I Have A Problem With “Storytelling”


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Storytelling seems to have come into fashion over the past few years. Too often, we have tried to overwhelm our customers with logic, data, and facts; expecting everyone to respond as Dr. Spock did in the old Star Trek series.

While we have known we need to make an emotional connection, too often, we still focus on, “just the facts.” Ever since I’ve been in sales, which has been a few years, I’ve known the maxim,”People decide with their hearts, they rationalize their decision in their minds.” Yet we continue to dump data, facts, logic in our conversations with them, or in the manner in which we help them with their buying process.

Slowly, we are recognizing the EQ side of buying and the importance of connecting with people based on their emotional drivers, as well as the facts.

Appropriately, storytelling is gaining prominence in our engagement strategies, whether it’s the content we provide or the stories we train our sales people to deliver.

Having said all this, I have a problem with so much of what I see in the way people are implementing storytelling. I need you to help me work my way through this.

Too often, the stories I see sales people delivering is just a different form of a “pitch.” Rather than pitching our products, our company, and why a customer should buy, we cloak that in a “story,” that also addresses the emotional side of things.

In our stories, we may talk about how/why people buy our products, not just the value to the organization. But they seem, too often, to focus on eliciting a response, “Gee, I’d like to feel that way too, how do I buy……?”

As I’ve thought about leveraging stories effectively, I’ve thought of a number of things (and much of this may be known, but is more a reflection of my naivete.). But it seems to me, for storytelling to be effective, there needs to be a progression in customer engagement.

  • Our stories need to provoke the customer to share their story.
  • Our shared stories provoke a conversation.
  • Our conversations enable us to develop “our story,” that is the story, our customers and we share in moving forward.
  • That story becomes the basis of the stories our customers share within their own organizations to drive/sustain change initiatives (perhaps get approval), and perhaps it becomes an element of what they share with their customers in developing their own stories.

Stated differently, our story represents a starting point of shared story telling and story building. Absent this, our stories just become a version of a pitch and fail to gain the engagement and emotional ownership we and our customers must achieve.

As we think of building stories, both through our content and sales’ ability to tell stories, we must think about the whole process and how we evoke a deeper level of customer engagement. We have to think of how our stories provoke/elicit the customer to tell their stories, because it is through that we gain deep engagement.

And our goal is to have a shared story in which both we and our customers play parts.

I need your help:

  1. Does this make sense, where am I misguided, and how to I correct my thinking?
  2. How do we effectively move beyond our company/product story to get customers to tell their stories?

Thanks for your help!

Afterword: My thanks to Bob Britton for helping me discover this through our own stories with each other.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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