What is the Straight Line selling method? How does it compare to the traditional, seven-step methodology?
In his book Way of the Wolf, Jordan Belfort teaches the fours steps for Straight Line selling: 1) take control in the first four seconds, 2) build rapport, 3) gather information, and 4) presenting. Belfort recommends looping the conversation to determine what factors are holding the prospect back, then presenting again while addressing those concerns.
Continue reading for full instructions on Belfort’s four steps for Straight Line selling.
Steps for Straight Line Selling
Way of the Wolf explains sales trainer Jordan Belfort’s Straight Line selling method, which is designed to efficiently move a prospect from doubt to certainty about buying. It provides a conceptual framework plus a collection of principles, techniques, and psychology that he says anyone can use to sell anything in any industry.
Here are Jordan Belfort’s Straight Line selling steps:
Step 1. Taking Control in the First Four Seconds
Belfort says that the first step—establishing your authority and taking control of the sale—must happen in the first four seconds of the sales conversation—or you’ll fail to close. (Shortform note: Taking immediate control may be more important in B2C than in B2B sales, where business customers tend to resist pressure.)
According to Belfort, you must establish three things about yourself in the first four seconds of a Straight Line sales conversation (typically, through your tone, appearance, and body language):
- Competence: You must come across to the prospect as smart and capable of solving problems, or talking to you will seem like a waste of time.
- Expertise: You must not only sound like an expert but also work until you become one. We’ve been conditioned from childhood to turn to experts, such as doctors, teachers, and advisors for help—so convey in-depth knowledge of your product and industry and how it can benefit your customer.
- Enthusiasm for your product: Make it clear that you believe in your product and company. Don’t try to sell something unless you feel it’s truly valuable, or your insincerity will come through and undercut your efforts.
(Shortform note: Researchers differ on exactly how many seconds you have to make a first impression—estimates range from a fraction of a second to half a minute. Further, Belfort repeats a widely quoted assertion that when someone develops a negative first impression of you, it takes eight positive impressions to overcome it. While there’s little research to support this, it’s true that salespeople who make a poor first impression won’t likely get additional chances, so it’s vital to get it right the first time.)
In later chapters, Belfort provides techniques for establishing your credibility or authority in four seconds using tone and body language and by developing an effective script.
Steps 2-4. Questioning and Presenting
Once you’ve established control of the Straight Line sales conversation, the next steps, which go hand in hand, are building rapport and gathering information for your presentation. (Without rapport, prospects won’t answer your questions.) These must be purposeful activities designed to advance your goal of closing a sale. Unskilled salespeople often get sidetracked instead—they end up following the client off on tangents in an effort to be friendly, or waste time trying to answer dead-end objections.
For example, when Belfort hired his first brokers, they had constant trouble closing, even when they had good (qualified) leads. When he questioned them about the lack of sales, they complained that the clients raised too many objections to buying, which the brokers struggled to counter.
However, to succeed, Belfort’s brokers needed to steer the conversation. Belfort explained that to have a two-way conversation, you need to deviate from the Straight Line a little, and let the prospect talk. However, you should use the small deviations from the Straight Line to build rapport and gain information by asking purposeful questions that will help you target your presentation.
For example, to sell stocks, Belfort recommends discussing these areas with the customer to determine what doubts or limitations hold her back, so you can address them:
- What worries might make the prospect hesitant to buy?
- What beliefs could hinder the sale—for instance, a distrust of brokers or a prior bad experience.
- Does she have the money and willingness to invest it?
Similarly, if you were selling a car under this system, you’d want to identify potential hurdles such as bad credit or the inability to make a down payment. With this information, you’d know to feature your company’s easy credit plan in your presentation.
In the process, you should be careful not to undermine rapport by saying the wrong thing, using the wrong tone or body language, or asking a question at the wrong time. Belfort stresses in later chapters that you have to constantly maintain and strengthen rapport—if you lose it at any point and can’t restore it, you’ll lose the sale.
|How to Build Rapport|
Belfort’s prescription for building rapport, as explained in later chapters, is to use focused questions, tone, and body language to come across as caring, sincere, and interested (but to avoid BS’ing). However, other sales training emphasizes specific rapport-building steps and questions: Be yourself, be friendly, show real interest, find common ground, give genuine compliments, be sensitive to the client’s time, and adapt to the business culture (such as by dressing appropriately). Show sincere interest with comments such as: “I really like your lobby, artwork, how friendly your staff is (or something else you actually liked).” Follow up with open-ended questions about the feature you cited.
In New Sales. Simplified, Weinberg cites building rapport as the first stage in making a face-to-face sales presentation. To build rapport, he recommends starting your meeting with a genuine conversation about news, sports, or something you saw on their LinkedIn profile; then using the answers to assess the client’s personality and conversational style to which you adapt. Finally, share your agenda for the meeting, then tell your sales story.
After establishing rapport and gathering information, Belfort recommends asking for the sale so that you surface the objections early in the process. Remember, objections are generally a cover for uncertainty about the product, you, or your company. Then use looping: Backtrack to determine what the prospect is uncertain about, re-present your product’s benefits, and start moving the client forward again.
(Shortform note: In the Little Red Book of Selling, Jeffrey Gitomer argues that uncertainty/objections stem from perceived risk. The biggest hurdle to a sale is the risk the customer believes he’d take in buying your product. You must eliminate the risk to get the customer to buy. Risks include: Will I get into trouble if the purchase doesn’t pan out, and is it worth the money? He says the seller can prepare for this by identifying the customer’s potential risks and preparing responses that eliminate them. We’ll discuss the looping process in detail and how other sales methods address objections in Chapter 12.)
|How Other Methods Compare|
Many sales methods follow some version of Belfort’s four steps—the seven typical sales steps are: prospecting and qualifying, preparation, approach (questioning), presentation, objection handling, closing, and follow-up. But customer-focused methods differ from the Straight Line system in emphasis and goal. For example:
Control: While the Straight Line method asserts control to push the client toward a sale, the Challenger sale method uses control differently. It asserts control in the sense of challenging or pushing the client to think differently about his industry and his needs and solutions.
Asking questions: While both Straight Line and customer-focused methods ask questions to build rapport and gather information, customer-focused methods prepare questions in advance and go deeper in an effort, not just to sell, but to customize a solution.
Presenting: Though he lists presenting as the fourth step, Belfort doesn’t explain how to create a sales presentation—that is, how to compellingly describe your product and its benefits. He appears to assume you’ll know your product and how to pitch it before trying to sell it; instead, his system focuses on using tone and body language—as well as repeating your pitch through looping—to persuade. In contrast, in New Sales. Simplified., Mike Weinberg advocates crafting a compelling sales story about your offering, which becomes the centerpiece of your sales presentation. A sales story explains the customer issues you solve, the solutions and services you offer, and how they’re different from and better than anyone else’s. (Weinberg provides a story template.) Further, he explains how a presentation follows eight choreographed stages, such as: get buy-in, clear the air, and tell your story.
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- How to sell like Jordan Belfort, the Wolf of Wall Street
- The 4 steps of the Straight Line selling method
- The 3 types of certainty you have to create to make a successful sale