(SALES) Storytelling As A Sales Strategy
Even before the days of romance novels, adventure movies, television shows, and Broadway productions, there was storytelling. The art of storytelling goes back thousands of years; stories long served as the primary way for one generation to hand down knowledge and wisdom to the next. People learned about their culture, community values, and the most important life lessons through the meaningful stories shared by those who knew.
Although much has changed in how we communicate today, we still use stories to teach, learn, and entertain. Master storytellers like Ron Howard and James Taylor are widely respected for the messages they share through movies and songs. Even in our homes, parents use stories to spark powerful emotions in their children and teach them valuable lessons in a relatable way. As I was growing up, my parents shared masterful stories with me that often influenced the decisions I made, and those stories live on today as I share them with my own children.
Stories help us guide and teach, and they allow us to communicate our feelings in a way that can be very persuasive to others. So the question is, why do we not use storytelling in sales? It seems it would just make sense. Storytelling in sales, done well, is magic! It allows the salesperson to break through the clutter and connect with the client or prospect in a very meaningful way. You know that guy you met with this morning will never remember all the facts and figures you dumped on him about your product. You explained in detail why it is the perfect match for his company’s needs, and you discussed the expected ROI. But after you left his office, the forgetting curve kicked in, and in three or four days he will hardly remember which fact went with your company and which was presented by the competition.
Disappointing, I know. But you can change that, and give your message what it needs to stick.
Next time, share a story with your client about how your product or service helped another company get results. Illustrate how it was effective in a real and meaningful way, and they will remember that message for a long, long time.
Here’s an experiment that will convince you. Next time you are in front of a client spewing features and benefits, watch the way the client sits. They will be leaning back or, at best, sitting upright with good posture. Now try it again, but this time say, “I have a story I would like to share with you about a company we work with that was in a situation very similar to the one you are in today but is now getting fantastic results.” Watch the client sit up, lean forward, and tune in to hear the details you are about to dish.
Wouldn’t it be great if your salespeople could tell stories that grab that kind of attention? Of course. If your salespeople connected with clients and prospects and shared ideas in a way that would be remembered, you would generate more sales.
How To Tell A Good Story
Right now you are thinking that not everyone on your team can tell a good story. We can change that. With a little bit of structure and some regular practice, most people can become significantly better at storytelling. With the same practice, those on your team who are naturals will become amazing. I recommend using these two techniques to improve your storytelling: First, always use descriptive words when telling your story. Second, use a “story spine” — a tool developed by playwright Kenn Adams to create well-structured stories. Adapted several times over the years, the version I find most effective for sales looks like this:
1. Start by setting the scene.
2. Introduce the conflict. The issue. The challenge.
3. Share the consequences: “Because of the conflict, this is what is happening.”
4. Bring in the solution and climax: “This is what happened.”
5. Establish the resolution, or the new reality that has been realized.
Now it’s up to you to practice and coach both of these techniques. Start by planning a sales meeting that focuses on storytelling, and demonstrate how it is done well. Allow salespeople to prepare and share stories, and plan time to practice.
Matt Sunshine is EVP of the Center for Sales Strategy.
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