Salespeople: “Never Fail Again.” Here’s How!

Salespeople: “Never Fail Again.” Here’s How!

Written By Jeffrey Gitomer

KING OF SALES, The author of seventeen best-selling books including The Sales Bible, The Little Red Book of Selling, and The Little Gold Book of Yes! Attitude. His live coaching program, Sales Mastery, is available at


One of the greatest fears of salespeople is failure. Early in his career, the late David H. Sandler, founder of the Sandler Sales Institute, created a mechanism that prevented him, or any salesperson who uses it, from ever failing again. The following adaptation from You Can’t Teach A Kid To Ride A Bike At A Seminar, by David H. Sandler and John P. Hayes, explains Sandler’s technique The Upfront Contract.

John Hayes recalls a magic moment in the book where David Sandler recounts how The Upfront Contract was born. One day, the thought occurred to Sandler that all he really needed to do was establish an agreement with a prospect to see if they had anything to discuss. That took the pressure off trying to close the sale. If they agreed they had something to discuss, they could continue to determine if they should do business together. If there was nothing to discuss, however, no harm done. There was no need to try to sell the prospect.

By establishing the agreement or a contract before Sandler tried to sell his services, he could call on anyone and never risk failing. Sandler couldn’t fail trying to get an upfront contract. Either he got a commitment to continue or he didn’t. If he did, all the better, and if he didn’t, Sandler was out the door, no regrets. Suddenly, selling became more of a game than a risk or a challenge. If you think of selling as a game, then you’ll find it appropriate to use The Upfront Contract.

Every sport uses one. Before a baseball game, the umpire calls the managers from the opposing teams to home plate and they discuss the rules of the game. They agree on what’s foul and fair, what makes a home run, and they review any unusual circumstances about the ballpark. Later, during the game, if a batter hits a ball behind the catcher, up over the screen, and into the crowd, there’s no argument that it’s a foul ball. . . Why don’t sales people take the same approach? What could be more honest than to establish a set of rules at the beginning of interacting with a prospect?

An Upfront Contract, or better yet, a series of Upfront Contracts, will save time for both you and the prospect, and help you make more money in sales without offending anyone. By always arriving at an agreement up front, you and the prospect can avoid misunderstandings, as well as the rhetoric and posturing that often occurs during the selling dance. An Upfront Contract improves communications and greatly enhances the profession of selling.

Here are some samples of how to form Upfront Contracts:

When you meet your prospect (either on the phone or in person), say something like this: “Jim, let’s set some ground rules for our meeting. I’d like to have the opportunity to ask you some questions about your business, and I’d also like you to ask me anything you’d like about my product. Is that okay with you?” (First Upfront Contract).

As we ask and answer each other’s questions, “Jim, we may decide there isn’t a fit between what you need and my product. We may decide it doesn’t make sense to spend any more time together. If we reach that point, are you comfortable telling me that?” (Second Upfront Contract).

“On the other hand, if you see that my product makes sense to you, we can decide to move forward. Okay, Jim?” (Third Upfront Contract).

“When we finish today, Jim, we can set up the ground rules as to how you and I will proceed. Is that satisfactory?” (Fourth Upfront Contract).

See how it works?

The more often Sandler used upfront contracting in sales calls, he discovered there was rarely a need to make a presentation. . . Why? Because when you create a series of contracts, prospects can experience how your product or service will fulfill their needs. As you develop the contracts, you gently guide the prospects to see that your product or service can eliminate the problem or provide the solution.

By establishing Upfront Contracts, you’re not guaranteed to get every order. . . However, establishing Upfront Contracts will guarantee your control of the selling process, every step of the way. As a salesperson, you’ll get in the habit of never making a move without knowing in advance what will happen when you do.

Even small items require an Upfront Contract. For example, your prospect asks you to call back on Thursday, but you don’t know why. Gently say, “Sally, I’ll be happy to call you on Thursday. . . what will happen when we talk on Thursday?” Before you give up control of a selling situation, take the opportunity to get an Upfront Contract.

Upfront contracting won’t be easy because it’s asking you to change your behavior. At first, it’s going to feel awkward, but the more you use the technique, the faster you’ll master it.

One final word: The most important Upfront Contract you will ever make is with yourself. It’s the contract that says nothing will drive you out of sales. The only way you can break that contract is to quit. Don’t.


Editors note: I knew and respected David Sandler. He was a pioneer in sales training from the 60’s thru the 80’s. I am also friends with Sandler’s coauthor John Hayes. An exceptional writer, speaker and trainer, Hayes has emerged as the spokesperson for their book, “You Can’t Teach A Kid To Ride A Bike At A Seminar.” I recommend the book.