Scripts are a staple in sales; everyone has one, and many treat theirs as the secret to their success. In reality, however, scripts are only useful if prospects stick to them; as you know, they rarely do. Scripts are great for learning the basics and looking at sample conversations, but they're less than optimal for real-world use. Instead of scripts, you might want to consider building a conversational framework to help you in your day-to-day work.
Conversations are organic things, and you risk much by attempting to force them into a path. Think about your own conversations: they meander and waltz and go all over the place, and that's how it should be. The stilted awkwardness of sales conversations often owes more to the single-minded adherence to scripts than any lack of conversational skills.
Conversations are the single most important part of sales, and it's a good idea to spend some time perfecting them. Frameworks are used a bit like scripts: some parts are variable (like the research components), but most are fixed. You're creating a document to support you throughout a wide variety of calls, so the points are more abstract than in a script, and have wider application. See it as a quick reference cheat-sheet rather than a rigid, linear thing.
Scripts and their disadvantages.
Scripts, as stated previously, tend to be very useful when you're new. You'll quickly gain a familiarity with the type of conversation you're likely to have, and with the best practices that have built up over the years (for example in objection handling).
Once you've moved beyond the first few weeks and are becoming more comfortable and confident in the role, scripts become more and more of a hindrance. They have a tendency to fall flat when faced with anything even slightly out of the norm. They also tend to lead to one-track thinking, which can stop you from seeing opportunities that aren't cut-and-dried.
Introducing the conversation framework.
You could throw your script away entirely and simply wing it, but you're liable to end up without much to show for it. You know what you're looking for, but will you remember it all when you're in the middle of an interesting conversation? You may miss the forest for the trees.
Conversations benefit from having structure, but too much rigidity can kill them. You want to bring the prospect gently to where you're going, without making it seem like you're forcing them there (as it often does when people are following scripts). It's absolutely best if it sounds natural, which also includes the introduction and the sign-off.
A conversation framework can be thought of as a possible route through the map that is the potential of any interaction. It's not fixed, covers a variety of possibilities, and requires some preparation before diving in. It leads to more natural conversations, and gives you the confidence and tools you need to take that conversation where you'd like it to go.
Before you set down the structure of your brand new framework, take some time to think about the conversations you've had so far. In order to set down something useful, you'll need to abstract these conversations into one higher-level path you can then branch out from. This will form the backbone of your framework.
Think about your successful conversations, and what set them apart from others. You're looking for what you did differently, rather than what distinguished the prospects. This is no easy task, and will require some introspection. Think about all the things that went well during those conversations, and why you think they went well.
As you do this step, you'll notice you need to define something else: what constitutes a successful conversation. In most cases, a successful conversation is not necessarily one where you closed the deal immediately (although that, too, can be useful to analyze), but rather one where you achieved your objective or brought the deal closer to fruition.
Fleshing out the backbone.
Depending on your role, some or all of the following will apply. I encourage you to look through it in any case, since it could be of use to you regardless.
As this isn't a script, the order of the following sections is irrelevant. I've put in numbers so you have a guide should you want one. Do whatever you like, and arrange it as you wish.
Before you initiate any conversation with a prospect it's a good idea to research them. You'll know best what you're looking for, but as a minimum I encourage you to research the individual, their company, and their company's competition. You'll want to understand their values, how they operate, and what trends currently move their industry. Think about what you'll need, and include that as a checklist as the first item in your framework.
This research should enable you, based on your experience, to think of some challenges they might be facing both at an individual and company level. Presenting them with their challenges is often an effective way of getting your prospect to open up, and will enable you to position yourself as knowledgeable.
After you've done your research, set your goal for the call. This may be doing basic discovery, advanced qualification, or even closing a deal. It might even simply be introducing yourself and positioning yourself as a resource. Whatever the case, make sure you define a goal before every call.
Though they may seem paltry, introductions are important when making a first impression. Take what you have from your script and your experience, and see where you can improve it. Make sure it's tight, clear, and unambiguous. If it's in the framework you won't be left stuttering when you finally get through to a prospect on the hundredth call.
Giving yourself a number of introductions is a good idea, since it allows you to select one based on the type of prospect you're facing.
4. A selection of next steps
Likewise, you'll want to include a few options in terms of next steps. I recommend having a list of your next few events handy; if the prospect is disinterested or unwilling to commit, you can provide these.
This section is here so you don't forget to push for next steps, and to give you a few ideas should you be drawing a blank in the moment. You're building this framework to support yourself, so do yourself a favor.
5. Qualification and discovery guidelines
You may have your company's guidelines internalized and you may not. It's a good idea to dedicate a section to them in any case. You may also want to include others, like BANT or SPIN, to be used if you notice they're useful to you.
6. Potential pain points
In your research, you may have come across some specific challenges the prospect may be facing. This section is not for that; the challenges and pain points you want to list here should be more generic. If you run out of ideas, you can always refer to these for quick inspiration.
7. Answers to potential questions
As you know by now, many prospects ask the same questions about your products or services. This section is for answers to those questions. Make sure they're well-written, precise, tight, and conversational in tone.
8. Answers to common objections
You should always be digging deeper if you come across an objection. However, there are occasions where you simply need to shoot it down in the best way possible. That's what this section is for.
9. Roles and stakeholders
You've already identified who you'd like to speak to during your research phase. This section should be a listing (ideally with some pain points) of the other people who could potentially be involved in the decision. It's there to help you in two ways: you'll make sure you're covering all the bases with your prospect, and thus closing the deal quicker. And, if you don't reach your prospect, you'll know whom else to ask for immediately.
10. Potential show stoppers
If you've come across a completely blocked deal before, you know exactly why this section is here. Think about (and ask around for) what could stop your deal in its tracks, and come up with tactics you can use to circumvent it, break through it, or relegate it to irrelevancy. It's useful to include some phrases you can use in that process.
Rather than the rigidity of a call script, a conversation framework is there to offer you guidance when you need it. It aims for flexibility, and should be considered a bit like a cheat sheet for you to use in your conversations. With time, when you've internalized everything, you may be tempted to move away from it. I would recommend you evolve the framework to suit your needs, keeping it as a handy reference and check-back to make sure you're doing a good job.
The idea is to place you into a greater state of readiness by making your preparation and conversation more precise, while also providing you the guidance and support you may need during it. It's also a great chance to get creative. Think about what you'll need, and go for it!
Please let me know if you'd like me to prepare a sample conversation framework for you.
As ever, I wish you all the best and hope this has been useful to you.
Do you agree with what I wrote here? Disagree? Did I miss something? Could I have done something better? Please let me know in the comments!