TOW#519 — The art of storytelling

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The art of storytelling has attracted a lot of attention in recent years, and for good reason. It seems that every entrepreneur wants to be a storyteller who can convey a convincing story about their company’s brand. It turns out that it comes naturally to some, while others seem unable to get the point.

Telling stories in sales (often equated with ‘selling white elephants’) is nothing new. Good salespeople usually instinctively know that stories, not facts, have the strongest influence on people’s feelings, and so stories can often pave the way to concluding a sale.

The hardest part is knowing exactly which stories to tell. In the case of a popular brand, the product or service themselves are the ‘main actors’ that will generally do the heavy lifting for you. That, of course, is an important element. But is that the only element we should always be talking about in sales talks? In my opinion it’s not.

If your approach to the story of the brand has not achieved sales results, i.e. the desired number of sales, let me suggest that you try the story where the customer is presented as a hero; yes, you read it correctly — a hero.

At the beginning of the year, a company asked me to teach their sales reps to tell stories. Many of them were early in their careers and eager to learn. Talking to them, in an effort to get to know their company better, I learned that although ‘storytelling’ was an integral part of their modus operandi, most of them couldn’t agree on exactly what that meant.

Fortunately, a (veteran) sales manager was able to clarify his view of things, which I found very impressive. He said that top sellers understand that they don’t question their story, nor do they use their sales job to tell the story of the form or the existence of a brand.

Instead, they enter an already existing story (the story told by the client) as a companion who’s there to help the client achieve his goal. It sounds like something from the Marvel universe, doesn’t it?

The client as hero — I find that to be an incredibly good metaphor.

Namely, when salespeople realise that they’re supporting the success of their customer (the hero), it becomes obvious that they need to constantly learn about their perspectives, weaknesses and needs. In this way, they’re more likely to lead the customer into meaningful conversations by asking coherent questions, rather than discussing how good the brand is or how much better it is than the competition.

While working with that client, we also managed to develop a small guide to help salespeople structure each sales conversation into a story. Like most good stories, these too have a clear beginning, middle and end.

We agreed that the format should be like a theatre play in three parts:

1. Act I: Convincing opening. The sales representative presents the world in its current state, and the buyer presents it as a hero facing great challenges;

2. Act II: Clear construction. The world as it could be changes the brand. The sales representative provides extremely important facts and a growing number of activities that describe how working with that brand breaks down barriers, reduces pain and increases success.

3. Act III: Strong conclusion. Very often it can be a question. It can be a clear call to action — a signed contract, an advance or agreeing to a future meeting. In conclusion, the sales rep reiterates what the world could be like if the company’s brand were used, presenting the client as an ‘increasingly powerful hero’.

Lastly… I can only say that this is not a rule, but just an example of our work with one particular company. The best thing about telling stories is that you can be yourselves, authentic and above all honest. Storytelling should not be equated with smokescreens or lying. I would argue that telling stories in sales is actually about giving emotion to dry facts in order to solve a challenge. In that way, even though you’re a sidekick in the client’s game, you’ll be an ‘ever stronger salesman on your own stage’, a hero in your own battle.

And don’t forget:

“Telling stories at work is nothing new. The tricky part is knowing exactly which stories to tell.”

Vedran Sorić, MBA

Sorbel Group Croatia

ESAS 2017/2018 guest speaker

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