It Is More Effective To Conduct Sales Interviews Without A Script.
Thomas J. Roach
Most sales interviews are scripted. The reason for scripted sales interviews is that the interviewer doesn’t have to be smart or creative or experienced. The interviewer only has to memorize or read from a script. Almost anyone can do it.
Yet, it is more effective to conduct sales interviews without a script. The unscripted interviewer needs to be smart, creative and well prepared. The unscripted interview may be based on an agenda or a sequence of steps, but the questions and follow-up questions are generated spontaneously and adapted to the information being communicated by the interviewee.
And because the unscripted interview is more fluid, it has a chance to reveal values that are unique to the interviewee. While the scripted interview takes advantage of the sameness of interviewees, the unscripted interview takes advantages of their differences.
If a company is marketing a credit card with telemarketers, the scripted interview may be advantageous. The interviewers can be hired cheaply, they don’t need much training, and a scripted cold call operation is cheap and may be successful even if only one in one hundred people respond positively.
Sales people who work with customers on an ongoing basis can’t afford to have cursive, unintelligent conversations with them. They need to develop an understanding of their customers and to maintain a long-term relationship.
Budget constraints, concerns for quality and personal information, such as where someone went on vacation, are details unique to each customer and can only be discovered in a freewheeling exchange of information – in an interview that sounds and develops more like a conversation.
Meaningful sales relationships require an in-depth understanding of the customer. Essentially what the sales interview explores is not so much the customer’s immediate needs, but rather their values. What is the importance of loyalty, familiarity, competence or self-esteem? Once a sales person has assessed the client’s values, building rapport, making a sale and developing a long-standing relationship are easy steps.
Values have to do with social interaction and individual traits. They are the things that make us like and dislike people and companies. What does a contractor value? A sales interview with a contractor might look for concerns for innovation, quality, expertise and service. What does a local road commissioner value? This sales interview might want to explore things like reliability, efficiency, frugality and loyalty.
Journalists conduct interviews to collect quotes and statistical information. They ask questions like “What is your opinion about this?” or “How many new employees did you hire in 2015?” Smart employment interviewers probe to discover past behavior: “What did you say to your boss when you learned you were assigned to a different shift?” Journalists need data so they can write stories, and employment interviewers need to be able to predict how a new employee will behave.
Sales interviewers can also use basic informational data, and it is even useful for sales people to know a client’s past behavior, but these things are usually obvious or easily discerned because the client wants to talk about them. It is hard to get information that provides a competitive edge. The sales interviewer gets the most useful information from a discussion that reveals hidden values.
There is nothing easy or predictable about human beings. Variations in personality are incalculable. By asking questions and maintaining rapport, we can explore one another’s knowledge, biases, intellectual limitations, hang-ups and strengths.
Close friends and spouses learn these things over time, but the sales interview may need to take place in two or three conversations, even in a few minutes of one conversation. That is why it is most useful to look for values. Values drive interest and motivation. Values are at the top of the pyramid made by the other factors, and values drive decisions and determine the sustainability of relationships.
Knowing the values of a customer gives a sales interviewer an advantage over competing sales people and over the client. Who can state their values? And if someone does list personal values, can the list be trusted?
Values are like mission statements; if we state them publically we are projecting ourselves as we want to be seen. The best way to learn someone’s values is to discover them through conversation and observation. In the end, you may know more about your customers than they know about themselves.
Thomas J. Roach, Ph.D., has 30 years experience in communication as a journalist, media coordinator, communication director and consultant. He has taught at Purdue University Calumet since 1987, and is the author of “An Interviewing Rhetoric.” He can be reached at [email protected]