What Is A Pattern Interrupt?

What Is A Pattern Interrupt?

The pattern interrupt is one of my favorite sales skills to use.

So rare is a technique that can be applied as broadly and in so many various situations, both personally and professionally

And although I talk about it in the singular there are actually TWO different pattern interrupt techniques you can use:

Each has its merits and when used in the right situation can be very successful.

My goal for this post is that it will answer these key questions:

  • What is a pattern interrupt?
  • What are the differences between an NLP pattern interrupt and Sandler pattern interrupt?
  • What are some pattern interrupt examples?
  • What situations can I use a pattern interrupt in?

Below I’ve broken this post down into three main sections.

First I’ll discuss the NLP pattern interrupt and give an example of the technique in play.

Then I’ll review the Sandler pattern interrupt and give an example of its use as well.

Finally, I’ll highlight some other situations in life, personally and professionally, where a pattern interrupt could be used successfully.

The NLP Pattern Interrupt

Of the two, this is the easiest to use and as such, the most often used.

The concept is pretty straight forward and something even a brand new sales person can use effectively.

The ultimate goal of an NLP pattern interrupt is to break the pattern that a specific situation would likely produce.

Thereby causing the other person to take a moment and think about their response.

Here is an example of it being used during a cold call:

Old You: Hi Ginny, this is Johnny Bravo with The Sales Pro Blog. I’m reaching out to local businesses who could benefit from my sales training program. Does that sound like something you’d be interested in?

Them: No….click.

NLP Pattern Interrupt You: Harry, this is Johnny Bravo. Does that name sound familiar?

Them: ….thinking….thinking….No. Should it?

The reason this is effective is because they have to stop and think, even if just for a split second, whether they know you or if your name is otherwise familiar.

They are thinking “Do I know this person?” instead of “This is a salesperson, time to put up my Impenetrable ‘Not Being Sold To Today’ Wall.”

As the name suggests, this is interrupting the pattern that they’ve developed after being called on by multiple salespeople in the past.

The pattern they are used to consists of:

  1. Phone rings, interrupting whatever they were doing.
  2. The salesperson asks them how they are doing.
  3. The salesperson introduces themselves, their company, and their product.
  4. The salesperson makes a pitch.
  5. Prospect spends the rest of the conversation, and as little time as possible, trying to get off the phone.

Look familiar?

Remember people like to buy, but they don’t like to be sold to.

I’ll admit, it may not be AS effective if you don’t have a catchy name like me but there are other examples you can use that will still disrupt their normal pattern.

It will also work well if you’ve been professionally persistent in reaching out to them where you’ve left numerous voicemails, sent multiple emails, but have yet to talk with them live until then.

This type of pattern interrupt is especially useful for a new sales person who may need a bit more time on a call to get a meeting confirmed.

It will give them a few more valuable seconds to make a proper first impression instead of getting discriminated against because they’re trying to earn some business.


The Sandler Sales Methodology Pattern Interrupt

My Sandler training goes back to my days slinging copiers.

Without hesitation, I can say that it was my worst sales position but I learned more about sales during that time than in any other role, with any other company.

Sandler WORKS!

But it takes practice and patience.

Many of Sandler’s concepts go against the norm of what sales people are taught today.

The Sandler Pattern Interrupt is the juiced up version of the NLP Pattern Interrupt.

And it is incredibly effective if used correctly.

Unfortunately, all too often, sales people refer to the NLP and Sandler methods interchangeably.

This is not appropriate since the two have different concepts, goals, and delivery.

First, a little background on why the Sandler pattern interrupt is so effective.

At a very early age we are taught: if you’re asked a question, answer the question.

I know this is what I’m teaching my kids.

The problem is that this rule does not always translate well into the sales profession.

TO BE CLEAR, I’m not telling you to lie or ignore the question. Instead, as I’ll explain momentarily, I want you to answer the REAL question and its intent which the Sandler pattern interrupt will help you uncover.

When a prospect asks a question, it is often not the real question they want to ask.

Their intent is hidden.

Here’s an example of a situation where an inexperienced salesperson would fall into this trap.

Prospect: How many types of widgets do you make?

Sales Pro: We make all types of widgets and have the largest selection of widgets compared to our competitors.

Prospect: Hmm, I thought so. What we’re looking for is a widget producer who specializes in only one type of widget. This way we know we will be getting the best widgets possible.

Deal lost…

Now, this conversation would have gone a lot differently if the salesperson knew how to use a Sandler pattern interrupt.

Prospect: How many types of widgets do you make?

Sandler Sales Pro: Well we can make….you know Kelly, that’s an interesting question. Why is that information important to you?

Prospect: What we’re looking for is a widget producer who specializes in only one type of widget. This way we know we will be getting the best widgets possible.

Sandler Sales Pro: I thought so. We offer the highest quality that leaves not detail to the imagination with our widgets.

Another example you can use is “We’re able to produ…Bailey, is there a specific reason you’re asking that question?”

You want to be careful with this pattern interrupt phrase though. It’s rare, but sometimes a prospect will answer “Because I want to know how many types of widgets you can produce”.

But if that happens you can just follow up with another question trying to dig into their intent with the first question.

And therein lies the core of the Sandler pattern interrupt which I touched on previously.

Answering the intent of the question, not directly the first question they asked.

So how do you know when you should use the Sandler pattern interrupt?

Simply put, anytime a prospect asks you a question when you are not sure what the true intent of the question is.

The idea is to use the pattern interrupt to dig deeper into their pain and understand the motivation for the question(s) they are asking.

Applying Pattern Interrupts In Other Situations

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the pattern interrupt is a tool versatile enough to be used in almost any situation where you need to break a pattern.


I’ve found that both the NLP and Sandler pattern interrupt works well in situations where you’re trying to diffuse an escalating situation.

A past sales manager of mine once told me a story about a tense situation he defused using a pattern interrupt.

There was a guy in his fantasy football group who would constantly bring up a specific past instance where he (the other guy) thought that my sales manager had wronged him.

The two opinions differed on what actually happened in that situation but this guy simply brought it up to push some buttons.

He did this often.

They were following a pattern.

  1. Guy brings up the situation.
  2. My sales manager takes the bait.
  3. Argument ensues.

But on one particular day, my sales manager took a different approach.

He decided to use a pattern interrupt and responded something like; “The way I rem….Guy, there’s a reason you’re telling me this.

Instead of the pattern they had always maintained, this put them on a different path.

One that didn’t lead to a fight, and from what I remember started the process of mending that relationship.

Pretty powerful stuff.


I am the proud father of two young boys who can get very upset if something doesn’t go their way.

Like when they want to watch TV before bed or want another fruit snack.

Being the good parents we are the response is generally something along the “No.” line.

But being the sales pro I am, and knowing how to use a Sandler pattern interrupt, the conversation actually goes something like this:

Kid: Daddy, I want another fruit snack.

Me: You already had…Hey, how about we go outside and play in the sandbox before it gets too dark?

Works pretty well most of the time.

The other times I chalk up to dealing with irrational mini-mes.


Disclaimer: I’ve never personally used a pattern interrupt in this situation (my future wife and I were already together when I learned about pattern interrupts) but I’ve seen coworkers use it enough times to know it is effective.

The pattern of picking up on people, if I remember correctly, is:

  1. You walk up to them
  2. Introduce yourself
  3. Try to strike up a conversation.

Often someone will say “I really like your dress” or “You have beautiful eyes.” or something along those lines.

Some are more creative, others more sleazy; not the point though.

There is a better way.

The NLP pattern interrupt way.

This breaks the pattern of that person’s response which was already established by other folks trying to pick up on them.

It goes something like this:

“Hi! Johnny (motioning towards myself), Johnny Bravo. Does that sound familiar at all?”

Assuming you don’t have a catchy name that causes them to chuckle, it does two things:

  • It allows you to introduce yourself, and
  • It gives you a lead into a question to get the conversation going.

This post is not meant to be a dating advice column so I’ll jump to the point.

When they say “No..?” you respond with something like, “hmm, are you sure? Is your name Kristi [or any other name you want to use]?”

Again,  from my eyewitness accounts, they will usually say “No.” and then give their name.

Sometimes, because it just isn’t meant to be, they will say “No…” and turn back to whatever they were doing.

Moving on!

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

So there you have it.

The basics of the 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 or change the subject of what they think the conversation will be about.

~ Johnny Bravo

*”What Is A Pattern Interrupt?” was originally posted April 19th, 2013. Last updated May 3rd, 2017.

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