“Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.”
So says an old Native American proverb attributed to an unknown author. Storytelling has long been central in many Native American cultures and traditions. The art of storytelling is also a particularly powerful tool in business especially sales.
I have written about the benefits of storytelling in the marketing and sales processes on a few occasions because storytelling makes your work easier. It is one of the most powerful sales tools available. Among management consultants and sales trainers, storytelling is in vogue these days. In fact, I even offer a full workshop on how sales professionals can harness the power of compelling stories.
You want to win over a prospective customer? Tell a story. You want to diffuse a conflict in your office? Bring people together with a story. Do you want your company to have a certain mystique that intrigues the public? Cast your vision in story form.
A story is one of the most valuable things a business, organization or individual person can possess. Stories are effective. People can be moved by stories. Great accomplishments can be achieved because of an inspiring story. Objections can be overcome thanks to a well-timed story. Deals can be closed because a would-be buyer is finally comforted by a relevant story.
But which stories should you choose? Every sales professional should have an arsenal of stories ready to go for just the right purpose. I like to think of stories as arrows in your sales quiver. Not only do you want a fully stocked quiver, you want very effective arrows.
What kinds of stories are effective in a sales situation? Here are some things to keep in mind when you are filling your story quiver:
Purposeful – First and foremost, you want stories that clearly illustrate the point you are trying to get across. Make sure there is no ambiguity. After you share the story, it should have a visible effect on the listener.
Struggle & Change – Often the most effective business stories are ones in which somebody endures a struggle or goes through hard times. At the end of the struggle, the person(s) in the story change and are better because of the experience. Keep in mind that prospective clients going through the buying process are experiencing change. Oftentimes, a big change pushed the prospect into the buying process in the first place. What’s more, the new product or service you are selling will create additional change. Many people are afraid of change. It makes them feel uncomfortable and anxious. Any story that shows how other people have emerged successfully from a similar struggle or change can be useful in your sales efforts.
Genuine & Authentic – Use stories that are real as opposed to made up. Furthermore, if you were personally involved in the story or experienced it firsthand, it’s even more effective. Prospects find it reassuring when the sales person self discloses especially when he or she is honest, humble and at times self-deprecating.
Backstage – Stories can be particularly engaging when they allow the listener to get a behind-the-scenes look that most people don’t experience. If you lift the curtain, so to speak, and let people peek into the inner workings of a company or an interesting person’s life, it can be a powerful sales tactic.
Product Successes – Have some real-life stories of how consumers benefited or companies made more money because of the product or service you are selling. If there’s something unique about the buyer or the circumstances in which the buyer made the purchase, the story will be even more impactful.
Entertaining – A boring story defeats the purpose of storytelling. Just as you would not want to read an uninteresting book or a dull movie, nobody wants to hear a lackluster story about your business. Stories that have humor, excitement, action or a surprising misunderstanding will make an impression.
Theatre of the Mind – Try to use stories that create a lot of visual imagery in the listener’s head. Anytime your prospective clients can clearly imagine the situation – especially if they picture themselves in the situation – your story is going to be more effective.
So, think about the stories your company or organization has that might be of fascination to people on the outside. How can you capitalize on these stories? Once you have the stories, practice how you will share them and when in the sales process you will use them. Then go load up your quiver and become a spinner of sales stories.
Jeff Beals is a professional speaker, award-winning author and sales consultant, who helps companies increase their profits and associations achieve their missions through effective sales and personal branding techniques.