In Order to Fail at Sales, Start (and Stay) with a Script

I took a call on my cell the other day, when I was at work, from a salesman informing me of some new opportunities in the silver market.  After my, “Hello, this is Phil,” I tried three times to end the conversation within the first several minutes without being rude.  The salesman just kept reading from his script at breakneck speed.  I had other things to do so I just set the phone down and quietly went on working on the computer.  After about 5 minutes of constant talking with very few breaths (this guy had the lung capacity of a professional swimmer) he finally asked for a response from me.  His query was greeted with silence from me.  After several, “Phil, are you there,” he hung up.

Last week, I had a fellow in financial services ask what I use as a script.  My initial comment was, “Nothing!”  The immediate response from the seeker was a puzzled and dejected look.  You see, he wanted to find the magic script, the silver bullet, the Hail Mary of all sales that would transform him from struggling salesman to successful solicitor.

The question caused me to think.  In my varied carrier in banking, insurance, and credit unions, several times I have had to start with a very small or no book of business at all.  Sometimes this occurred in new communities where I knew no one.  In each case, with the exception of one, I was able to build the largest portfolio, the largest outstate branch, or the most successful group of clients over time.  The one time I followed a script to a “T,” I failed in an epic manner. 

This happened with a short stint that I did at Metropolitan Life.  It was short, because I found I enjoyed simple “pleasures” in life like eating and paying the rent and I wasn’t earning a paycheck to pay for those things.  At Met, I did both phone calls and customer calls for insurance products.  Met had a strong group of scripts.  I had a cold calling phone script, new business owner script, retirement planning script, new baby script, newlywed script, overcome-the-initial rejection script, college savings script, power of whole life insurance script, win over the client script, and finally the script to win over the most ardent rejection. 

You know what?  I sold NOTHING!  Heck, I couldn’t even sell anything to my friends and family.  Met taught that if you went through the scripts, you would eventually get sales.  The problem I had, and another 90%+ of agents had, was we did not have an eternity of time on earth to actually see the results.  The position was quite painful for me, I would rather have dental surgery than doing that again.

I left that position and took a leadership role at a branch of a savings and loan.  I had not yet given up the script thing, but developed them to help cross sell other items with loans and deposit accounts like credit life and disability insurance.  One day, I had a wise person who referred a customer to me for a car loan.  He told me that this gent did not want to hear the script for the other products, but would just want the loan.  Since I was struggling to grow the branch, I decided to take his advice.

The meeting was eye-opening to me.  We went over the loan terms quickly and then just visited.  After 15 minutes we had talked about his life, hobbies, and family.  I wondered if this was a waste of time, but then he asked about house loans.  Eventually, he did several mortgages with me and referred several of his friends to me.

Imagine that!  I followed no script, did not go over the checklist of items to sell, did not ask for referrals from others, or do any of the strategies that I did at Met Life. Yet, I got more than what I ever thought.  It wasn’t long before I got rid of scripts forever.

So, why are scripts ineffective for long-term sales success?  First, the script is focused on you and getting your message out instead of listening to the customer.  Remember, people hate to be sold, but they love to buy (Jeffery Gitomer).  In order to get people to buy, you have to first shut up and genuinely listen to them.  Following a script, prevents the salesman from learning about the customer and puts the focus on those few items in the script.  There may be a place for this in some low level boiler room sales, but if you desire to build real, lasting relationships that will actually bring you more and repeat business, can the script.

The script is not set up to sell benefits, only features.  Even the best of them cannot sell benefits.  People buy benefits that matter to them, they do not buy product features.  The reason a script can’t do this is that the script would have to be infinitely long to handle the different benefit that each client has.

Scripts become an excuse to not learn the products you have, but to only learn the script.  So, in many ways, the script will hinder deep product knowledge you desire your staff to obtain. 

Scripts prevent a relationship from developing.  If I am only concerned with my list of items to go over, I will not be listening to the person on the other end of my desk.  When is the last time you went on a date and took a script with you?  Did you go through the list of items, checking them off, one by one, as you completed them?  No, you just spent time developing the relationship. 

Scripts prevent you from being genuine.  Where are scripts used?  In acting!  Everything there is playing a part or make believe.  How can you be authentic when you are acting a part?

While there may be some available areas where scripts are helpful, I do not see them useful from a long-term relationship building prospective.  On your next sales call, I suggest you can the script and go make a friend.