find that the salesperson must be honest, a contradiction to the caricatures. “When interacting with prospects and clients, your objective is to uncover the truth, even if it’s not something you want to hear.” 

One obstacle, ironically, on the path from honesty leading to truth is knowledge. You can know too much. So, act like a dummy (Rule 17). Remember, selling is not about telling (Rule 14). 

Doctoring is a helpful analogy. Dermatologists don’t digress into the sciences  – they diagnose damage. The sales system differs from the medical one and strictly comparing the two makes the man on the moon mistake, but the philosophy is the same. 

Author David Mattson does a nice job of collecting the principles and assigning interesting ideas to each. My favorites: 

  • Rule 2: Don’t spill your candy in the lobby. Get information don’t give it.
  • Rule 4: Explain ‘no’ is okay. Aim to uncover the truth – even if it’s something you don’t want to hear.
  • Rule 13: No mind reading, don’t assume and clarify vague responses.
  • Rule 14: “‘Selling’ is not about “‘telling.’”
  • Rule 22: Defuse bombs right away – bring up the problem.
  • Rule 27: “You can’t sell anybody anything, they must discover they want it.”
  • Rule 37: “All Prospects Lie, All the Time… but why, and about what.”
  • Rule 38: The problem they bring you is never the real problem, “diagnosis is the salesperson’s responsibility”.
  • Rule 41: Whatever is happening is your responsibility
  • Rule 48: A life without risk is a life without growth

Sandler was suggested in Bob Moesta’s book Demand Side Sales. This book is an aligned sales system to the JTBD approach. Rules 37 & 38 (“all prospects lie, all the time” & diagnosis is the salesperson’s job) fit well with the curiosity inherent in JTBD.

The Sandler Rules: 49 Timeless Selling Principles and How to Apply Them is a fast read, best for the JTBD curious and those looking for some sales support. 

Here’s the review for Parenting Teens…

And the JTBD series

Start with No (book review)

In his 2016 book, Never Split the Difference Chris Voss suggests Jim Camp’s, 2011 book, Start with No

To Voss, ‘no’ is progress. Too often ‘yes’ is said for appeasing purposes and ‘maybe’ means we haven’t clarified what’s important. But ‘no’ is firm, it’s progress. 

Camp explores this idea deeper. He, like Voss, dislikes win-win negotiations. First, they lead to unnecessary compromises. In an effort to let both sides ‘get something’ negotiators compromise too much and on the wrong things. A 10% discount in exchange for a longer contract is good only if it’s important. Too often, Camp writes, people compromise on things which don’t matter. 

Second, win-win is considered fair. Who judges what’s fair? There’s no master evaluator. There are ethics though. Camp’s model is analogous to sports. Prepare, train, and play as hard as you can within the rules for the full period of time. Once the event is over, shake hands and respect your opponent. 

Third is the idea Voss runs with, a ‘no’ is progress, it’s “a decision that gives everyone something to talk about.” 

If ‘no’ is so important, why write a book? This coulda been a tweet. 

Well, no. There’re better ways to get to ’no’. And this book is really about something else entirely.

Our second house was a for sale by owner. A nice family with a nice home. We sniffed around each other like dogs with our initial questions and when asked about his timeline for building their next house the owner said, ‘I’m in no rush, I’ve got a house now’. 

That was good. He conveyed un-neediness. Being needy is Camp’s first warning. Do. Not. Need. A. Deal. Both Camp and Voss frame themselves against the classic negotiation book, 1981’s, Getting to Yes. Their books, they say, highlight what GtY gets wrong. Fair. But Getting to Yes presents the BATNA: best alternative to a negotiated agreement. That’s essential to un-neediness. 

The heart of un-needines, and of good negotiations is the secret message of the book. Start with No is really about our ego

Being needy is ego. Camp’s second rule is to act like Columbo. Disarm the adversary. In other words, put ego aside. Don’t try to be impressive, smart, or IN CHARGE. Don’t elucidate and don’t use words like elucidate. Camp warns about trying to be liked (chapters 2, 3), to be smart (6), or only talking about your side (4, 7, 8, 9). 

It’s hard to Start with No when you start with yourself.

The role of ego varies in size and scope. A successful negotiator finds the right balance of their own and their adversary’s point of view. This is the root of Camp’s system. It’s also the heart of copywriting and JTBD

Good negotiations are difficult and rare, Camp writes. That makes sense! To be a successful negotiator (according to Camp) we have to check our ego – a problem humans have been dealing with for hundreds of years. 

Camp tells a lot of ‘me’ stories. They’re about his big deal big deals, his awesome son, his business. It’s a little much (Voss’ stories are better). But hidden in those is a wonderful exploration of our ego and what we can do about it. 

Ego is tricky because like picking our nose, we don’t notice. It’s part of us. But when someone contrasts another way it makes us pause and consider that. For instance, “the most important behavioral goal and habit you can develop is your ability to ask questions” or “The self-image of the individual in the selling role traps him or her in a neediness mode and often leads to bad deals.” That frames our behavior and leads to questions like do I ask enough questions or am I needy because I want to feel smart, impressive, helpful, or whatever?

Camp’s book introduces his perspective, and that’s a good start to good negotiations.

Drucker’s disagreements

Decisions, writes Peter Drucker, are not made between right and wrong. They are choices between “almost right” and “probably wrong”. How then can someone choose?

“Decisions of the kind the executive has to make are not made well by acclamation. They are made well only if based on the clash of conflicting views, the dialogue between different points of view, the choice between different judgments. The first rule in decision-making is that one does not make a decision unless there is disagreement.”

Peter Drucker

In other words, argue well.

  • Both Presidents Eisenhower and Obama concealed their preferences to turn their Yes Men into Drucker’s Diagreeers.
  • Audrey Tang offered the expression rotate your position, using language to embody our action (and this connection works).
  • Tim Harford praised debate for setting boundaries and structure, letting the ideas duke it out while egos, relationships, and norms sat on the sidelines.
  • Sam Zell strives to be “business agnostic” and encourages his people to push back.
  • A good scrap, Wilbur Wright is quoted as saying, “brought out new ways of looking at things…helped round the corners.”

Disagreement can be upsetting. But the best organizations set up expectations to disagree. Drucker’s addition to the “argue well” collection is to draft the fine line between “almost right” and “probably wrong”. If things are that close then we must debate to find what’s right.

Time management and commutes

I thought the genesis of this idea was Rory Sutherland, but he probably got it from Nassim Taleb who writes that fifty, one foot falls is different from one, fifty foot fall. It also came up on Acquisitions Anonymous where Mills Snell noted thirty years of experience could be two people or ten and the situations are quite different. Taleb got it from someone too – King Solomon? – that it exists in many places is good reason to take note.

Rory Sutherland writes that life is not commutative like mathematics. Put numerically: 20,000×1!=1×20,000. Credit Karma acts on this, rewarding $25 spent for lunch rather than a few tenths of a percent in interest. Gifts and maybe mileage reimbursements may act under the same human tendency.

Time management writes Peter Drucker in The Essential Drucker is also not commutative.

“To write a report may, for instance, require six or eight hours, at least for the first draft. It is pointless to give seven hours to the task by spending fifteen minutes twice a day for three weeks. All one has at the end is a blank paper with some doodles on it.”

Rather Drucker suggests locking the door, removing the phone and six hours without interruption. Then one can finish the “zero draft, the one before the first draft.” And only then work in small installments.

Is this commutative?‘ can be another problem solving prompt. In true cases, there’s no gain in rearrangement. In false cases, switching from water cooler meetings to off site meet ups, can result in different outcomes on similar inputs.

“To have small dribs and drabs of time at his disposal,” writes Drucker, “will not be sufficient even if the total is an impressive number of hours.”

Never Split the Difference (book review)

You never step in the same river twice, the saying goes and this second read (the first) of Chris Voss’s Never Split the Difference revealed an unknown spectrum.

Life is a series of “I want you to…”. These requests span our discomfort. For me, job-to-be-done interviews are easier than Voss’s negotiations which are easier than direct copy which is easier than face-to-face negotiations.

I dismissed direct copy and negotiations as less good and confused the metric of difficult as correct.

But they’re all the same.

Each “I want you to…” begins in another person’s world. “The goal is to identify what your counter-party needs,” writes Voss and get them to talk and talk and talk some more. For direct copy said Bob Bly, “enter the conversation they are having in their mind.” For JTBD interviews said Bob Moesta, act like a documentary filmmaker gathering information. Understanding always happens first.

But not a perfect understanding.

Voss wrote his book because Getting to Yes felt too formal. Perfect understanding is a logic puzzle. Negotiations are psychological puzzles. Like understanding Status Games, Voss wants his readers to understand people’s biases and tendencies too. Those include:

  • Framing: setting an anchor price or using loss aversion, each of which changes the comparison to a new price or a missed deal.
  • Removing the sting: I’m about to ask you for a big favor or this is going to take a while but we will go as fast as possible. These warnings are the balm for the stoic observation that we suffer more in imagination than reality.
  • Avoid split the difference compromises: which optimize easy and neglect the chance to be creative.

Negotiations are like the Who’s Line is it Anyway Helping Hands skit (YouTube). Each party is a set of hands and “the deal” is making something that works. Understanding the other person’s style and needs is how to make it work.

My discomfortable dismissal was mood affiliation.

Parenting teens with love and logic (book review)

Parenting Teens with Love and Logic by Jim Fay and Foster Cline is *checks Amazon* the #44th ranked book in the Parenting Teenagers category. I read it because it counts as volunteer hours for our school. And I kinda liked it.

One idea around here is don’t just do something, sit there. Our default thinking is: action = good. But that’s not always the case.

Rather, like Ike, we can find reasons for not doing things. So we can ask: am I doing something that matters or am I just doing something?

This, in part, is the case with helicopter parents. Fay and Cline write, “Other moms and dads sometimes regard helicopter parents as model citizens. After all, look how involved they are.” This rings especially true. As a stay-at-home-dad it wasn’t enough that I was a good parent for my daughters but that I was perceived as one too.

However “helicopters can’t hover forever” and helicopter parents restrict the feedback loop. There’s a lot of analytics about finding more accurate markers about how the world works but helicopter parenting moves in the opposite direction.

The second thing Fay and Cline do well is replace helicopter with consultant. Just as ‘helicopter’ is a great analogy, ‘consultant’ is too. “Consultants don’t dictate,” the duo write, “They advise. They say things like ‘I’m wondering if it would be more effective for you to…'”. And much of the book is to the effect of: what would a consultant say here?”

Like Goodhart’s Law, the goal isn’t to be a consultant or not be a helicopter, but to get teens reps with real life. “Self-esteem doesn’t just ‘happen’ by making teens feel good or happy. It begins when children assert their independence and try to show their families and the world that they are their own persons.”

That means failing, and failing means feedback. Which happens when parenting with love and logic.

Part of the reason this book resonated was because I’ve been a helicopter. Not being one is scary in the short term but not being a consultant is scare in the long term.

Overall this book was helpful. A couple of times it felt like Fay and Cline went to straw man attacks and sometimes their examples resolved themself too easily but there’s only so much ground they could cover in the context of a book. If the transition from helicopter to consultant sounds helpful, consider Parenting Teens with Love and Logic.

To Sell is Human (book review)

Dan Pink’s 2013 book, To Sell is Human is good – but you probably don’t need to read it. At least not now. That the book is ten years old helps explain why.

Prior to the explosion of online media, books used to be great vessels for knowledge, trends, connections, entertainment and more. The best example of this is Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008, Outliers, and specifically the 10,000 hour rule. Prior to Malcolm’s missive, few knew of deliberate practice. After the book everyone talked about it and it was all everyone talked about. It was a thing.

To Sell is Human kinda suffers from the same circumstances. At the time it was full of difficult to discover novel ideas. The book probably kicked off a lot of helpful conversations about where the world might head. That was almost a decade ago. Things change. Here are the big ideas.

  1. We are all in sales. Self-promotion and idea-promotion are now much more common. Some of this is too due to the shift from organizational connections to network connections.
  2. There’s no information asymmetry. For our family van and family home I knew more about the actual options than the salesperson. The Toyota salesman compared the Sienna to the 4Runner whereas I compared the Sienna to the Honda Odyssey.
  3. Find the job to be done. This last one was why To Sell is Human didn’t resonate. Because this is in my head.

The JTBD framework is the conclusion to To Sell is Human. It’s the next logical step. It’s like watching the sequel first, you kinda know what happens in the first.

So don’t read To Sell is Human, but do read Dan Pink. He’s trendy, in a good way.

On Amazon is my JTBD tour-de-force.

Status Games (book review)

The best analogy to understand Loretta Breuning’s book Status Games is calories.

For many years survival was difficult. One problem was calories. So ‘evolution selected’ creatures with a mutation where certain foods (fat, sweet, salt, etc.) released good brain chemicals. Those creatures did better than others and became dominant. In a world with plentiful food those same adaptations aren’t as helpful.

For many years survival was difficult. One problem was predators. So ‘evolution selected’ creatures with a mutation where certain social group circumstances released good brain chemicals. Those creatures did better than others and became dominant. In a world with fewer predators those same adaptations aren’t as helpful.

Evolutionary life was hard so species adapted. Tigers and orangutans have no predator and tigers and orangutans are the only mammals to live alone. Like five fingers on a hand, something about social was splendid for survival. These groups included a pecking order and status games – which have at least two advantages.

Status games as alchemy. In a nod to Rory Sutherland, status games are a form of marketing where there’s a large reward for a not very large cost. Actual fights among mammals are rare. This makes sense. Fights reduce survival chances. Having a way to find out who is right/strong/better/whatever without the fight is quite nice.

Status games protect the group. Status games trim the tails of an individual’s outcome but make reproduction more likely. Any individual mammal is more likely to survive somewhere in the middle of the pack rather than in a non-stop quest to be ‘top dog’. And, Loretta writes, “It enables weaker individuals to enjoy the protection of stronger individuals in the face of common enemies.”

Groups are good for survival and status games are good for groups. So status became part of our human operating system.

One analogy for the human brain is the elephant and the rider. The rider is our conscious brain and it is giving directions, narrating the story, and feeling in charge but really the elephant is going to go where it wants to go – and per Breuning the elephant wants to travel on well trodded paths. “Your animal brain just strives to repeat behaviors that trigger happy chemicals and avoid behaviors that trigger unhappy chemicals.” Thanks to the evolutionary advantage of being in groups, our brains have a simple set of chemical instructions.

  • Good: being in a group, ideally higher up.
  • Bad: being separate from a group, demoted in a group.

Groups are important so we seek groups. Everywhere are groups and everything is a status game. Fancy cars are status games. But so is ethics, morals, politics, house size, neighborhood, intelligence, partner, ability to drink, family heritage, even hardships. Find the chemical rewards and you will find the game. “Each brain sees the world through the lens of the neural pathways it has,” Breuning writes.

So, status games are normal but maybe not as helpful as they were. If we have to play, then we can play wisely. Remember, explains Loretta, it’s the dopamine that makes something feel good, not the thing. “The simple way to do this,” Breuning concludes, “is to put yourself up without putting others down.”

I have no idea how much of this book is true but I liked it for a two reasons. First, it acknowledges the world as it is. Animals compete and form cliques, just like us, because we are animals. Two, the book’s perspective is action oriented. This is how things are and this is what you can do, I imagine Breuning advising. Most of all this book reminded me of Spent, we are all signaling and we are all playing status games.

Comments: it is ironic that ‘pecking order’ is from domesticated chickens. Also, ‘evolution selected’ is just how we assign action and our brains like effects from actions. Examples include Headspace, poker, and international espionage and it is the source of the expression ‘don’t shoot the messenger’.

May 2022 Update. Scott Alexander’s review of The Gervais Principle offers an example of status games, and why they are helpful, in the context of Seinfeld.

Daters, scammers, and Zeckhauser

Maxim Five: low probability events

When a low probability event occurs (say an underdog wins a sports championship), we tend to come up with reasons why we might have expected it. This phenomenon is often referred to as hindsight bias, a tendency to perceive past events as having been more predictable than they actually were. But if we consider that many events occur in a year, we should expect at least some to be low-probability events. For example, there are many championships in a given year, so we should not be surprised that every year there is a championship outcome in some sport (say tennis, golf, football, etc.) that no one expected.Dan Levy, Maxims for Thinking

Something is always happening because with enough parts, something happens. The odds that one low-probability event, a 100:1 long shot wins an event, occurs is low. But the odds that any low probability event occurs is fair. Tonight many people will go to many bars. To bet that Your Friend will meet their spouse is ridiculous. To bet that Anyone’s Friend will meet their spouse is a no-brainer.

The bar points out the mechanism we use everyday: a filter. Not everyone at the bar will be there to meet a spouse and those that are there for that will very likely leave without doing so, but being at-the-bar is the filtering mechanism. It’s the same mechanism the Nigerian Prince uses.

It’s well noted that scamming emails contain misspellings, outlandish claims, and hard-to-swallow facts as a filter. A scammer, like a dater, only wants to draw from an eligible pool. And the scammer and the dater both have the same reason: resources. A scam email has minimal costs. A visit to the bar has minimal costs. These filters have to exist because the follow up is expensive.

Something is always happening, but we often don’t want ‘something’. We want ‘this thing’. One tool is to increase the probability (p) it occurs. Go to the coffee bar. Send the email with mistakes. Another tool is to increase the number (N). Will Michigan ever lose again as a thirty-point favorite? Maybe. Will a division one football team lose as a thirty point favorite? Probably. Will any football team lose as a thirty point favorite? Definitely.

Low probability events will always occur and the mechanism of a large Number or rising probability influence how often. Maxim 5 is “the world is much more uncertain than you think.” Levy, writing about Richard Zeckhauser notes, “so the next time you find yourself thinking that some event will happen for sure or that some other event has no chance of happening, pause to remind yourself of this maxim.”


Thanks to Eric Bradlow on the Wharton Moneyball podcast for articulating the idea “large N small p”.

Thorpe’s Two Questions

Ed Thorpe is in graduate school and has a professor who is ‘mailing it in’. In class Thorpe stands up to the instructor, demeans him, and is threatened with expulsion. Needing to stay in school, if only to avoid the Vietnam War draft, Thorpe crafts a careful apology:

“I explained that I’d come to realize his teaching methods were unique and that students, though they may not always appreciate it rarely encounter a professor of his caliber. What I said was true, but allowed more than one interpretation.”

It was an early lesson that was almost quite costly. In the future, Thorpe started to ask two questions: “None of this would have happened if I’d have asked myself beforehand, if you do this, what do you want to happen? And, if you do this, what do you think will happen?

Book: A Man for All Markets