Today’s post is by Jeff Seeley, CEO of Carew International Inc.
In sales, storytelling skills are critical to success. Stories help us sell our ideas, communicate a vision, and inspire commitment. Used properly, they make your message more vivid, enjoyable, and memorable.
Why We Love Stories
Scientific research supports these facts. Consider findings by neuroeconomics pioneer Paul Zak, director of the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies and author of The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity. Zak has studied the effects stories have on people, and has discovered that the most basic narratives have the potential to trigger powerful chemical responses in the brain. When we hear highly engaging stories, the brain releases cortisol and oxytocin, and we experience stronger feelings of empathy and connection.
Stories are timeless. According to Ryan D. Mathews and Watts Wacker in their book, What’s Your Story: Storytelling to Move Markets, Audiences, People, and Brands, “Long before the first formal business was established … the six most powerful words in any language were, ‘Let me tell you a story.’” That’s why storytelling is a critical skill for salespeople (especially now, when many B2B sales teams are taking the damaging step of increasing their “virtual distance” from customers).
The Most Effective Story You Can Tell
But the most important story any sales professional will ever tell isn’t an anecdote shared to engage his or her audience during a sales presentation; it’s the story the salesperson creates with the customer and for the customer. In fact, it is the customer’s story, and it’s one of problem solving and triumph. The salesperson must tell a story that paints a vision of success and compels the customer to think differently about their business problems. A quote commonly attributed to Albert Einstein shows why this is important – “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
To the degree that everyone loves a good story, consider how your prospects and customers might be captivated and influenced by a story about them, their organization, and their dramatic success. The stories you create with your customers – and about your customers – are the ones that change outcomes and cement lasting and productive relationships.
Three Tips to Use Storytelling in Sales
To build meaningful relationships through storytelling, bear the following three tips in mind.
Tip #1: Listen carefully to the customer’s response to your story.
When your story works, it disarms the customer with new insight. In response, they may tell their own story – one that articulates their issues and motivations (goals) about which we were previously unaware. Be prepared to listen to the customer’s story and look for opportunities or ideas you may have missed.
Tip #2: Be aware of the customer’s competitive concerns (who their “villain” is).
When crafting your story, be aware of the customer’s competition. This is their “villain.” Is the competition winning or losing in the market? What’s the competition doing that your customer isn’t?
Consider the case study of Procter & Gamble (P&G), which essentially owned the disposable diaper business from 1961 to 1982. Sales went up, profits went up, and vice versa. Then, from 1983 to 2000, this correlation ended, and they failed to understand why. Finally, they determined that, for 17 years, they had been using a developing-market strategy (i.e., families were still transitioning from cloth to disposable diapers). By 1982, the reality was that the market had been fully developed, and P&G was trading market share with their competitors. That required a different strategy and approach. P&G’s “villain” was Kimberly Clark and the other competitors who were buying market share.
Tip #3: Know your customer’s definition of value so you can craft a “happily ever after” scenario.
What is important to your customer – historically, now, and in the future? The definition of value shifts depending on where, when, and how your customer’s organization is strategically positioning itself in the marketplace.
The exceptional sales professional will take it a step further and help the customer visualize the future (their “happily ever after”). They’ll communicate how to collaborate with the customer to achieve that vision and deliver the benefits highlighted in the sales presentation.
When you approach storytelling from the customer’s perspective, your stories automatically become more engaging, motivating, and inspirational because the story has been developed around the customer’s own experiences, objectives, needs, and insight. Stories help you set goals, build commitment, encourage collaboration, build relationships, create passion and excitement, and encourage innovation and creativity. With this level of engagement and input, the customer’s story is one in which they have a role as author, star, and hero; it is truly their story.
To learn more, watch my video interview below with Selling Power founder and publisher, Gerhard Gschwandtner.