To Script or Not to Script? (Adam Liebman – Head of Sales, SinglePlatform)

A group I help out with, Startup Sales NYC, recently held a fireside chat with Sam Jacobs of Axial and Adam Liebman, former EVP of Sales at SinglePlatform. A particular topic came up that I’ve wrestled over in the past, and I think Adam finally won me over with his argument here. Should your sales team stick to a script?

I’ve had sales teams where I’ve given a strict script to follow, others where I’ve given talking points and let reps form their own scripts, and I’ve had the in-between; a suggested script to use then, once comfortable, let them go down their own path. Til now, I’ve been undecided on the best approach.

I generally believe that I do a good job hiring. So, I’ve told myself: “If I’m hiring smart, creative people, it makes sense to allow them to ‘call audibles at the line’ and use the path that they think is going to make them most successful. It’s my job then, to help coach each individual to their greatest potential.”

Adam argues a verbatim script is the way to go, especially with a group of raw sellers. And in the end, I think he’s right.

Maybe we can look to professional sports for inspiration here. I’m a big Pittsburgh Steelers fan. The Steelers have certainly had some amazing talent over the years. But one thing’s for sure, all of the players fit the Steelers’ system. They buy into the playbook, into the hard-nosed mentality and the “no one is bigger than the team” attitude. And if they don’t, those players are out pretty quickly.

The Steelers cut the 2009 SuperBowl MVP in 2010 after he did not fit into their bigger picture. You see this often with some of the better coached NFL teams today; I think of the Bill Belichick’s Patriots, Chip Kelley’s Eagles etc.

You, the Head of Sales, need to provide the best direction for your team. Have a system that everyone can buy into and rally around. Your best path is to assemble the best players to fit that system. I’ve seen my teams have 100 different variations of a pitch and each rep looking over their shoulder changing what their doing in favor of their neighbor’s style. And yes, it’s a problem.

Sure, everyone is their own flower. But when it comes down to it, sales is a team sport. Marching together in the same system is the sign of a great company; a great team.

Here’s Adam words:

 

 

Adam:

We [management] are the sales experts. We know what to say, how to say it, when etc. The hardest part of making the sale is not figuring out the big value propositions. I can probably get 3 people in the room, have them look at your product, ask them to come up with 3 bullet points for why that product is great, and they’re probably for the most part going to come up with the same thing. That’s easy.

Yet, that’s what you see a lot of managers teach new sales hires. “Okay cool! We all understand why Single Platform is great! Now, go write your script. Write how you would explain it to someone,”

That part, that’s the actual hard part of sales. How do I figure out, out of the 100,000’s of word possibilities in the english language, and the infinite possibilities of which you can organize what you’re going to say and when you’re going to say it. That’s hard. That’s why they pay us (the managers) the big bucks.

You, the manager, should be the one that’s able to create that best path.


“How do I figure out, out of the hundreds of thousands of word possibilities in the English language, and the infinite possibilities of which you can organize what you’re going to say and when you’re going to say it. That’s hard.


 

Think about this:

You’re going through a volcano with lava (scary). Someone knows the safe path to get through. You don’t want to get burned. You don’t want those stones to get you to safety to be really far apart. You want them to be as close together as possible.

You, as the VP of Sales, know that safe path. You know where to step. You’re going to be the best at doing that. The closer you can put those stones together, the easier it’s going to be for your team to follow you. If it’s far apart and you’re just giving broad strokes “Talk about how we’re inexpensive. Then talk about how we help our customers…” That’s silly. If you actually talk about how we can help our customers in a verbatim way. Actually write it out. That’s a process that people can follow, right behind you.

Use your leadership to guide through the safe stones

Use your leadership to guide through the safe stones

Optimize for the group

Now the pushback I get on this is: we’ll there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Each prospect requires it’s own unique touch and I (the sales person) am smart enough to know when to use one pitch vs. another, depending on the client. The problem is, it’s really hard to figure out the best approach + combination for every possible situation. That’s incredibly difficult! It’s your job, it’s why you’re the leader,  to figure out the best all around approach and have everyone “skin the cat” the same way.

That makes it easier to coach, to motivate, and ultimately it’s actually the best most effective way. If someone feels they have a better way, but can’t execute on your, the team’s, playbook that everyone else is having success with, that probably means they’re not the right fit for your team. Sure they might be great but you’re going to be a lot stronger if everyone agrees with whatever sort of mandate or script or process that you’ve laid out.

That’s what we did at Single Platform and it allowed us to grow really quickly, get a ton of referrals, keep attrition low and have an unbelievable culture.

 

For more with Sam & Adam find the full video here. Also be sure to follow @SamfJacobs + @AdamLiebman for more terrific commentary.

 

 

  • marc

    His logic is extremely flawwed and very narrow minded. It would ONLY make (a little) sense if you were trying to hire & train reps that will act as robots simply to sell a transactional sale. Your reps will end up learning absolutely zero about the art of selling and providing a solution to a certain customers needs. In addition, it limits that reps growth within the company and the education that you as a company provide to the rep.

    If that’s what you want…then sure, follow that advice and don’t allow your reps to make processes better by listening to your customers and responding with an appropriate solution (your product). For any B2B startup trying to sell a long term solution to customers I highly disagree this is the correct approach.

    I recommend using a call structure or framework that should be followed with goals and objectives for the call.

    • http://www.davidgreenberger.nyc/ David Greenberger

      Yeah, Marc I think what you’re saying makes a lot of sense. It surely depends on the sale. For raw salespeople, in a high transactional sell I tend to think close scripts make sense, as it allows them to cut their teeth effectively. There’s plenty of improv and on the spot learning needed for objection handling, closing, followup etc.

      In my experience all transactional sellers have a script they follow, whether they’ve made it themselves or you’ve given. You’re going through it too often and have too short of a time window to not have a clear, concise method.

      For enterprise driven sales, I think we can all agree that it takes a more nuanced approach.

      I have seen raw Local sellers who have gone through a playbook such as Adam’s become fantastic enterprise sellers. Early SinglePlatform reps are among some of the best rising sales stars in the city right now.