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Beth is a new sales hire at TaskFlow, an enterprise software firm specializing in custom-designed project management applications. The company targets Fortune 1000 workspaces. She has been making prospecting calls for about two weeks, and her numbers so far are abysmal. So far, she hasn’t scheduled a single appointment.

She’s been using the “standard” prospecting script handed to her during her onboarding process, a script that instructs her to ask the person she’s calling the following question: “Are you interested in improving order acquisition and delivery schedules?”

By this point, Beth has asked that question hundreds of times. People rarely answer “yes,” and when they do, the script she’s following doesn’t seem to lead to a discussion that results in an appointment. Instead, it asks her to deliver a sales pitch. She’s reached the point where she not only dreads posing the question – she dreads dialing the phone to talk to new people.

The appointment drought Beth is experiencing isn’t entirely her fault. It’s largely a function of the script she’s using. Baked into her “standard” script is a common selling misconception: the idea that prospects are as eager as we are to talk about the business challenge we think is most relevant to their world. Actually, they are much more likely to engage meaningfully in a conversation about the outcome we can help bring about.

What’s the Outcome?

For most prospects, facing challenges (solving their problems or achieving their goals) is only a means to an end—realizing an outcome. It’s the desire for that positive outcome that provides the incentive necessary to face the challenge in the first place. It’s the desire for that positive outcome that drives all the behaviors associated with meeting that challenge, including the purchasing of necessary products and services.

Because the prospect’s desired outcome is such a powerful motivating force, it should be considered a critical component of an effective prospecting discussion. 

Beth’s prospecting efforts would be more productive if she put her script aside, took a break from calling, and analyzed the value her company actually delivers – from the point of view of its most loyal customers. If she did that, she’d learn that the project managers who already use her company’s software tend to describe their positive experience with TaskFlow as follows: “By automating and coordinating order acquisition and delivery schedules with TaskFlow’s customized solution, I am able to complete projects on time and under budget.”

Automating and coordinating order acquisition and delivery schedules is the challenge these project managers face … but completing projects on time and under budget is the outcome they’re after.

Beth’s discussions need to address not only the challenge, but also the outcome her ideal customers are most likely to desire. As of now, there’s no mention of that outcome at all in her script!

Premature Presentation Syndrome

Another problem with Beth’s script is that it is structured around making a mini-presentation over the phone, rather than allowing her to ask questions. This calling script design is consistent with a widespread “worst practice” that afflicts salespeople in many industries. All too often, when salespeople hear a prospect say, “I need X…” or “We’re trying to achieve Y,” they go into “sell” or “presentation” mode. They begin discussing their products that accomplish X or their services that enable prospects to achieve Y … without first identifying the ultimate outcome the prospect is after.

So: If a prospect states something like, “I need X,” rather than begin a discussion about Beth’s products or services related to X, we might want to ask the following questions in order to identify the outcome:

  • Suppose you had X, what would that enable you to do?

  • What would that mean to the company?

  • What would that mean to you?

    Once you understand the challenge-outcome connection, you can position your product or service as the effective means of facing the challenge … and achieving the desired outcome. If Beth were to structure her prospecting calls around both components – the challenge of coordinating schedules and the outcome of bringing projects in on time and under budget – she’d have better prospecting conversations. And she’d schedule more appointments.

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