A standard component of most sales training programs, call blitzes, and campaigns is “the script.” The goal is to get everyone on the same page and communicating the same things. And, while it makes sense conceptually, I believe it won’t work for most buying situations for one simple reason. Every customer is different. Their situation is different. Your interactions and conversations should be about the customer, not about what you want to say. Without situational awareness, reciting scripts (even scripts with standard objection handling guides) is like buying a lottery ticket–there’s a chance you might win (but not a great one).
Recently, I developed a research note (Gartner client access only) called “Tech Go-to-Market: Use Situational Messaging for Improved Customer Engagement During the Buying Cycle.” This is part of a Gartner special report focused on the changing landscape of technology buying and the new buyers involved. There is a free research overview (registration is required) available here.
In my note, I recommend that more emphasis be spent on teaching sales teams listening and improvisation skills. With that foundation, then explore the range of customer situations that are likely to occur. Finally, explore how the products and services, or the focus of the campaign, fits with those situations. With that foundation, reps will be prepared for a more adaptive approach to their conversations and interactions.
Sure, their are some standard “openers” to establish credibility and let the customer know who they are talking to, but from their its time to go into conversation mode. For selling, conversations should not be difficult. They follow the same path as storytelling – Situation, Impact, Resolution–but with a slight twist. Listening and adaptation. You don’t tell the whole story, non-stop (and then remember to breathe.
Instead, its conversational and adaptive.
- Introduce a common customer situation. Then pause and ask a question like “Have you experienced this in your organization?” and wait and listen. At this point you are looking for validation that the customer agrees with the premise. If they don’t, continue to listen. Potentially use improvisation skills to explore a different path–and then cover that situation. This is not “I hope something fits”—its a dialogue.
- Once you’ve validated that the customer experiences the situation, explore the impact that that has had on other companies. Remember impact is all about making the case that a change is needed now. And once again, clarify with the customer if this aligns with their experience. If so, great. If not, it’s improv time again.
- Finally, present how your product or service can resolve things, and get them to a better place. Ask questions and listen frequently, adjusting the breadth and depth of your story accordingly.
Think about it, this is how most conversations occur. This should not be unique or difficult for anyone. But it requires preparation. You have to spend some time learning about who you are interacting with–what is their role? Are they business or technology focused? If business focused, are they technically-savvy (it is getting more and more likely that this is the case)? If technical, are they in central IT (and worried about org-wide issues) or aligned to a business unit? Broader, what is going on with the business?
The more you prepare, the more likely it is that you open with a situation that will connect. The more prepared you are, the more comfortable you’ll be with listening and then improvising. I’d suggest that effective, customer-centric improvisation that creates relevant, tailored information and insights for the customer may be the best path toward establishing credibility and trust.
For now, give it a try. Encourage preparation, listening, and improvisation. Abandon tightly controlled scripted conversations that are relevant to you and your organization, but not to anyone else. I think you’ll be excited about the results.
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