The Key to Sales Success: Sticking to the Script, or Improv?

Traditional sales technique tells us to stick to the script and the sales will make themselves. While this may be the most comfortable approach, it’s rarely the most effective or, surprisingly, the most efficient. A 2014 study tells us that 59 percent of the average sales associate’s work time is spent juggling materials instead of interacting with customers. The same study states that 88 percent of failed sales pitches are the result of internal sales materials being unavailable or difficult to utilize. 

The old scripted technique requires teams to lean heavily on memorization and often inaccessible information. But it’s time to arm your team for a little improv.

Start with a script, but don’t stick to it

Take a lesson from Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, and other masters of improv–it’s called the “Yes, And” approach. In good improv, and good sales, you have to be able to “roll with it.” Increasingly, business is looking to improv to learn how to listen, collaborate, and recognize when you are not the most important person in the scene. Let your client lead the way. Instead of saying “No, but” in an effort to stick to your script, say “Yes, And.” A good salesperson is working with a potential client to discover THE solution, not THEIR solution.

Start preparing your pitch with your actual prospect in mind–think about her specific needs and goals, and how your solution can help. A script should be a guideline, not a hard limit. Use it to carry on a dialogue with your potential client rather than presenting a monologue. Have your antennae up; be prepared to read signals; take a cue from questions, body language, and tone; and adapt accordingly. Be agile enough to switch things up: If a feature isn’t relevant to your prospect’s use case, don’t waste time on it. Instead, focus more heavily on the elements she’s expressed interest in.

Let them do the talking

“The art of conversation lies in listening.”
– Malcolm Forbes

Wendy Weiss, a sales training expert, says that sales associates should spend 80% of their time listening to their clients and carrying on a conversation, leaving just 20% of their time spent selling the product or service. Formulate your questions in a way that asks the customer to provide more information, making you aware of goals that your product can help achieve, and continue the conversation. No two customers are alike, and it’s vital to tailor your sales approach to each conversation that you have. As with improv, you have to really listen to contribute in a valuable way.

Avoid information overload

While your product undoubtedly has a host of great features, not all of them are going to be relevant to your customer’s needs. Once you’ve identified your customer’s problem, consider specifically how your product solves it, and highlight those features. Rather than presenting your customer with a huge list of features that may or may not be relevant, cherry-pick the right ones and keep coming back to them.

Demonstrate empathy

Make an effort to feel your customer’s pain. In addition to listening to what your customers need, be sure to listen to what they want in a working partnership. This brings us back to “Yes, And.” A great salesperson is eager to solve problems, whether emotional or logical. Take in the language that your customer uses, work to really understand their pain points, and present the right solution. Demonstrate that you were really listening, understand the problem (Yes), and can add to the solution (And).

Keep vital product information close at hand

Talking about general product features isn’t enough to demonstrate how they solve problems. For real sales success, your team needs to be able to get specific while the conversation is happening. A growing number of retailers use iPads and other mobile devices to give floor associates quick access to product information and training materials without having to retreat to a back office, leaving the customer alone on the floor. The need to remain present in the conversation applies to all salespeople, whether in the boardroom or on the sales floor–so it’s vital to provide your team with a mobile tool that enables them to access the information they need on the fly.

When 58 percent of sales pitches come to a halt due to poorly presented information, it’s time to innovate and adapt to today’s new, more informed leads. Today’s potential clients are looking for a valuable business partnership, and no matter how viable your solution, if your sales team can’t riff and show that they are invested and knowledgeable, then they won’t get past a 20-minute demo. Improv-enabling field solutions let your front-line sales associates carry vital and adaptable materials into every call, meeting, email, and unexpected encounter with a lead.