“I can sell condoms to nuns,” said no salesperson ever.
Or at least, they probably shouldn’t in a professional setting! But I’d bet you a nickel that you know a salesperson like this. No matter what the product or service is, they are going to sell it to people who need it and people who didn’t even realize they needed it.
While the rest of us sit back and wonder.
But most of the time, those salespeople have been doing it for a long time. There’s something that new sales teams do that drives me up the wall. I know I’m not the only one. It’s the sales script.
I totally get it: you need to have a script to follow on the phone with potential customers. But for the love of all the marketing gods, can we please get those salespeople off-script? I mean, what would Arthur Miller say?
Make A Plan, But Plan To Go “Off-Roading”
Just like a road trip, plan your route for your sales call, but don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path. As a person who both sells services and is on the receiving end of similar calls, I know it’s hard to make a plan and then be ready to toss it out the window at a moment’s notice. I get it.
But the benefit of that sort of flexibility is you can follow the customer’s lead and interest level in a way that guarantees more sales.
Let me give you an example.
Recently, I was on the phone with a company that exists largely due to customer reviews, but also sells ads to companies. I was representing one of my clients on the call and we’re definitely interested in running ads with this company.
After the initial get-to-know-each-other small talk at the beginning of the call – a nice tactic by the way – we dived into the nitty-gritty.
The problem was, the scripted questions read to me were either sophomoric or condescending.
The last thing you want to do is be condescending to your potential customers.
Some of the questions the salesperson asked me were:
- When you look at this screen, what excites you?
- Can you see the value in doing something similar?
- What captivates you by this?
Frankly, nothing “excited” or “captivated” me. I was interested, but resorting to hyperbole made the whole experience seem comical.
I’m sure these were all questions decided on by a marketing team who evangelize the product in their sleep. To someone like myself, who has already bought into the idea of buying ads with this company, has already scoured the backend analytics, and already sees the value in the product, these questions are rudimentary at best.
I actually said (nicely!) at one point, “You don’t have to sell me on this idea. This is why we’re on the phone together. I definitely want to learn more about your ads.” I mean, it wasn’t her fault she had to follow this script, but if she was able to skip ahead a few questions, I definitely wanted to encourage her!
While salespeople at a large company may not have the flexibility to go off-script, if you’re in business for yourself, you can absolutely do so!
What To Do: Make A List Of Questions Ahead Of Time
Instead of writing out an elaborate script to follow, try making a list of questions you want to ask the person on the other end of the call.
Then, make sure you’ve read over them beforehand so you can ask each question without feeling (and sounding) like you’re reading from a script.
Personal story ahead…
When I was working for a publisher who created coffee table books for clients, I always opened a Word document and used the same list of questions as a guide. It didn’t matter how well I already knew the brand. But I was careful to only use questions when I needed them.
Here’s my exact list for a wine book I wrote:
- Is there a story behind your winery’s name?
- What inspired you to establish or acquire the winery?
- Is there a history behind the winery?
- Year established?
- How would you describe the architecture of buildings that guests can visit? Is it inspired by a particular region?
- Who are the key members of the winery’s operation?
- What varietals of wine do you produce?
- Annual public events/festivals?
Often when I asked the first question: “Is there a story behind the winery’s name?” I would receive answers to questions 2, 3, and 4 as well. So I just skipped those.
The same goes for question 8: When asking about tours and hours, the person on the other end often told me about the winery’s annual events. So, no need to ask question 10 since it’s already been answered.
Write down a list of topics or questions you want to cover but then relax! Allow the conversation to flow naturally as you get to know the person on the other side.
Here are some generic questions that work for most sales calls:
- Tell me about your work. Has it always been a passion of yours?
- What do you want to accomplish when working with [your industry/work/role]?
- What do you wish companies knew about you as a consumer? (I love this one!)
- What do you wish consumers knew about your company?
Can I Say “Relax” Again?
So what’s the worst thing that can happen if a sales call doesn’t go perfectly? Will you die? Goodness, I hope not!
What happens if it doesn’t go exactly to plan? Well, you may lose the account. Or you may bond with another human being and win the sell. Either is just as likely in my experience.
So take a few minutes before you jump on your call and breathe. Stretch, dance to your favorite power ballad, meditate, get a cup of herbal tea, or do something else that helps you center yourself and calm down. Just be careful if you choose a glass of wine before the call – no one wants to talk to a lush on a sales call!
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