Using Storytelling for a More Compelling Sales Conversation
How do you connect with millions of people – all motivated by different things – in just a few minutes? You tell a story.
In a recent letter to shareholders, Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, delivered a message with a story. He tells readers of a friend attempting the perfect handstand. “No leaning against a wall. Not for just a few seconds. Instagram good,” he explained. He spoke of a friend who learnt they would need weeks of regular practise to make a perfect handstand look easy.
Bezos was sharing a narrative about the perils of unrealistic expectations. It’s critical that a person, or a team, is realistic about the work that will be required to achieve a goal. The story also served as an example of how effective communicators connect with listeners. Bezos explains that meetings in his office don’t unfold with slides. Instead, presenters “write narratively structured six-page memos.”
The reason: stories are an appeal to our emotions, and emotions drive action.
Building your sales organisation's ability to use storytelling in their conversations with customers will enhance your team's ability to communicate, connect, and ultimately, compel customers.
Why Storytelling Matters for Sales Professionals
Customers differ. In the span of a year, month, or even day, sales professionals encounter customers of all personalities. All have unique needs and leanings.
This presents the sales professional with the challenge of repeatedly tailoring their message to each individual customer. Storytelling solves this problem because stories resonate with everyone. This is because stories are part of our evolutionary inheritance.
These are the five reasons why storytelling matters to the modern sales professional:
- Stories Make Sense Out of Information: Solutions have become more nuanced. They are granular in their list of capabilities. As a result, they have become more complex making their underlying value difficult for customers to understand. We need meaning to correctly understand the value of a solution. In fact, stories are so useful at threading meaning through otherwise disparate pieces that they can do so even when no meaning exists.
- Stories Create an Emotional Connection with the Customer: Emotion is necessary to encode a memory. Stories drive the emotions that help sales professionals earn a place in the customer’s world. Often, it’s easy for a sales professional to resort to cataloguing product features rather than taking the time to establish a connection. Sales professionals who do make an effort to connect using stories see lasting benefits.
- Stories Focus the Customer's Attention on What is Important: Customers want a solution that either addresses a problem or helps them accelerate towards a goal. When listening to a sales professional, they are searching for that singular characteristic that speaks to their needs. Effective sales professionals seize that opportunity by drawing the customer’s attention to the aspect of the solution that most directly addresses the customer’s top priority or that highlights the solution’s key differentiator. Stories are effective in this context because they represent a simplified template in which the sales professional must edit their messaging to only the pieces that fit a narrative structure. Doing so helps keep the delivery tight. The absence of structure invites opportunities to “tack on” additional product features that distract from the core message.
- Stories Provide a Vision of What is Possible: Stories are effective at turning what is theoretical into something practical. That is, they offer a clear example of how a solution will unfold. Technical details provide a blueprint, but a story gives you the house. The visual properties of a story are not only helpful, they’re necessary. Stories cast the sales professional and the customer in the same narrative, which creates a picture of cooperation.
- Stories Make What You Say Memorable: Story structure varies, but they all share a common characteristic, each features a progression in which one part connects to the next. This chain of linear progression makes it easy to retain critical takeaways. When sales professionals commit to this model, they keep the customer’s attention focused on a path that ends with a resolution that has one interpretation. This consolidated approach offers simplicity that’s memorable.
How Effective Sales Professionals use Stories
At its core, storytelling seeks to engage. However, effective storytelling requires more than fulfilling a template. The most effective storytellers understand and adhere to the precepts of behavioural science. Following these 3 simple rules will help your sellers start selling better with storytelling.
- Leverage the power of conflict and the turning point
- Use descriptive language
- Build stories around a narrative structure that resonates
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