Have you ever done any Shakespeare?
In an inspired bit of casting from our middle school English teacher, I was cast as “Tom Snout” in A Midsummer’s Night Dream in our 8th grade production.
I spoke only nineteen lines the entire play, and fully twelve of them are supposed to spoken while I was pretending to be (no joke) a garden wall.
My moving portrayal as Snout (as a wall) was heralded (by me) as the hero of less-than-talented-people-cast-as-trees-or-rocks in every grade school play everywhere.
My most famous of the 19 lines was, [as Wall] “Thus have I, Wall, my part discharged so; And, being done, thus Wall away doth go.” [exit Wall]
Now as much as I tried, I just couldn’t get the rhythm or the correct words of Shakespeare right during my short stage career.
In rehearsals the words and lines would come out of order. I’d forget a word or two. I’d mispronounce a lot of them. And remember, there was only 19.
After much frustration, instead of speaking the Bard’s meticulously chosen and timeless 17th century lines, I gave up and decided to use my own version when we finally went live.
Opening night. When my cue was met, I said (in my best wall voice), “Um…you guys don’t need me as a wall anymore, so I’m gonna leave now.”
That didn’t go over well.
Mrs. Ogrizovich, our Director, was mortified. The other kids in the play stumbled. Parents hastily fumbled and tried to franticly pause their hefty shoulder-mounted camcorders that were aimed directly at me. The entire flow and illusion of a magical garden and what we had built for 5 scenes of the play came tumbling down.
I learned a valuable lesson about sales and sales scripting that night.
The illusion of what you build with your sales screenplay needs to be followed through to its entirety. Even one line delivered poorly can successfully ruin the tone and imagery of your pitch. You simply can’t be one character in the beginning of a pitch and morph into another at the end. You can’t abandon your script early.
Let’s take the process of the close. Too often we hear well intentioned sales folks adopt an image as a glad-handing, earnest, trust building dynamo in the beginning of the call only to transform into a needy, commission breathing, hammer throwing, terminator during their close, or worse, during trial closes.
Trial closes isn’t the main topic of this post, but as an aside, I actually had a CEO describe his sales methodology to his team as, “I just show them a demo and then I trial close my ass off.”
Sadly, he’s not alone.
Here’s a roster of some of the classics we hear daily from new clients at Pitch Industries when we ask to hear their pitch:
· “What do you think?”
· “How does that sound?”
· “So, on a scale of 1-10…”
· “Are you the ultimate decision maker?”
· “Is this of interest to you?”
· “So what day should we get started?”
· “Do you want the X one or the Y one?”
”It’s just bad mechanics. It’s bad for our profession too. Your prospects certainly deserve better than recycling circa 1980’s and 90’s “Feel – Felt – Found” base level techniques that have the effect of showcasing your amateur status in our field vs being seen as a true sales professional.
And that’s due in part to poorly written and unoriginal screenplays.
There are simply way too many of us in our profession walking around doing pitches without a solid and effective screenplay in front of us.
My sales mentor used to say to me that your pitch needs to be verbalized like you are doing Shakespeare in the Park; And, as I learned all those years ago, you don’t ever change Shakespeare’s words into your own. You just don’t. You follow the script because some wise and successful scribe before your time crafted a pitch that was a true Oscar-level masterpiece and, most importantly, found that it worked. Hamlet is supposed to say, “To be or not to be, that is the question” and not, “Um, like, what should I do with my life?”
The right words matter.
If that’s the line that is written, then that’s what needs to be performed if you want to shine on Broadway like Olivier.
You follow a screenplay. You never get out of boat. You never leave your wingman. Stay gold, Ponyboy. [Insert additional 80’s and 90’s movie lines here as you see fit.]
But as you know, sometimes our unstructured pitch evolves into a bad version of “Who’s Line is it Anyway?” (it’s worth looking up this show if you’re not familiar with it). It was an improv show where Wayne Brady, Drew Carey, Ryan Stiles, and others received ideas frommembers of the live studio audience. The audience suggests ideas for games and skits that the actors – all of them incredibly talented improvisational comics – then perform.
It was off the cuff and extemporaneously delivered in a high pressure, time sensitive showcase. It really was a collection of true artists at the height of their craft quickly thinking on their feet in a high stakes environment.
Most of the time it worked.
You just have to know when you need to be Hamlet in your pitch and when you need to be Wayne Brady. Believe me, most sales teams we work with don’t have nearly enough Wayne Brady’s on their sales floor to do sales-like and “screenplay-free” improv.
Although way too many of us think we can.
It’s because skills like that take work. Years and years of pitches. You have to be frequent before you are good. And to get frequent, you have to follow what works.
And following a decent sales screenplay works better than performing a mediocre sales improv.
“But Corey, can’t I just be myself?”
Can’t I have a conversation with a prospect spinning on the fly, and let ‘er rip, and just go with the flow?
As my good friend and business partner Oren Klaff says, “Horrible advice! Do not be yourself…you are just not good enough!”
So how come?
When you strive to just be “yourself” on a pitch what usually occurs is the common inclination to simply “be nice.” That’s how relationships are supposed to start, right? Because the common thinking goes that, “If I’m nice, the prospect will want to spend time with me and if they like me then they will be more likely to place an order.”
This is the baseline thinking of non-professional sales folks. They focus on being nice and supplicating so at its core it’s really pure neediness sales. Think about it: If you spend hours on the phone with a prospect, give them everything that they want – including discounting and building their comfort by your own willingness to spend hours with them, does that really work?
Is it the best in the industry? Is it going to get you ahead of the competition? Is it efficient?
No…absolutely not, on all of these accounts.
So that’s why you just can’t let folks “be themselves” and wing it.
Unless you have been programmed to masterfully and successfully respond to the most common situations where you have a solid command of your sales process – which means saying the right things at the right time with the right amount of tension, humor, intrigue, and curiosity – you need a script. And usually folks like this have the results to prove it: close rates well above the 50% mark.
Inside sales is radio, not TV. It’s always ok to use a “net” when you are on the phone. The prospect doesn’t know you are utilizing a written screenplay, especially if it’s a well written symphony of words with a Big Idea, pacing ebbs and flows and verbal tension and light humor peppered throughout and with enough sprinkles of intrigue and peaks of curiosity; You need all of these highs and lows in a successful screenplay and the results will show.
So please, for the sake of your prospect (and your sales leader), use one. Until you and your leader agree that you are good enough to know the difference and do a consistent performance like Wayne Brady, please…settle on being mere Hamlet.
See you at the top!