Once Upon A Time – Storytelling Techniques for Sales

If prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, storytelling is the world’s oldest pastime. We love telling stories about our vacations, our jobs, our weekends, our kids – everything.

Why?

Because stories allow us to connect emotionally with others and share in their experiences. We tell stories because stories last. We want to be remembered and understood as more than just a series of facts. I could tell you that I’m 6′ tall, weigh 175, can’t jump and was born 32 years ago. But that tells you nothing. At least nothing you’re likely to remember (or care about).

But if I regale you with a story of the fist fight I was in when I was 14 because somebody was picking on my younger brother – and you see my eyes light up as I tell it – you’ll know that I love my brother, believe in honor and integrity, and that I’m not afraid to get a little roughed up.

Now, which are you more likely to find interesting? Which “me” do you want to hear more about? Which “me” do you care more about? Which “me” would you buy? (Now you know how prostitution fits into this.)

It’s not that my height and weight are unimportant. And if you were considering me for a basketball team, you’d be sorely disappointed. However, it’s common for sales professionals to get hung up on the facts of their product and not its underlying story.

But how do you craft a story for your product or service? Is it even possible? Does your business or product have to be sexy to have a story? Every business has a story. Here are a few questions to get you started:

  1. Who Does Your Product Benefit?
  2. You should understand both the first generation and second generation impact of what you’re selling. This is a tricky one that catches a lot of people. We often get hung up on the person purchasing from us (first generation) and forget that they usually need the service to help or reach their client/customer (second generation).

    Back when I was selling content management systems and online marketing services to hospitals, I had to keep two people in mind: the person buying from me and the person they were trying to reach. Both have needs and I was trying to help my clients reach their clients (or patients in this scenario).

    So how did I do that?

    First, by understanding the patient. What did they want from a hospital website? What did I want from a hospital’s website (I am a patient after all)? How would we like to communicate with our hospital or doctor? Then, I looked at the challenges my potential customer was facing in meeting patient expectations.

    From that, I crafted a story about how our services would impact not just the hospital and its staff, but their patients as well. I showed them how we could partner with them to better serve their community.

  3. How Does Your Prospect View Their Situation?
  4. Are they optimistic? Overwhelmed? Skeptical? Do they even think they need your service? You’ll be surprised to find out how the answer to this question can help you tailor your story to each prospect. Let me show you:

    Optimistic: Place the focus of your story on the future benefit of your service. Talk about all the wonderful ways it will help them better meet their clients needs, etc.

    Overwhelmed: Your story should still focus on the benefits but should now include elements of how it simplified the lives of people in their situation.

    Skeptical: Now your story needs to include elements of how it helped other companies do what you can do for them.

    Always talk about the future benefit, but don’t forget where they are right now.

  5. What Emotions Play Into the Purchase?
  6. Is it fear? Relief? Excitement? Sadness? Empathy? Hope? Every product or service purchase meets at least one emotional need if only temporarily. Understand which emotion(s) you service, then craft your story to create them.

    Need to raise money for AIDs work in Africa? Toss the stats and give me a story about a child. Name her. Tell me what she wants to be. Tell me how I can help her. Sadness, empathy, hope. Selling life insurance? Try fear and relief.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Finally, don’t forget to practice your story. Get comfortable telling it in social situations or to strangers who ask what you do. The more comfortable you are with it, the more naturally it will flow when you need it most.

An Example

Right before I posted this, I had an email exchange with a potential client I thought I’d share. I was explaining to them Ethos3’s presentation design services and how we could help them. I wrote the following in an email. Notice the story and the emotions I invoke: Distraction, Overwhelming, Confusion.

Often, presenters want to show their audience everything they will be talking about [in the PowerPoint slides]. What that does is increase the number of inputs to the audience members’ brains forcing them to “tune” something out.

Think of the new slides you sent over as being at a large party. When you’re talking to someone at a party, you’ll notice that you have to work very hard to focus on the person you’re speaking to. You also know that you could never remember everything that was said or done by everyone at the party. The reason for that is because your brain is not fully sure which input its supposed to be working with.

What we do is take our knowledge of how the human brain processes information and move your slides from “large party” to “intimate gathering.” We take the work off of the brain and allow the person to easily focus, digest and recall critical information.

Do you have a story for your product, service or business?

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