Amy wanted her organization to grow rapidly. Once she discovered a formula for selling that worked, she took the time to layout a specific script for her team to follow. She even provided training sessions to ensure that each team member knew the questions forward and backward. Despite following the script with precision, her new team members were not achieving results. I quickly saw the one mistake that makes any sales script fail.

You Have Experienced It

When you get a phone call from a salesperson, have you detected someone reading from a script? Just about everyone has had that experience. Yet, how did you know? It's not like you are on a video call and can see them reading. What was the clue?

The problem might not be the questions. However, the person making the calls thinks that their job is to simply go through the questions one by one until they are done. The major mistake is that the salesperson is reading the script, but not paying attention to the answers.

Let's say they are selling newspaper subscriptions (yes, someone still makes those calls). They begin, "Hello, Mr. So-and-so. How are you today?" You respond by explaining that you are having a horrible day because a close family member or cherished pet just passed away. They respond by asking, "Do you currently get the paper delivered?"

You could tell them that you are at your own funeral, and they'd still ask the next question as if you answered, "Fine, how are you?"

Simple Fixes

Fixing sales scripts is not that tough. You just need to provide a bit of guidance to the callers. You can follow this simple formula.

  1. For each question, describe what you are trying to accomplish. What are you trying to discover with that specific question?
  2. Now that you know what you are trying to discover, for each question develop a list of the potential answers for each question. I don't mean the answer verbatim. Rather, the category of answer. I have an example below.
  3. After asking each question, the caller needs to check the box that applies to the prospect's category of answer.

An Example

Let's say that you are an advertising agency calling to see if your services might be helpful for a business launching a new product. You capture their attention, and they've indicated that the launch is not going so smoothly. It's essential at that point to understand how not solving that issue would impact the company.

Following the formula above, we want to understand how not solving the launch problem would impact the company. So, the script might say, "What happens if you don't solve that issue?"

The potential answers might be categorized as:

  1. Not a big deal;
  2. Concern, but no urgency;
  3. High urgency to solve the issue.

You can see that depending on the answer, the next question might have to change to adapt to the situation.

Why This Works

Too often, we teach staff to blindly follow the script. However, if they do not understand why they are doing what you ask, then don't be surprised if you get horrible results. This is especially true with millennials, who have been conditioned to ask questions to draw their own conclusions. It's actually a positive sign that the next generation wants to know the reason behind the tasks instead of just blindly following instructions.

By asking the salesperson to categorize the answers, then they have no choice but to employ active listening skills. Once you take the time to listen to the answers and formulate your next question based on that answer, then you'll be in an engaging conversation centered around a common goal, and the other party might just forget that they are speaking with a salesperson.

With this simple change, Amy and her team are getting great results.

It's Your Turn

When have you seen a human approach to a script that captured your attention? Share your observations in the comments below, or on LinkedIn or Twitter. I'll be sure to jump in.

Published on: Jan 3, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.