Here’s a divisive question: should you have a sales script? Lots of people do. Plenty of folks advocate having a script to give salespeople the confidence to talk about their products.
But do you really want to be one of those salespeople who ‘shows up and throws up’, as they say? (Surely nobody wants to be that guy!) We’ve been talking to a few sales training experts to get their opinion on the matter.
Do you need a sales script?
For the most part, all the sales training experts we spoke to agreed that the days of the script are out. “Those types of salespeople are becoming less and less relevant,” says Nigel Gracie of MillerHeiman. “If all they’re going to do is read out the brochure, they don’t even need to be there. Buyers don’t need that information dump. They can get it all online.”
We’ve talked before about why consultative selling is best for the empowered buyer. The salesperson should be someone the customer looks to for insight more than information. From that perspective, the real question is: can you provide insight using a script? Doesn’t insight require you to know more about your customer’s organization than a script allows?
Can you script a sales conversation?
Lloyd Lofton of The Power Behind the Sales puts it bluntly: “I would never train a salesperson to use a script and to engage in rote questions. What I want the salesperson to learn how to do is build relationships and talk to the prospect about the things that matter most to them.”
The trouble with scripts is that it’s hard to actively listen to your customer when you’re focused on trying to remember what you’re going to say next. In a good conversation, your input is responsive. You react to what your conversation partner is saying and vice versa. Ordinarily, you don’t start with a list of predetermined questions and talking points. If it’s a sales conversation you’re after, a script probably isn’t going to get you there.
So how do you steer a sales conversation in the direction you want it to go?
Even natural conversations tend to have a focus point – something you want to know or gain from the discussion. So it’s not unnatural to try to steer a conversation toward a certain point. Of course, the trick is to ask the right questions that will lead your conversation partner to the point where they willingly disclose the information and still feel like an equal in the conversation – i.e. not like they’re being interrogated or harangued.
Lloyd advises that you focus on the problem, not the product: “I ask questions that get the customer to disclose to me the problem that they have, why that problem hasn’t been solved in the past, how they’ve tried to solve that problem and what they’re willing to do to solve it now. I aim to sell the problem that they have so that they ask me: how do I solve that? If you look at a lot of sales scripts, most of the time they’re talking about the product and price. And the customer is not the least bit interested in the product or their price until they’re interested in the problem.”
Remember our blog on how to use the 5 Whys to get to the customer’s real pain point? It’s possible that sometimes the customer is discovering the true core of their problem at the same time as you are. Taking that journey together is a sure way of building a customer relationship.
When should you have a sales script?
So are scripts always bad practice? Dionne Mischler of Inside Sales By Design thinks not. “I’m often asked if an inside sales team should have a script. And I say: Yes. Absolutely. Until the talk tracks and the questions and the value props and the answers are all second nature, it should all be written down.”
Even those seasoned sales professionals who have been selling the same product for years and have long since thrown the script away could likely look back at their last several meetings and find that they’ve been repeating the same lines over and over. The product is what it is, after all, and the problems it solves are likely to recur from one customer to the next. It would be strange if you weren’t repeating key phrases to every customer.
The trick is, though, to always keep context in mind and treat every customer as an individual. Don’t spout your value props if the conversation hasn’t naturally led you to that point. Don’t talk price until the customer is ready. Be responsive to your customer’s needs and really listen to what they’re telling you.
So, in essence: be human.
How can you have a script without really having a script?
Essentially, the benefit of having a script is that it lists all the information you need to pass on to the customer. It’s something you can learn that will help to both encourage and answer customer questions. It might give you a good opener for a sales meeting, or even a good close, but however good your script is, it’s not going to be as good as a real conversation. Otherwise your job really could be taken over by robots.
Perhaps instead of a script, you should think of your conversation in terms of what you need to prepare: questions and answers. You need to learn which questions to ask to encourage your customer to disclose their challenges and objections. Asking them well still requires normal conversational techniques – timing and context – but I think it’s ok to have a mental list of these to draw from.
When it comes to answers, try channelling Marcus Sheridan. In They Ask, You Answer, Marcus recommends that you write content based on the questions your customers are asking. He’s talking about inbound marketing, but the same applies to sales collateral. You should have something in your files that you can reach for whatever question comes up in conversation. This could be video, or graphics, case studies or testimonials.
With a Sales Enablement Platform you can store all this content in an easy to navigate repository, customised to your brand. There’s no need for a script when you have all the resources you need to answer every question and counter every objection.