Today's guest blog post is by Mike Bosworth, founder of Solution Selling and CustomerCentric Selling, and cofounder of Story Leaders, which helps people harness the power of story to connect with, inspire, and influence others.
When I first got into training in the late 70’s, my mission was to help the salespeople who struggled the most: the bottom 80%.
In 2008, however, I got some very disappointing news: the Sales Benchmark Index reported that after all these years, despite the efforts of all the sales methodology companies, (including my own Solution Selling and CustomerCentric Selling methodologies) the 80/20 rule had gotten worse. It was now 87/13!
On top of that, the 80/20 rule was alive and well inside of both sales productivity companies I had founded. A small percentage of people in both Solution Selling and CustomerCentric Selling had carried the load. I wanted to believe my own affiliates were using the methodologies that we sold, but I had to ask myself why was it so disproportionate if we were all using the same sales process?
What did all this evidence prove about the effectiveness of sales methodologies – including my own, which I dearly believed in?
That same year, one of my long time collaborators, Customer Centric Selling affiliate Ben Zoldan, found himself on very similar path. We shared our pain and ended up walking away from our sales-process business to begin a research project.
Our main questions were: If the best salespeople were doing something so different from everyone else, what was it? Why are some people so much more influential than others? How are they communicating?
We knew the very best sales professionals communicated in a way that inspired people, but we never knew how to bottle that. All we knew was top sellers created an emotional connection with their buyers. Each one of them could be described as displaying the following traits:
- Authenticity and passion
- Strong ability to connect
- Strong ability to inspire trust
- Willingness to be vulnerable, and
- Tendency to tell stories from the heart.
When we looked for these attributes in the business section of the bookstore, we came up empty. We found these qualities, however, in the Self Help section (where you will rarely find an enterprise salesperson).
As we did our research, the concept of “story” kept popping up. We studied biology and neuroscience to learn why stories have such a profound effect on human beings. We thought, “We are trainers, we’re experts – we know how to codify skills – we can teach people to sell through storytelling.”
We began inviting our professional and personal friends to spend time with us in 2008 so we could share what we were learning. By the summer of 2010 we were teaching enterprise B2B salespeople to build and tell stories. We were teaching empathic listening skills. Still, both Ben and I felt something was missing. We knew we still hadn’t cracked the code on this.
Two events helped us finally get it.
The first was a SVP of a major software company who went through our workshop but was still not convinced. My partner got him to commit to “try it on a sales call.” He did the following week and turned a scheduled 45-minute call with a hostile customer into a 3-hour call where the customer opened up with his story. The ‘aha’ moment was how his story got the customer to tell his story.
The second event was a workshop where we decided to teach story tending around attendees’ “Who Am I” stories. When I saw the tears in the eyes of people who just had their personal stories tended, we finally got it.
Story is not a technique; story is a way of thinking. Story can inspire change from the inside out. Change is driven first by emotion. Then the cerebral cortex can help message the logical reasons so other logic people will not think us crazy.
Storytelling is not the end; it is a means by which we can all connect to each other. By tending to another person’s story, we can help another feel safe and connected with us enough to consider changing – “I am here and I am ready to move there.” Today, Ben and I are excited to share this new understanding with the world.
It was extraordinarily difficult for me to let go of my old paradigm of selling, but I knew I had to. It is exhilarating that after 30 years, we’ve finally discovered what’s been the greatest mystery in the sales profession: how the very best, most influential people inspire others to step away from the status quo into something new.