Why Good Storytelling Beats Good Selling


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Some reps are convinced they can’t sell a new product. The next day, another rep does just that. Why is this? How can some reps be so effective and assertive, and others so passive? Confidence and belief are certainly big parts of the equation. The other part: exceptional storytelling. Here’s a great example:

Rick, a sales rep with a wholesale coffee company, calls on a new prospect. The prospective company operates 25 boutique coffee shops. During the call, Rick touts that his firm prides itself on exceptional customer service. Hannah, the potential buyer is skeptical. “That’s a claim I hear all the time,” she says. “Why should I believe you on this?” Rick responds by telling a story…

“Last year our customer, Solid Grounds, (Hero) places an special order based on holiday internet sales. At 800 lbs, this order is big. I’m excited, the customer is excited, everything’s great. Now, to meet quality requirements the order needs to be air freighted (Stimulus). As we prepare to fulfill the order, Ajax Air – our air freighter – goes on strike (Conflict).” Continued below.

Not convinced you’ve got what it takes to be an effective storyteller? Get our Guide to Better Storytelling for tips on selling with stories.

You might wonder how exactly stories apply to the sales process. How can storytelling improve your number at the end of the quarter? A well-told, captivating story can affect listeners on multiple levels. It’s no accident that storytelling is a craft that has stood the test of time.

6 Benefits of Exceptional Storytelling in Sales:

  • Capture the attention of the audience (or customer)
  • Motivate individuals and groups to take action
  • Build trust and rapport
  • Make data and facts sing by becoming applicable, interesting, and relevant
  • Infuse information with “stickiness” to improve retention. For example, everyone knows that “slow and steady wins the race.”
  • Transform beliefs and change minds

Imagine how much more effective your pitch becomes with these 6 benefits.

Science behind stories: How they stimulate the emotional side of our brain

When we listen to a standard presentation or boring lecture, the Broca’s area of the brain is stimulated. This area deals with language and logic. In contrast, when we are told a story with rich meaning and visual cues, things change dramatically. Both the right and left sides are activated. The right side (creative side) is engaged and stimulated. Stories grip us and help us experience emotions.

“Switching shipping vendors at this point wasn’t an option. Every single alternative is booked solid because of the Ajax strike. I’m not excited anymore – no one is. I know there’s no way we get them their coffee on time, and we probably just lost a huge client. Sal, the owner of our company, gets wind of the problem. I figure he’ll be up in arms. I was wrong. Instead, he gets a real determined look – like he’s got something up his sleeve. He says we’ll deliver the beans to Solid Grounds to ensure their business isn’t affected (Crossroads). Only problem is that it’s 3 pm and Solid Grounds is over 500 miles away.” Continued below.

Storytelling in Business

As a sales rep, you have many different tools in your toolbox. Similarly, a variety of different stories can be told to convey a point. Using the correct type can help elicit the action or feeling you want from a customer. A few of the staples are:

  • Vision Stories – Communicate your vision and inspire others to act. For example, you could relay a story about how a product or service saved a company. Or, perhaps a company folded because decision-makers didn’t act quickly enough.
  • Who Am I Stories – Demonstrate who you are to people and create that crucial connection. Customers will know you’re the type that goes above and beyond when they hear how you saved those kittens from a burning building.
  • Why Am I Here – Inform listeners of your intentions up front and create trust. There’s much to be said for being transparent. Customers might actually become more receptive if you tell them what you’re trying to sell.
  • Company Stories – Share knowledge and inform others. To be effective these stories need a “wow” moment. You essentially need to teach listeners something they’ve never heard or considered. In the context of a story, they’ll remember this forever. As a result, they’ll remember you and your company forever as well.

When to Use Stories

In order for your story to be truly effective, you need to nail the timing. A misplaced story seems forced, awkward, and will fall flat. Here are some of the best times for storytelling:

  • Presentations – Stories within presentations accomplish a few things. 1) Grab attention. 2) Make facts stick. 3) Make data relatable and understandable.
  • Selling a product or service – Sales stories can convey the true power of your product or service. In a story, you provide context to customers and can drive points home harder. Use Cases (stories from the field) are particularly effective.
  • Introducing yourself/company to a new client – See the above section for tips in the “Who am I” and “Company” stories.
  • Getting a team to focus and buy-in to a goal – This is your prototypical “Vision” story. When well crafted this can be extremely effective. In the past, stories have been known to start entire social and political movements.

Elements of a Great Story

In order to tell a good story, you need to be familiar with an effective format. Just like a sales call, stories need certain elements to succeed.

  • Sympathetic main character, AKA the Hero. The audience should be able to see themselves in the hero and the situation.
  • The Hero encounters a Stimulus, which leads them in the direction of resolution or transformation.
  • Tension or a Conflict is exposed. Our Hero now must maneuver challenges and obstacles.
  • A Crossroad where the final transformation takes place. In your Use Case this is where the customer purchased your solution.
  • The final chapter in the story is referred to as the Moral of the Story. The Hero has navigated the Conflict and appears transformed in an ideal state.

“We consider our options. This is the holiday season so the workload and commitments are stacking up to the ceiling. Sal proposes that he personally make the delivery. It sounds crazy, but there was no way he’d risk our customer losing business because of him. The truck was loaded and Sal trekked the 500+ miles to Solid Grounds. Unbelievable. Not only this, but Sal made two additional trips to Solid Grounds over the next three weeks.”

Moral of the story: Rick makes the sale because of effective storytelling.

Download the Guide to Better Storytelling to help improve your storytelling efforts. The Guide also serves as a central storehouse for your best stories. As you improve your storytelling it becomes an asset to reuse down the road.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joel McCabe
Joel McCabe serves as a Senior Consultant at Sales Benchmark Index (SBI), a sales and marketing consultancy focused exclusively on helping B2B companies exceed their revenue targets.


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