• I was an online lead for a service and requested to be contacted for more information. The first part of the sales pitch went fine.
  • But when it came to the hard sell, the sales representative didn't listen to me -- despite telling me over and over again that she heard me and understood my concerns.
  • Her hot lead turned ice-cold. When selling to prospects using a script, don't forget to make it your own and use your most important sales tool: your ears.

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This summer, I was in the market to buy something. It would have been an easy sale — but something scuttled it: The script that I was subjected to completely changed my mind about whether I wanted the product in the first place.

It wasn’t a house or a car or another big purchase. But it was such an experience that I’m still thinking about that June phone conversation almost a full six months later.

Here’s what happened.

I was an online lead

While perusing LinkedIn, I saw a banner ad that piqued my interest.

It was for an association membership. This wasn’t a real estate or journalism association, but nonetheless, I thought a membership with this association could help me navigate a new management position at Inman and give me a little more confidence in my decision-making capabilities.

So I clicked the ad, entered some contact information, and before too long, my phone was ringing.

When scripts attack, it gets ugly

The conversation went well at first. The sales representative who called me explained the association’s member benefits and talked about networking and other resources I’d have at my disposal. It all sounded nice.

Then came the moment that brought it all crashing down: the hard sell.

After informing me that the membership would amount to several hundred dollars, the sales rep asked me how I might want to pay today.

As I disclosed last week, I’m working on the onerous process of saving up for a down payment. I could have taken that several hundred dollars out of my down-payment nest egg, of course, but that would have taken me a little bit further away from an end goal that was very important to me.

The sales rep read my pause correctly. And she turned on the heat.

An attempt to connect that backfired — completely

“I could offer you a discount,” she said, “but only if you sign up today.”

“Let me talk with my publisher,” I countered. “I’d like to see if he’d be willing to cover all or part of the cost of the membership.”

“I hear you, Amber,” she replied. “You’re saying that you’d like to speak with your boss before you make this important investment in your future. I understand. But what if I offered you an even bigger discount?”

“I’d still like to talk to him first,” I said.

“I understand, Amber,” she said. “You’re saying that you’d like to speak with the publisher. But I can give you an even bigger discount if you sign up right now.”

We continued like this for five or six more exchanges, almost verbatim. Each time, I told her that I wanted to clear the membership with my work supervisor.

And each time when she replied, she told me that she heard me or that she understood, called me by name and repeated what I’d just told her. It was obvious that this attempt to connect with me was part of her script.

But the fact that she was riding roughshod over my biggest concern with the rest of her script told me that she wasn’t really understanding me. She was saying the words she was supposed to say because they were designed to make me do what she wanted, which was buy something. Immediately.

I was frustrated. Even though she was telling me that she was listening to me, she wasn’t. Not really.

I hung up the phone thoroughly annoyed. And I didn’t bother asking my publisher what he thought about chipping in for the membership.

I figured if the organization found it acceptable to treat prospects like that, I didn’t need it. I’ve deleted every email I’ve received from the association since then without bothering to open it.

When scripts work, they work well

I’m not against scripts by any means. I’ve had a handful of commission-based jobs in my life that required me to sell things to people; if you count the waitressing/bartending that I did for more than a decade, then you could even say I became proficient at working scripts to my advantage.

Anyone who’s gone out to eat at a corporate restaurant knows about those scripts. “You look thirsty — can I offer you one of our signature margaritas or a strawberry lemonade?”

That’s not a great example of a script. What really makes a script is the personal touches.

A script should be a blueprint for a conversation, not a blow-by-blow list of instructions. Scripts should guide you in the direction you want to travel, but the best salespeople know that sometimes you need to blaze a new trail.

What can sales professionals learn from this?

Following a script isn’t automatically bad; nor is it automatically good. It depends on the salesperson, the prospect and the script.

The best scripts are unique to to the person selling the product. They include personal touches and turns of phrase that roll off the tongue. They embody the personality of the salesperson.

So I’m no expert. I’m not a salesperson anymore, just someone who loves language and conversation and has a general idea of what works and what doesn’t.

I can offer two general rules of thumb, however.

DO: Make a script your own. It’s fine to piggyback off arguments and methods that have worked for others, but for the script to sound believable, it should be written in your own words. Practice on willing colleagues and friends to help you refine your voice and make your script sound natural to you.

DON’T: Use eye-roll-worthy tactics like that sales representative did. Practically everyone today is an amateur psychologist. We know what you’re doing when you call us by name, tell us you’re hearing what we’re saying, repeat back to us what we just said and then hammer on home with your pitch. You aren’t being clever or using best practices when you do this. At best, you are confusing your prospect; at worst, you’re irritating them.

And one final guideline: You must listen. Really listen.

Your ears are much more vital tools for your sales business than your mouth. It’s imperative that you use them accordingly, whether or not you’re selling from a script.

Email Amber Taufen.

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