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Storytelling for sales: Part One

Julie Hansen //October 2, 2012//

Storytelling for sales: Part One

Julie Hansen //October 2, 2012//

Storytellers have influenced public opinion throughout history.  Did you notice how the political candidates weaved stories of ordinary people into their speeches?  “Bob, the auto worker from Detroit who had to take a second job to feed his family…Carol, the retired widow from New Hampshire who had to go back to work in order to make ends meet…” 

Why didn’t they just present us with the facts and statistics?  Because politicians know what storytellers have known for centuries: Stories can draw us in, get us emotionally involved and influence the way we think, feel and ultimately, act.

In a competitive market where prospects are short on time and attention, sellers who leverage the power of stories to deliver their message in an entertaining and compelling way can create an emotional connection with their prospects and significantly increase their chances of winning business.  Stories are a powerful sales tool for differentiating yourself and your product or service from the competition.  Why?  For one, because they are easy to remember.

Think about how many stories you can recall that happened hundreds or thousands of years before you were even born.  You probably don’t remember setting out to memorize the story of Moses, Sleeping Beauty or urban legends like the lover’s lane murderer with a hook for a hand, yet there they are, ingrained in your memory.  On the other hand, you might not remember what you did last Tuesday or what your spouse asked you to pick up at the store this morning.  The power of a good story is something we as salespeople can’t afford to ignore.  Lets look at how and why you need to consider adding the skill of storytelling to your sales tool kit:

Stories drive home your point:
A short, well-crafted story can drive home your point better than a dozen busy Powerpoint slides.  Stories package your message in a way that a listener can easily digest.  The real secret to their power, according to master storyteller Annette Simmons, is this: “Stories give people freedom to come to their own conclusions.”  And if a prospect has arrived at their own conclusion, doesn’t that make your job as a salesperson that much easier?

Stories give you credibility:
All day long a prospect listens to salespeople tell them how great their products or services are.  It’s no wonder they get a little jaded.   Not only is a story a refreshing break from that first person horn-blowing, but it also effectively hands over the burden of proof to an objective third-party, significantly increasing your credibility.

Stories help us identify
Cold hard facts and figures rarely move people.  Put a face on those facts, however, and it’s hard to stay detached.  Stories have the ability to connect us with our emotions in a way that facts and numbers and beautifully designed pie charts can not.   Call it the Mother Teresa effect: “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” 

Stories are sticky
A great idea is great only to the extent that it is remembered.  Our ability to remember is significantly impacted by emotion and since stories can create emotion, the right story can ensure that your message is top of mind when busy prospects are ready to make a decision.   We want our ideas to be what Chip and Dan Heath in their book, “Made to Stick” call “sticky,” which they define as: Understandable, memorable, and effective in changing thought or behavior.

The Heath brothers go on to explore why some ideas stick and how we can improve the chances of our ideas being remembered.   One of the methods they suggested as a way to make an idea stick is through the use of stories. 

Are you a good storyteller?
The difference between telling a story and expertly delivering a smartly crafted, meaningful story can be the difference between winning and losing business.  I believe that anyone can learn to be a good storyteller if they master a few simple principles.  In Part Two of this series I’ll give you some specific tips for structuring and communicating not just a good story, but a story that sells.