Filling an Empty Birdcage

Why is it that one salesperson is better at selling kitchens while another is stronger with additions? The answer is rooted in science, and understanding how it works can help strengthen any team.

February 15, 2019
share goals publicly

There’s a concept in Sandler Training called “birdcage.” The idea is that when you share your goals publicly (i.e.,show people your “empty birdcage”), this creates space for someone to step in and “give you a bird.”

Have you ever purchased a new pair of shoes and afterwards noticed that a lot of other people are wearing the exact same ones? Reticular activation is a phenomenon that occurs after you become familiar with something and then start to see it more frequently. Ceiling tile salespeople notice the ceiling the second they walk into an office. Floor covering salespeople quickly notice flooring. You don’t need to be in sales to experience this. All humans have a reticular activating system in the brain. I suspect the most routine example occurs when you purchase a new vehicle. At first, you may think it’s pretty uncommon but soon you see the exact same vehicle everywhere. It’s as if your car suddenly became popular right after you purchased it! Of course, those identical cars were always there; you just hadn’t noticed them.

What This Means for Salespeople

Salespeople that are activated in this way to their ideal customer are more effective. They notice qualified buyers faster and spend less time chasing prospects that don’t fit. But you want all your employees activated, not just the salespeople. Every jobsite is ripe with up-sell and cross-sell opportunities. I spend a lot of time going over these details with sales and production people and have them share a vision of what they want to build. Don’t forget that this activation can be used when meeting the neighbors during the construction process.

I’ve worked with salesforces that sold many different types of products. You would expect their sales to be fairly diversified amongst all the products they have available to sell. But instead, the salespeople primarily sell one or two products. They don’t diversify their sales because they are not activated to the other product opportunities. I see it in remodeling, too. One salesperson is really good at selling small bathrooms and another is best at selling additions even though they work for the same company.

Setting Goals

Goal setting is a highly effective way to get you and your entire team activated. The key is to be specific about what you want the team to be activated towards. Involve the team in creating these goals to enlist their buy-in. Brainstorming and visioning sessions are also useful. Avoid the temptation to be general. For instance, post a sketch of a family entertaining and cooking in their backyard with their newly built-in grill and bar, display it to all your employees, and you’re likely to find a new customer that wants to purchase a built-in grill from you for their backyard.

Sandler Training has a technique called a “birdcage.” It’s a great way to elicit the help of others for goal achievement. The theory says when you show everyone your empty birdcage, it will only be a matter of time until someone decides to give you a bird. When you  let others know about your goals and vision, they are glad to help. By activating everyone to the image of the empty birdcage, you are subliminally enlisting the help of everyone around you to find a bird. 

You want to activate your customers, too. When they meet other homeowners, they should think of your company in more ways than just the project they bought from you. Tell them exactly what you are looking for. Use an email newsletter or mailer to share pictures of projects you would like to replicate. Share specific company goals in your corporate communications to clients. Use the birdcage technique to get your goals out there and let others help you fulfill them.

When done correctly, opportunities will seem to drop in your lap. If you hear comments like, “Oh, I didn’t realize you did work like that,” it means you are activating customers and building birdcages for new areas of your business.

About the Author


About the Author


Chip Doyle teaches salespeople “how to sell without sounding like a salesperson.” He speaks at dozens of events per year and is the author of Selling to Homeowners – The Sandler Waychipd@sandler.com 

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