What Is A Pattern Interrupt?

by Johnny Bravo · 31 comments

What Is A Pattern Interrupt?A pattern interrupt is a very powerful sales technique that any professional, regardless of industry, can use whenever they are speaking to a new prospect.

The concept is pretty simple and straight forward. The ultimate goal of a pattern interrupt is to get the person you’re speaking with thinking about something other than you being a sales person. The technique is to do or say something unexpected which disrupts their normal pattern.

These types of pattern breaking techniques originally stem from something called neuro-linguistic programming (NLP Pattern interrupt). My first encounter with pattern interrupts was when I was selling copiers and going through Sandler sales training.

You see, the decision makers you are prospecting and cold calling on are very experienced in dealing with most salespeople. The normal pattern is they answer the phone, the sales person asks them how they are doing, introduces themselves, makes a pitch, and the prospect uses one of their own anti-sales tools to get off the phone as quickly as possible.

Because this is a pattern it will always end the same way; with an impenetrable wall that goes up in their mind and an unsuccessful sales person.

As soon as they recognize the person on the phone is trying to sell them something their first instinct is to follow their pattern.

What a pattern interrupt does is give you a few valuable seconds to make a proper first impression instead of getting discriminated against because you’re trying to earn their business.

This sales technique is especially effective for the newer sales person who may need a little more time on a call to get a meeting.

Examples Of A Pattern Interrupt

Pattern interrupt examples are a lot easier than you might think. All that is required is to ask them a simple question, one they have to think about. And even though these types of questions are closed ended (usually not recommended on a cold call) it is still effective for this purpose.

My favorite, which has worked exceptionally well for me is…

Hi Jim, this is Johnny Bravo. Does that name sound familiar?

This specific pattern interrupt is great for anyone who has a unique or well known name. And because my name is Johnny Bravo I’ve had great success using this.

This will also work well if you’ve already been prospecting on them for a while, have left numerous emails or voicemails, but have yet to talk with them live until then.

Either way there is often a chuckle on the other end which is a great way to break the pattern their accustom to.

What you’ll notice is that all the pattern interrupt has done is cause the person on the other line to stop and think for just a moment, hmmm do I know this person?

Another great one I use is…

I probably caught you at a bad time

…OF COURSE you caught them at a bad time. If you’re calling out of the blue they likely weren’t sitting by the phone waiting for your call. They have better things to do then wait for your call.

From my experience there are two paths this conversation will follow. An answer of yes or an answer of no.

Yes sounds something like “Yes, I’m in the middle of a meeting” or “Yes, I don’t have time to talk right now“. Since I was calling them at their office this is completely understandable and should be respected.

The proper response is to agree and probe for a better time. Such as, “Understandable. When would be a better time for us to talk?”. 

No sounds something like “Not necessarily, why are you calling?” or “No, I’m just eating lunch“. I come across the lunch response a lot because that is one of the best times to cold call.

If they say no then you’ll want to next ask for a few seconds to tell them why you’re calling and put the ball in their court. This is something simple like “Then may I take 30 seconds and tell you why I’m calling? Then you can decide if we should continue.

A normal sales person wouldn’t ask them for permission and wouldn’t let them make the choice to continue or not. Not doing that would be completely against the concept and a pattern interrupt error.

When To Use A Pattern Interrupt

Would it surprise you to know that you can use these pattern interrupt techniques in almost any situation?

Obviously the first place as a sales person would be with a prospect or gatekeeper. But you can use this in real life just as effectively. Both personally and professionally.

Let me give you a couple of ideas where a pattern interrupt would work well.


As a married man this is not something I’ve done in a long time, walking up to a group of girls and introducing myself. In fact I’ve actually never used a pattern interrupt in this manner. But I’ve seen my ex-coworkers use it enough times to know it is effective.

For the most part it is a pretty daunting task to walk up to a group of people you don’t know and make a good first impression. 

The best one is the first example given, asking if your name sounds familiar. This allows you to introduce yourself and lead into the question of their name… “no”…”hmm,  are you sure? Well what’s your name?”

It’s boarder line cheesy and sounds like “Have we met before” but I promise you it works, and is the same concept but better.

Networking Events

Lets take the above example and put a little spin on it. Walking up to a group of women at a bar is very similar to walking up to a group of people at a networking event.

The group is likely comprised of individuals from the same company or cliche. So you are still an outsider trying to “break in”.

To Defuse A Situation

A past sales manager of mine once told me a story about a tense situation he defused using a pattern interrupt. I believe it was with someone in his fantasy football league who he didn’t get along with very well. The guy was constantly bringing up a past situation trying to push buttons.

He was following a pattern.

So instead of continuing the pattern my ex sales manager did something unexpected. Not responding like normal he said, “There’s a reason you’re asking me this.” Notice that this pattern interrupt was a statement instead of a question and that it would cause the other person to stop and think of a reason.

A Pattern Interrupt Can Be Used Anytime You Want To Change The Subject

So there you have the basics of a pattern interrupt sales technique. A pretty simple concept which works well for getting past gatekeepers, speaking with C-level executives, or simply meeting new people.

The goal is to disrupt the pattern and change the subject of what they think the conversation will be about. This will help you make it more about them than you.

~ Johnny Bravo

Pattern Interrupt image courtesy of Nokes / Flickr

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