Throw Out the Script: How to Win Over Gatekeepers & Achieve Results

by Linda P. Kester July/August 2017
Scripted sales calls are painful for the sales rep and the prospect. Linda Kester hates them too and offers a better solution. By setting an objective, actively listening and asking questions, salespeople can say goodbye to their scripts and hello to success.

Back when Bill Cosby was a highly regarded comedian, I went to see him and five other top speakers at a motivational event in Philadelphia. Cosby walked on stage holding a book, pulled out his reading glasses and began to read aloud. After a few minutes, attendees started streaming out of the room. My coworker Allison turned to me and said, “This is BS! Cosby was supposed to inspire us, not read to us.” Cosby had set off Allison’s BS detector.

I feel the same way when I answer the phone and the caller is obviously reading from a script. I shake my head thinking, “Why did I take this call?”

Scripts are prevalent in sales teams because managers want to control the words that their reps use.

Ask an industry veteran how she feels about using a script, and she’ll most likely roll her eyes and say, “I don’t need that crap. I’ve been doing this so long, I know what to say.”

Ask a brand new equipment finance sales person about using a script and he’ll respond, “I say whatever they tell me to say.”

Scripting Your Way to Failure

Recently, a frustrated sales rep reached out to me with a request to rewrite the script he was using to set up meetings with clients. He graciously allowed me to share it, as long as I changed the names.

Representative: Hi, it’s Tony calling for Rick, is he in?

Gatekeeper: Who are you with?

Representative: Lackluster Leasing, is Rick in?

Gatekeeper: What is this about?

Representative: I just wanted to get on his calendar, is he available?

Gatekeeper: Will he know what this is in regards to?

Representative: We are finance consultants providing benefits for business like yours. May I please speak with Rick?

Gatekeeper: We’re not interested.

Representative: That’s a possibility — SMILE — based on experience, we have found it would be best to give Rick the information in person so he can make an informed decision. Could I please speak with him?

Gatekeeper: Do you have any information you can send?

Representative: It would be hard for me to send information without knowing the demographics of your company; this is the reason for my call. Could I please speak with Rick?

Gatekeeper: He’s not in.

Representative: SMILE — Thank you so much for your time. One more question — Is it better to reach him first thing in the morning, or are afternoons better? Does he have an extension or a direct line?

This script is atrocious. It assumes that the gatekeeper is an idiot and should be swatted down like a fruit fly. The rep has positioned himself as an annoying intruder from the get-go.

Everyone you call on has a built-in BS detector. Calling a prospect and reading directly from a script makes you sound like a robo-caller. Trying to bully your way in activates the screener’s BS detector.

Going Off Script

I’m not a big believer in scripts because once a rep starts making a lot of calls, he tends to go on auto-pilot and stops actively listening to the prospect. He’s grown so accustomed to being rejected that when a potential client gives insightful information, he doesn’t even pick up on it. He’s anticipating that the call will go the same way the past 44 dials did.

I do believe in sitting down with a rep and outlining opening statements with key words.

To help my frustrated rep get results I set up these guidelines:

  • Set your objective. Have your objective clearly written out in front of you. Objectives can include scheduling a meeting, getting an application, strengthening a relationship, qualifying the account or scheduling a webinar.
  • Ask for help and get information. When the person picks up the phone, get information about the account by saying something like, “Can you help me, this is Linda from Lively Leasing, is Rick the best person to talk to about equipment finance?”
  • Gather data about the decision maker. “So I’m better prepared when I talk to Rick, can you help answer a couple questions? What would have to happen for him to consider switching from your current finance company”?
  • Speak in a natural, calm, genuine tone of voice. Stay relaxed and focused. Prospects form opinions instantly based on the sound of your voice. If you are too formal or too timid they will find ways to quickly end the call.
  • Be prepared to push back. Ask for the meeting, ask again, then ask one more time. Develop the patience of the Dalai Lama. If you react frantically during the ups and downs of the sales process, you’ll make yourself crazy. Don’t get emotional or disappointed. Anticipate a negative response the first time you ask. Gatekeepers are programmed to say no. If they said yes to every salesperson that wanted to meet, they’d never get any work done. Persist after the first and second no. The third time is the charm.

Rather that a script, my previously frustrated rep now works with an outline in front of him. Before picking up the phone, he sets the objective. If the call goes directly to voicemail he has the option to either 1) press zero and go back to the receptionist to ask for help and gather more information about the account or 2) leave a message in voicemail.

Voicemail is a terrific tool. Leaving a short, value-added voicemail allows you to connect with the prospect and possibly uncover opportunities.

I would leave a voicemail like this: “Rick, this is Linda from Lively Leasing. We help companies increase cash flow. Give me a call at 516-724-1922.”

Most likely, Rick is not going to return the call. However, wellcrafted and consistent voicemails can move relationships forward.

Focus on the Prospect

Whenever you reach out to a prospect, capture her attention by focusing on what is relevant and important to her. Offer new ideas. Vendors and lessees are tremendously busy. They have no patience for a sales person who wants only to talk about himself.

After listening to thousands of sales calls, I have found that successful sales people are able to intermittently linger on a call. They connect with a prospect, ask a question, listen for the answer and come back to ask another question. They position themselves in a way that causes the prospect to open up and talk about their needs. For example, if the prospect says, “We use Lackluster Leasing. We’re all set,” inexperienced sales people will say, “Okay, can I call you back in six months?” The reps that make magic happen are the ones who come back with, “How did you choose Lackluster Leasing?” They listen for the answer and come back with another open-ended question like, “What is most important to you in a finance company?”

Lingering periodically helps you discover more about the prospect. Just don’t linger every time you connect with a prospect, doing this might set off their BS detector.

Ten-minute huddles and 20-minute meetings are where you make the space to ask good questions like, “What are your biggest priorities right now?” and “What would you say is a critical gap in your financing process?” These questions can reveal profound insights. You begin to understand the prospect’s goals and become a trusted advisor.

Top-notch sales people ask great questions and listen constructively. They focus on what the prospect is saying and look for things to build upon. Think of your prospects as seeds waiting to sprout. Feed them BS and they will die. Persistently feed them with insight. Help them flourish by achieving their objectives and you will harvest an abundance of business.

Leave a comment