Stories sell. And salespeople who can tell great stories win more deals.
Why? Stories build trust and relationships faster and stronger than data and analysis.
When salespeople talk in black and white – with facts, data, analysis – people’s brains only “light up” in two areas, according to research from Ethos3. But when salespeople add some color – people, places, anecdotes – they trigger brain activity in seven areas!
But, the most successful storytellers aren’t just good bullsh!**ers. Good stories have substance, meaning and make the connection between those two elements and their point. There’s no BS about it.
Storytelling takes time and practice. Salespeople who want to sell more need to understand the elements of great storytelling and the art of getting it right. This guide will help.
Why tell stories
People pay attention to stories more than data and sales pitches. They’re engaging. Data and pitches aren’t.
And stories are fun. People listen to podcasts, read books, click through and interact with friends every day to learn more through stories.
Salespeople want to tell more stories because prospects and customers:
- Remember. In one study, people remembered stories 22 times more often than facts and data.
- Engage. As mentioned above, the brain is more engaged with a story. Audiences connect with movement, smell, color, shape and language.
- Relate. As much as your story is about other people, places and situations, your prospects and customers will relate their experiences to what you say. The story creates an emotional journey for the buyer. They make themselves the passenger on the story’s ride, going through the gamut of emotions you present such as worry, anticipation, frustration, success and happiness.
- Act. Stories prompt more decisions to buy than research, statistics, rationale, account analysis, RFPs and proposals.
Elements of a great story
Great storytellers convince people to act – or more specifically, buy – using trust, emotion and logic. (And if you want to get historical about this, Aristotle coined it Ethos, Pathos and Logos as the “modes of persuasion” in Art of Rhetoric.)
Keys to each:
Salespeople need to build trust if they want prospects and customers to believe and act on their stories. Without gaining credibility first, any brilliant story will fall on deaf ears and cold hearts.
To build trust:
- Maintain a positive public image professionally and online
- Share your credentials on the subject without bragging
- Use language that’s easy to understand and not too technical
- Only use accurate and truthful information, and
- Confirm the characters in your stories are OK with you sharing
A great story makes an emotional appeal (remember, no BSing!) It might evoke laughter, empathy or even some sadness. It’s essential to stir emotions and get customers and prospects to connect to the story in a meaningful way. How you made them feel – not what you specifically said – is what they remember days and weeks after a meeting.
To create emotion:
- Know your audience and what they care about so you tell stories and hit emotions that resonate with them
- Use emotional language and visuals – talk about or show how your characters felt, their anticipations and reactions
- Use analogies and metaphors to connect unfamiliar ideas or to add some humor, and
- Pause. When you recognize the audience react emotionally, briefly stay silent to let it sink in deeper.
Emotions and trust make a story memorable. But salespeople are in business – and you need to solidify stories with logic. It has to make sense for prospects and customers to listen to and buy from you.
Salespeople need to show there’s an issue and there’s a logical way to solve it (your way, of course!)
To build logic into your story:
- Use statistics, percentages and graphs as brief supporting facts
- Reference logical or scientific research or reasoning (in plain language), and
- Point to third-party, unbiased, reliable sources.
Create and perfect
Remembering that stories are much more than just BS, salespeople want to create and perfect stories for different situations.
Here are the six of the most common sales stories to keep in your arsenal.
- Problem stories. You describe a customer who had a dilemma, plus the difficulty he or she faced trying to resolve it and how it was eventually solved.
- Success stories. You want to show how customers in situations similar to your audience experienced and the resolution they found to rebound from the situation.
- Two-need stories. Here, you describe a customer who experienced a problem and a success.
- Vision stories. You describe a situation that could be your audience’s reality – the vision that will inspire them to act. It can be a tale of how a change saved a situation or a cautionary tale of how a failure to act lead to a bigger problem.
- Your stories. You don’t need to brag, but you do want to share a story that describes the type of person you are – someone who goes above and beyond to help.
- Purpose stories. These stories are meant for transparency. You describe how you or your organization came to providing and/or selling the product or service.
How to tell a great story
People consume stories every day through traditional media, social media and interaction with other people. And they tune out a story that isn’t told well.
Same goes for sales. If your story isn’t created and told with finesse, customers and prospects won’t listen or read.
Rambling, complex and disconnected stories are bad. Instead, salespeople need to create connected, smooth, intriguing stories built with an outline.
This one is effective:
- Introduce a hero the audience can empathize or sympathize with. The hero needs a goal, and the audience needs to quickly feel themselves in the hero’s situation.
- Unveil an obstacle the hero has to overcome.
- Show the conflict – internally or with others – the hero is trying to overcome when facing the obstacle.
- Put the hero at a crossroad where there are at least two options in how to achieve the goal in light of the obstacles.
- Show the hero overcome the obstacle to reach the goal.
- Reveal the point. Explain what you want the audience to get from the story and why the point is relevant to the audience.
Build a sample
Let’s build a sample story:
Introduce the hero
Last year, our customer, Sole Food (hero), placed a larger-than-usual order based on recent Internet sales. It was a big sale. I won’t kid you. I was excited. They were excited about the uptick. We would make this happen.
Unveil the hero’s obstacle
It wouldn’t be a typical order, though. Because of the lost production time, we’d have to go with expedited delivery. But we had this … until the expedited delivery provider got grounded (obstacle) for a day, and has to push back everything – and I mean everything! – across its operations.
Show the hero’s conflict
We talked with our friends at Sole Foods. Switching to a different delivery service wasn’t much of an option. They were all booked because of the our carrier’s grounding. No one is excited at this point. Sole Food was starting to question our reliability and they worried about letting down their customers (conflict).
Put hero at a crossroad
Our CEO, Vince – and you should know, he started with our company many years ago as a truck driver – hears about what’s happened. I’m guessing he’s fit to be tied. Instead, he comes to me with the look of determination. “We’ll get this to Sole Food today.” Vince doesn’t even balk when I remind him the customer is 500 miles from us. And it’s almost closing time (crossroads).
Show how the hero overcomes
Nope, not Vince. He pulls out the palm-size notepad and pencil that’s always in the back pocket of his khakis. Scribbles. Looks up at me, and says, “Way I figure, if the crew gets the truck loaded in the next hour, I can have it at Sole Foods receiving by 10:45. I’ll even have time to stop at Bingham’s Diner on the way back. Their apple crumb pie melts in your mouth. I might even bring you a slice.” (Hero’s problem overcome … with some added humor and color.) Unbelievable! And the kicker: We got that pie, and it was incredible!
Make the point
Our service is unparalleled. You won’t find another provider who’s CEO puts pedal to the metal – literally – to help customers (point).
Storytelling mistakes to avoid
Storytelling – like all the other factors in a sales – is ripe ground for making mistakes.
Here are five you want to avoid:
- Focusing on you. Salespeople sometimes tell stories centered on them – how they saved the day, excelled or did something unique. Sales stories must be centered on another hero – the one your audience can relate to. The person, situation and outcome must be important to the audience.
- Weak openings. If the wind up is too long, you’ll lose the audience’s interest before you get to the good stuff. Just get to the good stuff – your hero and the challenge.
- Including many facts and stats. Notice our sample above didn’t include any statistics or research. We say “larger-than-usual order” and “uptick,” not a “20% increase in demand” or “8,000 unit driver.” Save most hard numbers for questions and proposals.
- Going on and on. There might be six elements or steps to a great story, but that doesn’t mean the story should be long. Keep them brief, vivid and poignant. Short sentences, colorful description and active verbs.
- Emphasizing solution. Stories are mostly about people and situations, less about your particular product or service. Your point might refer to your solution, but that’s not the star of the story.