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15Oct2015

The amazing power of stories and 5 ways to make them sell

I stumbled across an amazing story a few months ago.

Dave Irsay opened a “StoryBooth” – a semi-permanent recording booth – in Grand Central Station back in 2003. His modest hope was that people would take the opportunity to record personal tributes to people they care about. The life stories shared were captivating and, judging by the testimonies themselves, so was process of recording them.

The first “StoryBooth” soon developed into StoryCorps.org and kept growing to the point that, in 2015, Dave won a TED prize and delivered the inspiring TED Talk below. That’s when this story first came to my attention.

After watching his talk, I browsed many of the compelling recordings on the StoryCorps site. It struck me that human beings are fantastic storytellers, particularly when the topic is important to them. The power and authenticity of these stories are remarkable. They illicit strong emotions and feelings. They stick in the memory.

When you think about it, it’s not that surprising really.

Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of human communication. Before our ancient ancestors began painting on cave walls or using the written word, stories were the principle vehicle for transferring hard-won knowledge. They were the most powerful educational tool available back then. And they still are.

Stories are great educational devices precisely because they are easily remembered and shared. They also tap into our ability to empathise, allowing us to relate to other people and learn from their experiences (and mistakes) without having to go through it all ourselves. They are a kind of evolutionary “get out of jail free” card.

We all have stories to share and many of us do on a daily basis. For those of us who do not identify as “natural storytellers” I’d like to venture the view that, like any other skill, storytelling can be honed over time with practice and effort.

What’s more, that effort is absolutely worthwhile. Here’s why…

Storytelling and sales: the perfect match
B2B sales professionals are constantly striving to stand out from the crowd. Storytelling is a fantastic way to do so for all the right reasons.

Well-documented research over recent years has shown that B2B buyers want to be educated on new ideas and perspectives. They also want to avoid mistakes others have made and, ultimately, make safe decisions that get them results. What better way to educate them than to tell relevant, powerful stories?

As a sales strategy, effective storytelling can lead to some important and all-too-rare outcomes, such as:

  • Helping clients see the mistakes they are making in their thinking
  • Reducing their perception of the risks involved in changing their approach
  • Encouraging clients to see things fromtheir customer’sperspective and how their current approach may not be doing enough to incorporate this
  • Proving your authenticity and focus on your client’s results by sharing the mistakes you (and other clients) have made and what you learned

On top of that, let’s not forget that the best stories are memorable and easily shared. A well-crafted, well-delivered story could be the “foot-in-the-door” you always needed at your target organisation.

There are lots of good reasons to incorporate storytelling into your sales skill-set but what do the best sales stories include and how can you use them? Here are 5 tips to get you started.

  1. Get the insight.
    The most compelling sales stories will provide real insight into the buyer’s world. This might includetheir customer’sbuying habits, game-changing trends in their industry or the latest research on what is (and what isn’t) resonating with the market. If you haven’t got this kind of insight then consider readingThe Challenger Customerfor some ideas on how to go about finding it.
  2. You are not the hero.
    It’s a common mistake to position ourselves (the seller or what we are selling) as the hero of the story. Don’t fall into this trap. The best sales stories show the client as the hero and provide enough in the way of compelling information for them to come up with the answer themselves. You may happen to be the only organisation capable of offering the solution but it was their idea to ask for it…
  3. Show them what they should be running away from.
    Your clients want to avoid making mistakes. Helping them to identify those they are making is invaluable. In fact, it’s a much more compelling reason for them to change their approach than pointing-out the potential gains to them. Help buyers see the impact of taking no action and you’ll have a persuasive message. Consider readingInsight Sellingby Mike Schultz and John E. Doerr for more detail on the content of a good sales story.
  4. Tell a story, don’t deliver a speech.
    A common mistake when sharing stories is to launch into an uninterrupted speech. Increase your client’s engagement levels by asking them questions as you outline your story. Have they experienced any of the challenges being described? Keep it punchy, relevant and educational. However, much like a good speech, practicing delivering your story is a very good idea. Share them with colleagues, friends and family and use their feedback to improve.
  5. Listen, Learn & Share.
    Listen to the variety of stories you will hear daily and consider how they could inform and inspire future conversations. Take your learning and try it out for size, use it and see for yourself what works and what doesn’t. Finally, shout about it with relevant clients who stand to benefit. One of the biggest mistakes we can make in B2B sales is learning and then not sharing it.

How valuable do you find storytelling in your role? What experiences do you have of using storytelling and how have you improved your technique over time? Let us know your thoughts.