The Truth Behind Sales Scripts

The use of scripts is one of the oldest techniques taught to sales people in how to sell. In my sales career, I had to learn three scripts. The first was a fairly short, punchy one from New York Life called, “The Hundred Man Story.”  It tracked the typical financial planning of one hundred men, and the disappointing number of those who actually retired financially sound.  According to our script, it didn’t go well, with the final line trumpeting, “You see, these people didn’t plan to fail; they failed to plan!”  It was clever, but a little too corny for me to use in its entirety.

The second script was also with New York Life, and a tougher one to learn called, “The Live, Die, Quit Story.”  It provided all options that a prospect could expect from an insurance policy, but in truth, it was lengthy, contained only two questions within it, and I rarely used it.  I told my manager I was faithfully reciting it in my sales calls, and to be fair, I did find myself using parts of it.

The third was the grandaddy of them all; “The Xerox Demo Script.”  That script appeared to go on forever, stretching ten pages, and seemed more of a right-of-passage to work for Xerox than an actual tool to help sell.  I memorized it, got my manager to check off on the fact I memorized it, and much like the longer New York Life script, I secretly found myself using various parts of it from time-to-time.

What I didn’t know was that I was using these scripts properly.

The fact is that there are pros and cons to using scripts when selling.  It’s harder for me to defend the use of scripts, so let’s start there. Read my words carefully: “Scripts are good… as long as they aren’t used like scripts.”  You see, a script is frequently associated with a written text, often used in a screenplay or broadcast. Those scripts are not to be deviated from.  Often managers see the scripts that are provided for salespeople to be used the same way; a word-for-word, regurgitation of a manicured document.  That’s exactly how not to use a script.

Soon after I finished my grumbling about the ridiculous Xerox script I painstakingly learned, I found myself in critical sales situations, under pressure, being asked difficult questions that required succinct, well-thought-out responses.  From what felt like nowhere, I managed to come up with extremely articulate answers.  Where did those answers come from?  That script I had been whining about. Almost magically, it provided me with a catalogue of clear responses to tricky questions I would go on to use for the rest of my sales career.  To simply say all scripts are bad just isn’t a fair statement, as long as they are used correctly.

Now let’s get to the cons.  It’s a big assumption, but let’s assume you can learn a script well enough to deliver it in an authentic way, so it doesn’t actually sound like a script. Let’s also assume we have people in management who actually know how to manage those using a script.  They understand that scripts are a well-thought-out collection of information that can be used in helping to articulate challenging aspects of those sales. That leaves us with one, stubborn con, which in my mind is lethal: That would be the word itself and the perception of what a script is.  The word “script” is similar to the word “chalkboard.” They are both antiquated. Do you know why I use flipcharts instead of a chalkboard in the workshops I deliver?  It has nothing to do with which is better, and everything to do with which is perceived as more professional.

In a perfect world, I’d rather you invest the majority of your time working with a repeatable, predictable process utilizing ethical tactics; it would allow you to listen, ask questions, engage, and think on your feet. When the need arises for a clear response to a difficult concept, I’d let that script work its magic.  I just wouldn’t tell anyone.

Related: The How And Why To Sell To Friends