Learn Your Lines

It takes practice to sell successfully over the phone--and you need a stellar sales pitch to capture customers. We've got 8 steps to help you create one.
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the August 2004 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Have you or your reps ever experienced phone choke? It's a pernicious malady that strikes most sales reps at one time or another. You know the symptoms: a quivering voice, a dry mouth, shaky hands, and a brain that goes utterly blank while you're on the phone with a prospect. To inoculate your sales force against phone choke, crafting a sales script may be the prescription. Scripts can put reps at ease and help them make it through a full menu of your service's features and benefits with a willing prospect. Here are eight methods to help you create a killer sales script for your company:

1. Don't be too rigid. A natural script may sound like an oxymoron, but a well-sculpted script can flow organically. The reason a canned script sounds so stiff is because the salesperson delivering it didn't write it. One way to beat wooden script delivery is to let your reps customize their own scripts so they come across in their unique voices. Provide a template, and plan to review and approve each rep's version before it goes into circulation.

2. Get to the point. You have less than the time of a TV spot to establish a connection. George Ludwig, author of Power : Seven Strategies for Cracking the Sales Code, says that, from the moment the buyer picks up the phone, you have 20 seconds to "reduce tension and create interest." Ludwig adds that the sales rep's number-one aim should be to "rapidly create curiosity" to start rapport building and lessen anxiety.

3. Be a movie star. When you watch a good actor in a movie, you don't think of him lines. A talented actor nails his part; the words sound natural, and there's no evidence of a scripted performance. "That's what sales superstars do, too," explains Ludwig.

4. Learn it, live it, love it. Paul Kowal, president of Kowal Associates, says reps must "know the script cold" to prevent fumbling from point to point. Kowal, whose consulting firm helps companies effectively interact with customers via phone, adds that reps should practice reading the script aloud, rather than just to themselves, until it sounds like their own style of speaking.

5. Don't ask stupid questions. Research prospects in advance to avoid posing irrelevant questions. Ludwig relates the example of a financial-services salesperson who called him with the opener "Would you like to protect your family's future?" The line was an immediate rapport killer, because Ludwig is single. Asking a question that doesn't fit a prospect shows a lack of preparation and eradicates credibility.

6. Skip trite language. Kowal advises against launching a conversation with the threadbare "How are you doing today?" The phrase is clichéd, and everyone hears it as a signal for a sales call. Instead, Kowal suggests trying "Can you spare a minute?"

7. Look for business beyond the call. Closing is not the only goal of a sales call. "Sometimes, moving the relationship along a step so you can be closer to closing on the next call is a better approach than trying to close right away," says Kowal.

8. Hush up. Don't be in such a rush to deliver your message that the prospect cannot get a word in. Though you're working from a script, a sales call is a dialogue, not a monologue. Kowal encourages scripts, or "call outlines," that are interactive and give prospects the floor often. The more you learn about a prospect's needs, the more you unearth sales opportunities.

Kimberly L. McCall ("Marketing Angel") is president of McCall Media & Marketing Inc. and author of Sell It, Baby! Marketing Angel's 37 Down-to-Earth & Practical How-To's on Marketing, Branding & Sales.


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