Everyone hates to be sold, but loves a story.

Sell me this pen.

Made (recently) famous from Wolf of Wallstreet, but this question has been around long before that. It’s in this question that people can get the wrong idea of what it means to truly sell. After all sales is not about convincing, rather it’s about the story around why the pen itself represents more than an object, but solves a need that the person may or may not have thought they had. Said differently, a killer sales narrative doesn’t simply convince but motivates through emotion and inspires an action to solve a problem. In a world where many problems compete for priority, motivation to solve one of them more than others becomes the differentiator.

The key is the story, the narrative, the emotion that you can evoke from unraveling a story with imagery, words and conviction. However, before you even tell the story, you need to make people want to listen to you.

We all have caught on to scripts and cold calling tactics that list a bunch of product features. When someone regurgitates a laundry list of features you can watch the life slowly drain from my eyes. We live for more than features! Viva la Sales!

Storytelling Makes you Memorable 

Put simply, we retain information through stories. That cartoon you were watching when you were five. That story grandma told you when you were seven. When facts and data are framed within a compelling story, you will hold the listener’s attention and help them connect the bits of the story to their context.

The result of better storytelling is better retention. Rule #1 in sales is to be memorable. Rule #2 in sales is be influential. Rule #3 is to always add value. Rule #4 Listen. Rule #5 is none of this matters unless you nail Rule #1

If you pull off a great story but timing isn’t right, you’re effectively planting seeds for when your solution / service becomes more relevant. Think data breach if your selling security software or a recruiting efficiency solution when you get a big round of funding that demands you double your headcount. Guess who will come to mind?

Storytelling is becoming a respected technique that’s recognized for its effectiveness. The London School of Business did a study which confirms what was experienced by people who used storytelling as means to transfer information and convince people. In fact, when stories were used to convey the same information as when not used, retention jumped up by 70 percent.

Logic and Emotions 

Sales teams put together presentations that showcase their product in the best possible light. It’s very important that you know your product, its features and benefits, all that good stuff, but it’s not enough to get you to close. If you think this, you have to hustle much harder because your win rates are abysmal.

Features don’t sell.

Most decisions are made with both logic and emotions in play. When listening to stories with rich imagery and meaning, the brain is stimulated as a whole. When this happens, both emotions and logic are in play.

When demos, even conversations, are comprised primarily of stories, then the brain is gripped. If you can make a prospect feel, you’re in the drivers seat and storytelling connect us on a emotional level.

Vision Stories 

A perfect example of gripping the emotions of your listener are Vision Stories. Telling a story about why you’re inspired to do what you do, help who you help and most importantly, where you’re going inspire your listener to follow you. You (and / or your company) see the challenge/s that your listener faces today as a common challenge and more importantly see a world in which this pain goes away or is drastically reduced. You become the leader.

This visionary role is very effective but can blow up if not told with passion and conviction along with experience. If you’re young in sales, don’t pretend to be the visionary, rather place the visionary tag on your CEO or founder as the person who can look around corners to see what’s next. They’re the leader, you’re evangelizing a vision.

Who Am I Stories are effective in creating a bond with your prospect. Especially if you end up supporting the prospect in the post sale, you can tell how you will ensure their success no matter what happens. The bigger the purchase, the bigger the risk and when they hear someone that’s not just about selling them and handing off their success to someone else, its a powerful message. What you stand for can have compelling effects when what you stand for happens to coincide with the prospect’s success.

In addition to Who Am I Stories, you can add even more emotion in the mix with  Why Am I Here Stories which essentially showcase why you chose to do what you do which cultivates transparency around your intent. Prospects tend to become more receptive when you tell them what your trying to do because they humanize you.

Another method for Vision Stories is the FUD method (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt) which runs rampant in the software security industry as well as the insurance industry. The “Act Now or Else” mantra can be very compelling if you can back up your FUD method with stories on how people you spoke with before did not head your warning and are now suffering the consequences. The FUD method is effective when you use it in the ways your solution can prevent something bad from happening but it also is used as a cheap way to devalue competitors. If you need to use FUD to sell your prospect away from a competitor it means you can’t sell on value alone, and that wreaks of position of weakness sales techniques.  

Visualize their world 

There is no substitute in understanding the world your prospects live in. Knowing what they face each day, to include their pain and motivations, it’s nothing short of gold in sales. Smart sales people bring up common pain that a certain persona continually faces, but turning it into story form makes it visual.

Common stories can be success stories that relate your prospect to a similar challenge a customer faced, preferably in the same industry, and how they overcame that challenge with your solution / service that made them better because of it. The more you take the prospect through this process and insert color to the story, the better. Color could include initial doubts that they faced, how they took (what they thought) a risk on moving forward with the solution and what a difference it made to them personally and professionally. Cap it off with how you feel that experience is very similar to the prospect’s and have them start to visualize the same success in their world by asking compelling questions to cap it off.

“If this story was you, how would that impact the challenge you face today?”

Stories create Action

If you’re successful in making your stories relevant to the prospect’s situation and you were able to grip their attention, you are in a great position to influence their buying decision. The way you position your brand and your product in your stories is essential in getting that yes. The yes is the action, and quite easier said than getting so the call to action should be strong and authoritative. Your story needs to be in the center of logic and emotion to make sense and to cap off a great story, the action that the person must take should seem obvious, easy and rational. 

Here are some final techniques on capping a good story: 

Make it about them – Even when you’re talking about other clients or hypothetical situations, make it so that the client can see themselves in the stories and by the wrap of the story make it only about them. 

Keep stories straight to point – Be Hemingway and get to the point. You’re not writing or speaking an epic, just a case study that is intended to hook a prospect. If you prepare well, you’ll get the points across succinctly.

Use imagery – Learn to tell stories that paint scenarios. Stories are a great leap from dry presentations, but don’t make your stories dry! A great practice is to tell a colleague about your weekend and an experience that unfolded (doesn’t have to be epic) to start practicing the art of telling great stories. Aside from making you better at sales, it will make your life a lot richer. 

 Use humor – Great timing is a gift. If you have it, don’t afraid to make your prospect laugh here and there. Just don’t overdo it! There’s a thin line between clever and being a sideshow.

Sales is more about your product, service or solution, it’s about the value and who it helps. In order for prospects to truly hear you, they have to connect with you, remember you and like you.

Everybody hates being sold, but loves a story.

Author: Tim Yandel

I'm Tim. I live in Cole Valley, San Francisco with my wife, Julie, and two daughters Addie and Audra. I tend to write a bunch about leading Sales teams, since that's what I've been doing since 2006. I'm particularly drawn to the psychology of selling, whether that be how people buy things or sell things, it's fascinating how decision-making is centered into the core of who you are as a person. I enjoy cultivating a culture centered around mastery of your craft and a genuine passion for winning together. Outside of professional learnings, I enjoy listening to epic sci-fi and fantasy books while I run long distances to decompress and obsessed with watching my two girls grow. For a good ice breaker, ask me about my Golden Retriever and my Bernese Mountain Dog.

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