Inside Sales Scripts: To Ask Questions or Not to Ask Questions? That is the Question.

What is the purpose of a sales script, or a sales conversation for that matter?

One thing only. To accomplish its business objective. Period. Nothing else.

Many seem to think that the purpose of sales scripts and sales conversations is to “build rapport,” “get them talking” or “not sound like a telemarketer.”

To those who think those ways I retort….you are missing the point. In fact, let me explain why those that have “building rapport” and “getting them to talk” as their foremost objectives are shooting themselves in the foot and actually chasing business away.

You should always stay 100% locked on to the purpose of your call. Everything you say must contribute to that objective. You do nothing to detract from that objective or water down the possibility that you will succeed.

What is your objective when sales prospecting or appointment setting? To gain a commitment for a face to face meeting, a phone conversation, an online demo/intro or attendance at an event.

All calls, sales conversations and those that you speak to are not the same.

Many sales teams make the strategic mistake of treating all recipients of their calls as members of one similar class. They are not. Those that pick up the phone are actually members of two distinct classes with a few shades of gray in-between.

The problem is that when your targeted decision-maker picks up the phone you don’t know what group they belong to.

What are the groups? Buyers and non-buyers. I define a buyer as someone that recognizes that they have a need you might fill and is willing to participate in your sales process. The first solid step is to meet, talk, review or share in some form. “Buyers” understand they have needs now or in the future, are open to options or new vendors, recognize a deficiency in a current suppliers, etc . “Buyers” are those you speak to, that if they heard the right words, would agree to the first step in your sales process and there is sufficient probability that they would buy.

Non-buyers do not recognize they have needs and would not agree to what you propose no matter what you say. You must distinguish between these two groups.

When you frame the goal of your script as “building rapport” or to get them talking with questions, if you are talking to a buyer, you are derailing yourself from your objective.

For buyers to agree to what you seek. An in-person meeting, a phone call, a demo, online review or webinar, they must conclude that you or your company is worth their time. If they don’t conclude that you are worth more of their time, you are toast and your time and investment in appointment setting is being flushed.

So the first conceptual agreement we must reach is that we are talking to two distinct groups. Buyers and non-buyers. Buyers, if they hear the right words, will agree to participate in the first step of your sales process. The non-buyers, no matter what you say, will not. We do not spend one second concerning ourselves with non-buyers. Bye bye.

If you agree with the first premise that we speak to buyers and non-buyers and only have a shot at the buyers, if they heard the right things, agreeing to our first step. That leads us to a question.

What must buyers hear to agree to the first step in your sales process? Does “building rapport” or asking questions support or detract from what buyers must hear for your sales conversation to achieve its business objective

Well, I think we all can agree that a buyer must understand what you do in order to conclude you might be a resource. If they are left to guess as to what you do there is no chance they might conclude you are worth meeting.

They also must understand that you are highly credible or unique in some way. Buyers today can pick their own potential worthwhile vendors with a few keystrokes and Google. Why should they agree to spend time with a company of unknown or average worth, and risk wasting their time, when they can easily select the people they wish to talk to. They won’t.

So, buyers, in order to agree to meet with you must understand what you do and that you are highly credible or unique in some way. Someone that may not come up in a Google search and is worth talking to now, lest they be lost.

To speed this up and illustrate why I think the “build rapport” and “ask questions” crowd are making a serious strategic error, let me add three other prerequisites that “must be heard by buyers” in order for your words to have a shot at accomplishing your business objective.

They must hear specific benefits obtained by others that they want
They must know what they will get from the meeting, even if they don’t buyer from you eventually that is worth their time. (Very very important point. Buyers trade their time to get something at the meeting, call, and webinar, whatever. If they can’t weigh the value of what they will learn at the meeting against the value of their time, you have no shot at your call achieving its business objective.)
And finally, you must ask for what you want.

If you don’t cover those five bases, you have no shot at achieving your business objective. None. Those are your foundation stones.

The sacredness of “building rapport” as a sales objective has had me scratching my head for a long time. Just because most everyone says it and believes it to be true doesn’t make it true.

Let us also agree that anyone capable of approving a big check is a busy person. When you get them on the phone you must enable them to understand that you are worth their time within seconds. If you are unclear, say things that don’t matter to them, that they don’t grasp, words they don’t care about, you are toast.

If you open your calls with “how are you?” Or start asking questions such as “Do you want to make more money” or “Do you have problems with XXX?” You are NOT saying anything that enables a buyer (a buyer is someone that has a need and if they heard the right things would agree to participate in the first step of your sales process with a reasonable probability of a close) to conclude that you are worth their time.

So buyers are busy and will determine within seconds whether to continue to listen to you and whether you are worthwhile. You must lay a proper foundation when speaking to buyers or you have zero chance of success. Buyers will listen to your foundation points because they recognize you might help them, that you are credible, they want the benefits you mention and what they might learn from a meeting is worth their time.

When you start asking questions or saying anything that delays or distracts buyers from getting information they must hear to determine you are worthwhile you greatly decrease your chance of phone success.

Phone scripts have three distinct phases

It is important to remember that an appointment setting B2B call has distinct phases. The first phase is the lay the foundation phase. You must lay a proper foundation for call success right up front or you are toast. You have no more than 30-second to do this. The second phase is typically the respond to resistance or questions phase. The third phase is the ask again for what you want phase. And the final phase is the confirm the next step phase or plan B if they don’t agree. In total most appointment setting B2B calls last from 3 to 5 minutes.

In the first 30 seconds there’s no room for rapport building and it is a serious strategic scripting mistake to ask questions during this phase. Why? Because if you are talking to a buyer those are the things they must hear to take you seriously. IF you are talking to a buyer they will listen to your 30-second foundation pitch as you are covering bases important to them and they want to hear.

Many many sales teams that I work with are talking to a lot of buyers, but because the words they use upfront are so unclear, watered down and they let the call go off into so many directions that buyers conclude they are actually time wasters. It is not so easy to get a buyer to pick up the phone. It is shameful to not have prepared the words most likely to enable them to conclude that you are worth their time.

Asking questions to buyers before you have laid the proper foundation is not rapport building, it is a waste of time.

Asking questions to “get them talking” does not help you achieve the purpose of your prospecting call. Questions hand control over the direction of the conversation to who you are speaking to. That call will end somewhere but I can guarantee you that if the person on the other end of the line is driving the call, it will not end up with you getting a meeting.

As you get deeper into a call you have a little more wiggle room to be flexible with your verbiage, let a little personality slip in, and ask a question or two if they serve a strategic purpose and help you achieve the objective of your call. Asking questions to “get them talking” is not a sign of a strategic purpose, it is a sign that you don’t know what you are doing.

In my mind, when you call and enable buyers to conclude that you are worth spending time with, by definition, you are “building rapport.”

So don’t be so quick with your questions. Ask at the right time and only if they have a strategic purpose and contribute to achieving the purpose of your call. And stop rationalizing your unclear, non-specific watered down, no credibility gibberish as OK because you are building rapport, you are not. You just are wasting everyone’s time.