Small Business

Sales Stuck? Try Sticking to a Script


To improve your odds of landing a paying client, prepare a dialogue you can use to disqualify bad leads. Then start building rapport

In my last column (BusinessWeek.com, 3/26/08) I reviewed the concept of high probability selling from the timeless book High Probability Selling by Jacques Werth and Nicholas Ruben, and explained how to go about disqualifying bad leads quickly to avoid pursuing people who really aren't prospects. Now let's take this advice to the next level. When setting out to sell, we all know how important targeting clients, building lists, and perfecting scripts are. Here are three rules to keep in mind to make the most of your efforts, and a sample script you can borrow.

1. People buy because they trust and respect you. Sure, they perceive a need for the product or service you sell, but why choose you over the competition? Trust and respect. The majority of your best customers show you with the same trust and respect that you show them, Werth and Ruben write. They cite studies that show customers' buying decisions have a lot to do with five factors, ranked in this order: trust, respect, brand recognition, quality, and price. How much someone "liked" the salesperson ranked much lower. So drop the schmoozing and start building rapport.

2. Rapport is about commonality. Rapport-builders look for attributes or experiences they share with prospective clients. But getting this information isn't always easy, because people tell you what they want. So find out something personal about them and base your questions on their answers to previous questions. You won't be thought intrusive, you'll start to build trust and respect.

3. A good sales script is essential. It should contain four elements. Start with who you are (first and last name) and where you are from (your company). Then explain what you are selling. Continue with two compelling features of what it is you are selling/offering—this is your offer. Finish with a request for commitment by asking: Is this something you want?

Your script should be 45 words at most. Conventional sales theory (and countless studies) have found that after 30 seconds, your listener will begin to have negative feelings about you. That means you really have about 20 seconds—which, I repeat, only works out to about 45 words. Also keep in mind that roughly a fifth of your prospects will not give a yes or no answer to your question. Why? Because most weren't listening. They won't admit this, though, so restate the question. Practice your offer with a 14-year-old. If he or she understands it, it's likely clear and concise enough. An offer to which prospects will respond must be something they aren't getting from their current supplier—someone they supposedly trust and respect. So you'll have to earn that trust and respect from scratch. See rules No. 1 and No. 2 above.

Remember:

Avoid saying "I know your time is important." This invites people to hang up. Don't make it so easy for them.

If people take offense at the truth, you don't want to do business with them.

Don't handle objections—that comes later. Handling objections in the script is sales suicide.

Here's an example of a script to read to prospects over the phone:

a. Fred Jones, please.

b. This is Sue Smith with Speedy Biz Hosting. We specialize in business-to-business e-commerce Web sites that do your marketing for you and save you money. [Pause.] Is that something you want? [The offer is clear: The company specializes in business-to-business e-commerce Web sites that do marketing for other companies and save them money.]

c. If you don't get a yes or no answer, restate the question.

d. If the question is answered with a no, say: Thank you, goodbye.

e. If the prospect responds with: Tell me more, say: We'll go over the details shortly. What I need to know is do you want a business-to-business e-commerce Web site that does your marketing for you and saves you money? [You're restating your original offer.]

f. If he responds with a yes to your offer, continue to try disqualify him. Say something such as: It takes about an hour of uninterrupted time for me to meet with you during a no-cost, no-obligation appointment to determine if I can help you. Would you be willing to make an appointment with me?

g. If he says no, say: Thank you, goodbye.

h. If he says yes, continue to disqualify by asking: When we meet on this first appointment, if you like what you hear/see, we would plan to schedule a subsequent appointment where I would go over a proposal with you. Is that something you are willing to do?

i. If he says no, say: Thank you, goodbye.

j. If he says yes, disqualify him once again by asking: I only make appointments if all decision-makers will be present. Can we schedule a time when all will be present?

k. You get the idea. If he says yes, book the appointment and continue to disqualify while there. If he says no, you know what to say.

Forgive me for being a bit repetitive, but I only want you chasing real sales prospects, not false ones. We've all wasted time trying to make someone into a prospect—someone who has no hope of ever being one. And often we make this mistake because we aren't disqualifying—instead, we're doing all we can to qualify. This is an inefficient approach. Learn how to disqualify—it'll save time, boost sales, and ultimately help you bring in new business to expand your company.

Christine Comaford, CEO of business accelerator Mighty Ventures is the author of the best-selling book Rules for Renegades. She invites you to participate in her next QA call by registering at www.AskChristineNow.com. She writes her column on small business growth strategies every other week.

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