As salespeople, we must shift our focus from “Will I close this deal?” to “How can I help this company achieve its goals?”
By understanding and implementing storytelling in sales, we can create that “Aha!” moment for our prospects. Getting to this moment of suspension will captivate your audience and strengthen your relationship.
Think about the last time you watched a movie or read a good book. A great story gives us a chance to escape reality, if even for a short amount of time.
Storytelling in sales, or “Story selling” should accomplish three goals:
- Did the story make the prospect think about the inefficiencies of their current process?
- Did it help the buyer view their challenge in a new light?
- Will they share this story with the other decision-makers?
However, we have to do more than just live by case studies from marketing and the occasional fish tale—our prospects are smarter than that.
Why is Storytelling Important in Sales?
First, let’s look at the data. Jerome Bruner, a pioneer of cognitive psychology, suggested that we are 22 times more likely to remember a fact if it’s wrapped into a story. Storytelling in sales conversations helps make you and your product or service more memorable and helps tap into the buyer’s emotional side.
Many still see business conversations as B2B or B2C, but the reality is these interactions are simply H2H—human to human. Treat your sales calls as a conversation between people, not a transaction between companies. Share stories and statistics that are relative to the buyer’s unique situation to establish trust.
Your marketing team has built out the personas your company sells to. Study them, and prepare yourself with bite-sized stories to build rapport with buyers. This is especially critical for complex sales where multiple departments get involved in the decision-making process.
Use their language. If you sound like your prospect (both your tone and your diction), your relationship will strengthen. When speaking to a Chief Marketing Officer, reference voice of the customer, a sales enablement leader will resonate with a term like adoption, and the Chief Sales (or Revenue) Officer will understand how your solution relates to pipeline.
Every timeless narrative has four key elements, but the best stories follow the hero’s journey. The Star Wars franchise is successful for a reason, so let’s look at it in relation to storytelling in sales:
Let’s start with our hero. This person (or group) is inherently “good” but is typically dealt a bad hand. They will experience struggle and overcome obstacles to ultimately reach a destination.
Luke Skywalker grew up on a farm; when his uncle purchased two droids, his life was forever changed. However, this opportunity did not come without adversity. The villain, Darth Vader, imposes evil actions that affect the plot and instigates obstacles to restrict his success.
Characters in Sales
First and foremost, your prospect is the main character. Whether or not they become the hero is up to your ability to craft a good story while delivering a strong sales pitch. You will also need to uncover the other important characters. Find out who the other decision-makers are, determine if end users will have a say, and look for anyone hiding in the background who may stall the sale.
“Every good sales story nowadays should cast the customer in the hero role. Customers don’t want to be ‘sold’—they want to participate in how the plot unfolds. Focusing on features and benefits is tired and outdated. It’s the customer’s narrative and triumph over adversity that saves the day.” –Juliana Crispo, StartUp Sales Bootcamp
To get your prospects bought into the story, you should also come armed with customer stories relevant to their situation. The closer you can match the customer or their challenge to your buyer, the better it will resonate.
As for the villain? Not a person, but a problem—a lack of qualified leads, difficulty hiring quality talent, no way to listen to call recordings, trouble understanding reporting—these are all “villains” in the sales galaxy.
When you hear, “in a galaxy far away…” you automatically think of Star Wars. If you can overlook the early-stage graphics and visual effects of the original series, the setting of Star Wars is intriguing because it is unknown. There is no doubt that the element of curiosity positively affected the success of this movie series.
How to Set the Stage While Selling
Every company is unique, and we can’t assume we understand their situation entirely. You can build trust by sharing industry-specific data and working to be a trusted advisor, but first you have to focus on understanding their specific needs and challenges. Top sales reps know how to build trust-based relationships. Being actively curious will build trust and strengthen relationships with prospects.
To truly grasp the setting for a particular sale, you need to uncover the status quo at the prospect’s organization. What’s their culture like? Who makes up their team? How did they arrive at where they are today? Make the unknown known and help your buyers picture themselves in a different world–one where your solution helps them achieve more.
In Star Wars, Skywalker faces a decision to fight battles as a member of the noble Rebel Alliance or to give in to the dark side of the Force. While it would have been easier to join Darth Vader, he ultimately chooses the path of delayed gratification.
Conflict in Story Selling
Similarly, it’s not easy to make a decision on a solution that will change a company’s approach or strategy. However, without change, our prospect may be missing an opportunity to go from good to great. In Sandler Sales, we call this “pain.”
As salespeople, it is our job to uncover the pains and challenges our prospects face and why they feel change is necessary. Find out what would happen if they did nothing. Make the critical business issue the bad guy and help your champion become the hero alongside your solution.
With Darth Vader’s sacrifice for his son, we reach a resolution—however, the expanded universe does not simply end. The focus shifts and is heavily affected by the original characters, setting, and conflict.
Resolution in Story Selling
We complete a needs-based analysis, demonstrate value, and determine an agreement with our customers. After we close a deal, our job does not end. Customer success is an integral part of continuing the journey with your customer and molding your solution to continue to exceed expectations, even as new conflicts arise.
Storytelling in Sales: Choosing Your Stories
An easy way to determine which story to tell is by using an a la carte statement, which gives prospects a few scenarios that could be a current issue for them and aligns with your solution.
Start a cold call or discovery meeting by saying, “Typically when I speak to someone in your position, they’re concerned with A, B, or C. Do any of those resonate with you?” If not, you’re either not speaking to the decision-maker or your solution is not a good fit for the company.
Dive into the issue they are experiencing and if your solution is not a fit, it’s better to part as friends than try too hard to fit a square peg in a round hole. On the other hand, if the prospect identifies with one or more of the issues—then it’s time to break out your storytelling techniques.
Relay a story that is relevant to their persona. Client success stories are awesome. But our prospects don’t want to hear a fairy tale about a story in which they cannot be the hero.
For example, I worked for a company called memoryBlue and often used this case study as a hook:
We helped build Eloqua’s #1 sales team, leading to their IPO and eventual acquisition by Oracle.
A Fortune 1,000 company might not care. But for a small, emerging software company, this story sets fire in their eyes and piques their interest enough to continue a conversation.
Chris Ortolano, founder of SalesStack, sheds light on action items that will improve your storytelling and sales skills:
“Being goal-driven salespeople, we’re constantly focused on metrics and quotas. Instead, if we re-establish our prioritized goals, we can flip the funnel—putting customer success first on your list. Demonstrate value and build trust through storytelling in sales, treating your prospects as if they are already customers.”
How often do you rehearse your business storytelling? “Winging it” is another villain for the heroic salesperson. Practice your stories, share them with your peers, gather and apply their feedback.
If you’re recording sales conversations, you should be building out libraries with a variety of customer stories. Reps can listen to calls in these libraries to hear how their peers are telling a story to their prospects while delivering a compelling sales pitch. Technology like ExecVision makes it incredibly easy for professional development and honing the skills needed to have successful conversations.
How often do you edit or rewrite your sales stories? The best writers practice their craft by writing and rewriting every day. By editing your sales stories to be highly relevant, you will inspire your prospects, create more “Aha!” moments, and build skills that help you accelerate as a sales leader.