Using Data & Storytelling in Sales
Data Legitimizes, Storytelling in Sales Persuades
Data is a currency in the 21st century. It is bought, sold, and leveraged to achieve a profitable end.
The value of data is clear, as seen in findings from researchers at McKinsey and MIT who determined that companies committed to data-driven decision making “were, on average, 5 percent more productive and 6 percent more profitable than their competitors.”
As a result, C‐level executives are developing trust in analytic insights.
However, data is of little use without the contextual power of a narrative.
Because while 99% of CFOs and CIOs at global organizations believe that analytics are important to their business, 75% say that they have trouble using the data to make decisions, according to research from International Data Corporation.
Sales professionals have an opportunity and an obligation to leverage the value of data when selling to decision makers. Here, we look at three skills essential to the modern sales professional:
- The importance of sourcing the right data to position a solution
- How to organize the data for a focused approach
- How to develop a strong narrative to illustrate the meaning behind the numbers and make data compelling
Sourcing The Right Data to Tell a Story and Position a Solution
Identifying the most relevant data requires the sales professional to have a clear idea of the customer’s challenges, understand how well the data communicates the gains offered by the solution, and source in-depth, relevant information that speaks to those challenges.
Sales professionals can accomplish this understanding by making sure they are asking the right questions.
Asking questions to clearly understand the customer’s needs enables the sales professional to determine what analytics are relevant and will most effectively convey the value of a solution.
Additionally, incisive questions reveal which measurements will offer the most authority when it comes to illustrating the upside of a solution. In this case, articulating the gains to be realized creates momentum toward a purchase.
Once the sales professional has asked the right questions, they can focus on the right data. In doing so, they must limit the scope of the information because too much data can cause the customer to turn off. Handling data carefully demonstrates the sales professional’s conscientiousness in analyzing the information.
Organizing Data For a Focused Storytelling in Sales Approach
Sales professionals must start with the end in mind. That is, they must consider not only what data they’ll bring to the table, but they must also ensure that they can provide a compelling analysis of that data.
Sales professionals need to consider the relevancy of the data. They must ask themselves, what matters to the customer?
Next, they must form a meaningful connection between what the data reveals and the customer’s challenges or opportunities. Data without interpretation is no more useful than a saw without a carpenter.
The goal should be to source data that underscores the value of an idea or the effectiveness of a solution.
It’s likely that all other competing sales professionals will have access to the same information. Therefore, what sets one sales professional apart from another is the drive to go and find the data and distill the meaningful content. The data is not the story. The data is a part of the story.
Of course, what’s meaningful to one group may not be to another. Therefore, it’s important for the sales professional-as-analyst to know their audience.
They need to know the customer’s data tolerance. To understand the customer’s capacity for analytics, the sales professional must limit the finding not only to what’s relevant but to what is interesting. Then, they must focus attention on key areas to avoid cognitive overload.
To avoid cognitive overload sales professionals should:
- Present material that accounts for the customer’s existing knowledge base
- Avoid nonessential information that complicates the solution
- Segment information to make absorption easier
Developing a Strong Narrative
Just as the precepts of cognition are universal, so is the preference for a familiar narrative structure.
Today, the power of storytelling extends beyond the world of literature or theater. In fact, educators at Johns Hopkins University explain, “In simplest terms, a business plan must tell a compelling story.”
Good storytelling in sales follows a logical progression. While narratives differ across various genres, each adheres to the same core structure. What’s important is that each stage of the story leads to the next.
This flow is important because the sales professional needs the solution to fit seamlessly into the story. This skill alone will set a sales professional above the rest because today, information is often dispersed without coherence, analysis, or meaning. It comes fragmented, rarely coalescing into a whole.
To rise above this problem, a seller must use conventional story structure to tie their data together into a continuous presentation. Each piece relies on what came before. Johns Hopkins continues, “Business plans that seem to ‘jump around’ between topics will create a disjointed narrative in your story and confuse your audience.”
Story structure keeps listeners engaged because it moves, everyone knows that a story has a beginning, middle and end. Therefore, sales professionals should not labor over one part. Rather, they should make their point, then move to the next piece. As Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Mamet explains, “Every scene should be able to answer three questions:”
- "Who wants what from whom?”
- “What happens if they don't get it?”
- “Why now?”
The question “What happens if they don’t get it?” is the sales professional’s opportunity to overcome the most prevalent problem in selling today: status quo bias. An increasing emphasis on ROI and measurable outcomes, coupled with increasing decision makers, has led to inertia among customers.
Getting them to buy is more difficult than ever. Sales professionals who effectively answer, “What happens if they don’t get it?” overcome this challenge by underscoring the risk of doing nothing while competitors advance.
Finally, “Why now?” instills a sense of urgency. Here, sales professionals can incite action on the part of the customer by offering real-world, identifiable examples of how the solution has helped others.
Research from economic professor Bruce Wydick shows that identifiable stories incite action more often than statistical stories. Data is necessary for legitimizing the solution, but story is necessary for promoting the solution.
The promotional power of storytelling is real. When done right, it can change minds, and invigorate action.
Success in selling belongs to the sales professional who can balance the role of analyst with storyteller. Doing so requires the ability to source, organize, and communicate data in a way that connects the solution to the challenge. Like the progression of a good story, these three pieces fit together in a logical succession.
Learn how you can enable your sales professionals with the process and skills to tell a great story that will lead to more closed business.
Get industry insights and stay up to date, subscribe to our newsletter.
Joining our community gives you access to weekly thought leadership to help guide your planning for a training initiative, inform your sales strategy, and most importantly, improve your team's performance.