The best sales people are great story tellers. They have the ability to help their customers move beyond just knowing, to instead feeling and seeing. When we can help our customers feel (rather than just know), quite simply, they are far more likely to choose us.
- Storytellers evoke emotion and emotion drives behaviour
A story starts with a set of events that take place in a specific sequence, for a specific set of people. But a story moves beyond a simple recounting of events. A story uncovers the motivations and emotions of the people involved, it explores the consequences of actions (and inaction), it takes us on a journey and leads us ultimately to a happy ending. The language used in a story is creative and emotive, rather than purely descriptive. A story (rather than a description of the facts) brings the people, places and events of the story to life, making them relatable and allowing the listener to really ‘connect’ with that story. This connection, or emotional response, is far stronger than can ever be achieved through simply detailing the facts.
Let’s imagine for a minute that we’re a customer being presented with 2 different pitches for two very similar products. The first sales person describes the features of the product and the benefits each brings; at the end of the pitch I know that their product will save me time, reduce margin of error and cut costs. The second sales person, however, starts by reminding me of the ‘pain’ I was experiencing, that had motivated me to look for a solution in the first place. There is emotion attached to that pain, so instantly I’m more involved, it feels more real. They then proceed to take me through the journey that had let to this point, reminding me of the objections I’d raised along the way and how we’d overcome these, all the while prompting me to once again feel how I had felt at those points in time. The pitch culminates with a focus on the elimination of the ‘pain’ I had been experiencing, as well as highlighting additional ‘gains’, again eliciting a positive emotional response. As with the first pitch, I know how the product will save me time, reduce error margins and save money but, unlike the first pitch, I can picture the solution in place and already have a sense of how I and others will feel when it is. My decision is simple.
- Storytelling strengthens propositions and relationships
Storytelling strengthens propositions because they are more engaging, more impactful and therefore more memorable. Think about the countless presentations you’ve sat through in your life, most you will have long forgotten but the ones you remember will be the ones where the presenter didn’t just read through a set of facts and figures on a slide, but instead told you a story, engaged your interest and took you on a journey. As a result, these are also the ones where you are more likely to be able to recall information from them. It is the same for a sales person using storytelling to sell their proposition – not only will a story elicit emotion in your customers as I’ve outlined above, but it will also make your pitch more memorable than that of your competitor’s, critical for when pitches are over and it’s down to the customer to make a decision.
Storytelling strengthens the customer/sales person relationship too. There’s the obvious point that, as human beings, we tend to prefer being around people who we perceive as being more engaging and interesting – something most definitely true of good storytellers. But there’s another less well-known point, supported by scientific research and that’s that storytelling facilitates feelings of trust. Research done by neuroeconomist, Paul Zak, has revealed that emotional responses trigger the release of a neurochemical called oxytocin, often referred to as the ‘trust’ or ‘love hormone’. When oxytocin is released, Zak found it sent a signal to the brain to indicate that the other person is both safe and trustworthy. Since we know that people buy from people they both like and trust, accelerating the sense of trust between customer and sales person can only have a positive effect.
- Storytelling helps with framing
Storytelling can help sales people be more effective by providing a clear structure within which to ‘frame’ their solution. In any sales meeting solving your customer’s specific challenge should be at the centre of that conversation and yet, many sales people struggle to shift the focus away from just talking about their products/services. Using storytelling enables you to place your customer as the central character in the story. It also provides you with a structure in which to frame your solution – rather than talking about your solution, instead think of your customer’s journey as the ‘story’ you tell; their motivations, desires, challenges and wins along the way and their ultimate end goal. Use the traditional elements of a story to provide the structure – a strong beginning which immediately captures the interest of the audience, a middle that has twists and turns, which builds, ultimately, to the impactful conclusion.
In next week’s blog I’ll expand further on this subject and offer you my top tips on how to put storytelling into practice.
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