401-423-2400 Kristin@Zhivago.com

Why I HATE Sales Scripts

WhyIHateSalesScripts_RevenueJournal[1]Two people. On the phone, having a conversation. That’s what people use phones for – to have conversations.

What happens in a conversation? One person says something. The other person listens, understands (or asks a question to make sure he understands), then responds appropriately.

The conversation moves from point A to point B because BOTH people are talking – and listening.

Now let’s apply this to sales calls.

Yes, it is possible for a salesperson to have a conversation with a potential customer. But only if the salesperson:

  • Is knowledgeable enough about his products to talk about them in a responsive, off-the-cuff way
  • Actually listens to what the customer is saying
  • Understands what the customer is trying to do
  • Is selling something that really will solve the customer’s problem

If all of these requirements are met, the conversation can (and will very likely) lead to a sale.

If, on the other hand, the salesperson is like most of the salespeople in the world, he has:

  • Been given a script – and is judged by how well he follows that script
  • Is not knowledgeable enough about his products to talk about them in a meaningful way
  • Does not listen to the customer
  • Does not understand what the customer is trying to do
  • Will try to sell the customer on the product even if it is not appropriate for the customer.

The majority of these sales calls fail. They aren’t conversations. They are self-serving rants, perpetrated by a salesperson who completely ignores what the customer needs, and what the customer is trying to find out.

I had this experience just the other night. I saw a late-night ad on TV while in a hotel room, for something I actually wanted to try. I don’t normally watch commercial TV, and I think I last bought something from a TV ad in 1987, but in any case, there I was. I called the 800 number and a pleasant lady answered the phone. I knew exactly what I wanted to order – and what I didn’t want to order (the $10 off the first purchase if you sign up for automatic renewal).

I made that very clear to the gal from the start: only this product, no other products, and not interested in the $10 off deal. Of course, that didn’t stop her. She offered me 6 other products, as we “wrapped up” the call, including the $10 off deal.

She may as well have been selling to a recording. No matter how many times I told her what I wanted to buy – and didn’t want to buy – she paid no attention. The Script Must Be Obeyed! She had to follow the script – for the sake of her job.

Her oh-so-smart sales manager was basically telling her to ignore anything the customer was saying, and, no matter what, to follow the script. What a joke.

Her oh-so-smart smart sales manager also left me with a very bitter taste after the call. As interested as I was in the product, I thought, “We’ll see if this is any good – but I’m hoping I can get something similar from another company that doesn’t use these techniques.” So they won a small battle – and then lost the war.

When I ran sales departments, we had a meeting in the morning, every single day. The question was, “What’s stopping you from making sales?” I then made sure that barrier – whatever it was – got removed, hopefully before the next day’s meeting.

I also made sure that my people understood the product and could answer any questions effortlessly and accurately. That meant aggressive and endless training, focusing on the problems customers were trying to solve, and the best ways to help them solve those problems.

If you want to make sales – and win customers – ditch the script. And start training like crazy.



  1. Amen!!!

    Having led sales teams for over 25 years I can not agree more.
    The trouble is when operation types try to lead salespeople ( never having done the job themselves) . So they create scripts to insure repeatable process and something they can “manage” the pieces of the sale conversation. As they record calls salespeople become gun shy and loose their authentic problem solving voice.

    However, what your team needs is sales tools to keep the conversation flowing to a close, and they do not need you trying to “manage fruit ripe” as I discuss in my recent blog : http://nosmokeandmirrors.wordpress.com/2010/08/20/attention-entrepreneur

    Great post

    Mark Allen Roberts

  2. Nice post, Kristin.

    In my experience, scripts are OK as a starting point for training and ramping up. After that, you need to have the ability to have value-add conversations without them.

    One thing that I have observed is that sales people don’t practice/rehearse/role-play enough. As a result, you see them either wing-it, use scripts or use powerpoints with too many words. Predictably, they don’t have value-add conversations.

    Also predictably, the more you practice, the more knowledgeable, confident and conversational you become.

    Managers can help by making sure that their salespeople practice, by providing specific, behavioral feedback and action plans to improve.

    Great actors rehearse. Great athletes practice. Great sales people should do the same.

    Hope you’re having a great summer!


  3. Thanks, Dave. Actually, focusing on getting the book finalized, thanks, and doing some wonderful projects for clients. Summer went by so quickly this year.

    Your points are well-taken, I agree that salespeople tend to brush by the need to be prepared. But they do need to talk to real customers – otherwise there is the danger of them rehearsing things that customers don’t care about. Work needs to be done “upstream” to make sure that they are saying things that matter – knowing the kinds of questions customers are going to ask. If there is rehearsing to be done, it’s more about the conversations – answering customer questions – than the pitch. Agreed?


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