Selling Scripts: What are They Good for?
If you hang around the sales profession long enough, you will almost certainly encounter Selling Scripts. Perhaps a manager advocates their use, or perhaps you will find yourself in a sales training course that is based on the use of preconceived scripts.
These may be as simple as an FAQ list with suggested responses or as elaborate as flowcharted conversational plans that map out every discussion required throughout the sales process—from the initial cold call to closing the deal.
How well do these work? Let me put it this way. When I was in the 9th grade, I would always try to script out my conversation whenever I summoned up enough courage to actually call a girl and ask her out. It didn’t work very well. I finally figured out that girls don’t like to talk to robots, and they actually enjoy listening to nervous guys stumbling around looking for the right words.
It also doesn’t work so well in the world of selling complex products and services.
Why not? The customer, like the objects of my adolescent affections, doesn’t have a copy of the script and more importantly doesn’t even know there is a script.
I remember one selling course that professed to be customer-oriented. The process was built around a script that determined conclusions based upon responses to questions. Each step along the way, the response was confirmed. The conclusion was stated and then confirmed through verbal interchanges with the prospect.
Here’s how it looked:
QUESTION: Hi Bob. Do you think the temperature in your office is comfortable?
RESPONSE: It seems a bit stuffy in here today.
CONCLUSION: The office temperature is not optimally controlled to assure productivity.
CONFIRMATION: So Bob, do you think you could do more work and more accurate work if it were a little bit cooler in here?
ANSWER: Yeah, I guess so. I get sleepy in this place, and I can hardly keep my eyes open on warm days.
NEXT QUESTION: Bob, would you be willing to let us place one of our air-cooling units in your office for a five-day trial?
These scripts always had resolution loops for confirmation responses that did not support moving forward. If you got lost or if the question-and-answer process seemed to move in an unproductive direction, a little pocket-sized card would give you clues on how you could recover the conversation and bring the prospect back to the topic. That was called “controlling the sale.”
There are many reasons why scripts fail. Perhaps the most common problem is, there are just too many variables in the early cycle to make these scripts worthwhile. Maybe Bob likes it hot, or perhaps Bob just doesn’t care about the office temperature because he’s retiring in a week. Maybe the AC is broken, and things will be much cooler next week after it’s fixed. Or, perhaps Bob’s sense of fair play will not allow him to be comfortable while his office mates suffer in the heat.
The variables are endless.
The fact is, scripting can be effective. It can help the rep and buyer to move together through all of the required questions to ensure that the ultimate product offered will mitigate the buyer’s pain.
This type of sales scripting is entirely different from quizzing Bob about his ambient temperature needs. The traditional rote memorized and regurgitated speech covering the entire value prop and feature benefit analysis is useless. You have to start with a much smaller range of possible answers, and it assumes that the buyer or the seller has had some discussion of pain and possible ways to handle it.
By the time the rep arrives on the scene, Bob knows he’s hot, miserable and sick of working in a sweatshop. Bob has been online, and he is looking at a variety of AC solutions including window units, a building or centralized solution and an economical in-room cooler.
This thinking may run counter to a sales rep’s instincts, but the fact is, Bob has been spending a few hours on the internet looking at assorted solutions, downloading collateral and user stories, reading about costs and BTUs and all of the other stuff related to office temperature control.
So, when Bob brings the sales rep into the picture, the choice is already made—some kind of AC or cooling must be purchased.
The sales rep needs to know what questions must be answered in order to match the perfect solution with Bob’s sweaty, miserable existence.
The sales reps brings along a CPQ tool. The tool is equipped with an interview scripting facility that guides the conversation along a path of questions to be answered that will determine the specs needed for Bob’s cooling solution.
This script might look something like this:
Question 1 How much of the year are you uncomfortably warm in this office?
a. Less than two weeks b. Six weeks c. Three months
Question 2 How are others in this building affected by the heat?
a. I’m the only one with issues. b. Everyone on this side of the building has issues.
c. Everyone on the floor has issues.
Question 3 Do you own the building, rent or lease space?
a. We own it. b. We rent space and can’t modify the structure.
c. We lease and can improve.
This script drives answers that have specific impact on the kind of solution proposed. Question 1 provides some metrics of how problematic the heat issue is, which may impact the budget size. Question 2 looks at how many folks are affected. Will the solution need to cover one person, part of a floor or the whole building? Finally, question 3 explores what limitations might exist in terms of the solution and its impact on the building structure.
This type of script will drive a CPQ process that adds and eliminates specific options and models as the answers are supplied. It is a critical element in the guided selling methodology CPQ implements. The great advantage of this scripting capability is it can get into some very highly technical areas without requiring the rep to be technical. Engineering creates the scripts; mere mortals can ask and frequently answer the questions as needed.
CPQ does the “thinking” in terms of analyzing results and steering additional questions toward an ultimate product specification and price.
This type of scripting can be built into a customer-accessed e-commerce tool, or it can be used by Sales in a conversational way with the prospect. Sales gets to sell, but they get help where they need it. The details are remembered, the right questions are asked in the right order and ultimately the customer comes away happy.