In my last blog I looked at the impact of storytelling on sales success. This week I will try to help you become a great storyteller by offering you my top 5 tips on how to implement it into your sales process.
When storytelling is spoken about in relation to sales, there are two main techniques being referred to – the first is the use of anecdotes and metaphors to add interest and relevance to your sales conversations. The second (and the one I’ll focus on here) is the framing of your proposition as a story, placing your customer at the centre and enabling them to move beyond just understanding your offer, to actually feeling a positive emotional reaction to it (making them more inclined to buy from you). The former is more often used earlier in the sales process and is an excellent way to help build credibility, demonstrate previous experience and to handle objections, whilst the latter is typically used at the pitching stage. Both have a key role to play in becoming a master storyteller and sales person. Here are my top 5 tips:
- Balance facts with narrative.
A story is essentially a list of facts, woven together using a compelling narrative, that seeks to elicit an emotional response from its audience. It is fact which should form the basis of any sales story. It is critical not to confuse storytelling with fabrication of the truth (sales people have been battling for years to shake off the association with bending the truth!). The purpose of storytelling in sales is therefore NOT to cover up, or lie about, shortfalls in your own offering but to create a connection between the different elements of the story and, critically, to create a connection between the audience and the story.
- Include all the essential components of a story
Sales people often make the mistake of starting with the end (the solution). The problem with this approach is that the solution alone is unlikely to create any sense of connection or feeling from your customer. This can only be achieved by telling the complete story, detailing the pains and gains along the way. Therefore, be sure to include the following elements in your sales stories and observe the ‘beginning, middle, end’ format:
i) Central Character – Usually the ‘hero’ of the story, this is the person who goes on the journey, who experiences the story first-hand, the person who feels and reacts to what is happening in the story – the person to whom the audience must relate to.In the context of sales, this should be the person (or people) who you are selling to – your customer(s).
ii) Ignition – The event that kick-starts the story, prompting the central character into action. This is the point at which your customer recognised a need and will be associated with either their desire to eradicate a ‘pain’, or to achieve a specific ‘gain/(s)’. Both pain and gain evoke emotional responses and are therefore essential components in your ‘story’.
iii) Conflict/Tension – A good story needs to include some element of challenge or difficulty, that must be overcome by the hero. If you’ve done your work properly earlier in the sales process, you should have communicated how your solution helps remove any pain as well as having looked for additional insights, to provide further gains for your customer.
iv) Crossroads – A point at which the hero must decide which course of action to take. The consequences of each option should be clear, so that the audience is left in no doubt as to which would be the best option to take – you or your competitors (and don’t forget the ‘do nothing’ option, customers don’t have to choose any of the solutions proposed).
v) Happy Ending/Moral of the story – A reiteration of what the central character has learnt and how they are better off as a result of their ‘journey’.
- Tell the customer’s story, not yours
A common challenge that sales people must overcome is learning how to talk about solutions in relation to the customer. Many sales people get caught up in just talking about their own company and/or products/services, rather than focusing on helping the customer solve their problems. Using the storytelling framework perfectly facilitates this process, placing the customer, their needs and challenges at the centre of the story.
- Know your stuff
A good story must flow naturally and, in order for that to happen, the storyteller must know the story inside-out. For example, the majority of people could tell the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears without needing to read it directly from a book and that’s because we’re all so familiar with the facts of the story and the events flow so logically from one to the next. If you ensure you have this same level of familiarity and logical flow to the elements of your customer’s story, there is no reason why you cannot convey this with the same level of confidence.
- Practice makes perfect
To increase confidence when it comes to storytelling, practice is essential. You can practice storytelling every day. Remember that storytelling is simply the process of bringing facts to life in a way that gets the audience to invest in the characters, it’s as simple as that. Let me give you an example:
You might remark to a colleague:
Did you hear; Tony from Accounts was running the marathon this weekend but had to pull out at mile 22 because he twisted his ankle.
A storyteller, however, would say:
Did you hear about Tony from Accounts? Last year his brother had a heart attack, he’s absolutely fine now, but it completely changed Tony’s outlook on life. He changed his eating habits, lost loads of weight and, even though he’d never run before, he started going for short runs, to try and improve his fitness. Anyway, he then totally got hooked on running and started doing half marathons. Then, at the end of last year, he decided he wanted to push himself further and signed up to run the marathon. He was running on behalf of a heart charity because of what happened to his brother. Apparently, all was going well until one of the spectators accidentally dropped a water bottle, which rolled out in front of Tony. He put his foot down on it and went over on his ankle. He’s absolutely devastated, but he’s raised loads of money for the charity and he should be able to get back to running in a few weeks.
In the first option, all the audience hears is the end of the story. They are unlikely to feel any connection to Tony and therefore unlikely to experience any kind of reaction to the news that he had to pull out of the marathon. However, in option 2, the audience learns about Tony’s motivations, his struggles and achievements along the way. When the audience finally learns how Tony’s story ends, they are devastated for him and can empathise with how distraught he must be. Not only is option 2 more likely to elicit an emotional response, but it is more interesting for the audience to listen to and they will be more likely to remember the details of the story afterwards.
Try reading the two options above aloud, you’ll hear the difference in your own tone, you may even find yourself beginning to use hand movements when you tell the second option, I know I did!
If you’d like to talk to us about developing a storytelling workshop for your sales people, or about any of our other sales training options, please give us a call on 01778 382733, or visit our Contact page to send us your details.