"The Navigator" News Blog

Why Scripted Selling Fails

If you’re selling off a script, and your customer doesn’t know their lines, maybe it’s time to throw away the script.

A while back, I had an opportunity to sit in with some salespeople who were making teleprospecting calls. The call process was one that the client had read about from another sales trainer, and it went like this: The salesperson would call, and say something like, “Mr. Customer, if I could show you a way to radically reduce your costs in X department with no additional net costs to you, would this be something you would be interested in?” (NOTE – that’s not an exact quote, but a rough approximation.) The idea was that the customer would say, “Well, of course – tell me more!” Or, they might say, “What are you referring to?” Unfortunately, most of the time, the customer simply said, “Nope – not interested,” and hung up. Very few appointments were set that day.

So what went wrong? Simple – the salespeople were working from a script that depended not only on the SALESPERSON knowing their lines, but the CUSTOMER also had to know his/her lines. And customers usually don’t, so they react like ordinary human beings instead of actors in a play. And the reason that this particular script was failing so often was that the customer wasn’t given any context by the salesperson, just a claim that sounded wild on the surface. Isn’t it funny how people react like people so often, given the chance?

Successful selling understands that we are dealing with people. While people can behave in patterns that are somewhat predictable, with human beings we always have that “X” factor that mean that salespeople should be prepared for a conversation that goes anywhere. The salespeople in my previous example weren’t prepared for the reactions they got, and therefore were unsuccessful.

Many years ago, in my first sales job at the Ford dealership in Topeka, we used to joke about having a “Sales Robot” that would take our place. Since we were trained for predictable sets of statements, responses, and conversations, we figured that you could program that into a robot. Picture a customer seeing a screen that says, “Please state your objection.” The customer pushes a button that says, “My trade in is worth more than what you’re offering.” The robot says, “I can appreciate that,” (probably in a voice like C3PO from ‘Star Wars’) and then launches into a long statement about the relative ‘worth’ of used cars. It was hilarious, especially when our sales manager got involved.

In real life, though, it’s not as funny. Too many sales training programs (or company cultures) attempt to script out an entire sales call, and assume that a buyer will respond and react exactly according to plan – which often they don’t. Have you ever had one of those sales conversations that felt like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride? Yep, me too. And only a skilled salesperson can keep one of those on track and move it towards a positive (selling) result.

Ultimately, the reason that managers and trainers attempt to script out sales calls is that they assume their salespeople are dumb (whether they realize it or not). It’s easier to teach someone ‘their lines’ than it is to give someone the real knowledge and insight to be able to think on their feet, read the customer, and react appropriately. But guess what? Scripted salespeople never make it into that level of selling that we call the “star” or “superstar” level.

It’s more work, definitely, to move salespeople toward the “smart” level of selling than it is to keep them “dumb.” But the rewards make it worth the effort.