The power of storytelling within sales

Posted in Sales techniques and processes.

“A good salesperson knows how to talk; a great salesperson knows how to tell a story.” – Rivka Willick, story coach and writer
Conveying events through the art of storytelling is a technique as old as time itself and has relevance in every culture across the world. Yet the art of verbally telling a story through the use of words, gestures and expressions have become lost as books, film and PowerPoint presentations took centre stage. This is a shame as storytelling can be a valuable tool for a salesperson to have in their arsenal.

Storytelling can elicit physical responses which hark back to primitive days. And few people can resist these responses despite modern advancements simply because we are hard-wired to hear stories. When even a simple narrative is told it triggers the release of the hormones oxytocin and cortisol. These hormones fuel feelings of trust and empathy, and encourage a sense of connection to the storyteller, or the salesperson in this case.

Storytelling can benefit sales by influencing customer behaviour and illustrating possibilities. It also helps to build and reinforce relationships, conveys complex ideas more easily, and creates personal connections. All of us, including our customers, are bombarded with information on a daily basis which makes it more difficult to get something to stick long-term. This is why the use of stories can help make your message and ultimately your product more memorable.

Stories allow the subconscious mind of the customer to fully visualise the valuable application of the solution (i.e. your product). This works best if the story being told is placed in real time and makes use of visual- and sense-based detail. The metaphors included in stories helps customers experience the story as if they are living it themselves which makes it easier for them to relate and connect with the product. More so, stories that have relevance have an even bigger impact on information retention.

If you want to start incorporating storytelling in your sales (and you should), there are basic, foolproof routes you can follow. Every story, no matter the subject, has a beginning, middle and an end. The beginning is meant to hook the customer and the end is the call-to-action. The middle connects these two points in a meaningful, compelling way. Some people employ the classic, likeable hero which is your customer. The hero encounters roadblocks or issues in the story. The roadblocks you mention are only the ones your product can remove or solve. The hero overcomes these issues on the road to success by using your product. Another way to tell a story includes explaining what the situation is like right now and comparing it with what it could be in the future (ensuring that the future is better and more positive than the present).

Your storytelling should be unique and based on your product and customer. However, there are basic ways you can build a compelling story. This includes asking questions to find out what motivates the customer on an emotional level. Focus the story on the customer in a way that relates to these needs. Create a mental picture or image for your customer throughout the storytelling by using only words. Also, sprinkle in some humour when appropriate but don’t tell jokes. Jokes take the customer out of the story whilst intertwined humour adds to the feeling of connecting with your customer on a more personal level.

Lastly, the word storytelling might imply that the wording needs to be “flowery” but this is not the case. A good story in sales seamlessly combines logic with emotion by merging facts with narrative. This way you are merging both the right with the left brain instead of only engaging the serious, factual left brain. If you simply focus on logic and facts, you are only activating the language processing parts of the brain but nothing else. An emotion-filled story, on the other hand, engages almost the entire brain. This in turn increases the chance of information being retained in the long-term.

There are various things that you can include within the sales stories you create, such as:

*  Dialogue – relay conversations you have had with other customers or with colleagues.
*  Fictional stories – not lies but rather metaphors. It makes complex stories easier to understand.
*  Emotions – paint a picture for the customer by employing the senses (sight, touch, taste, feel and smell). It helps to virtually transport the customer to the scene.
*  Anchoring – pull stories from television, books, movies, fables and current events to help the customer visualise and relate better to what you’re trying to convey.

The days of the elevator pitch are gone. Throwing facts at a person won’t help to fully engage them or help them identify with what you‘re trying to convey about your product. When you present a pitch you talk at your customer. However, through storytelling you involve the customer in the process. In turn you increase the chance of making a personal connection, and also convince the customer that you know what they need and can give it to them.

So put on your writer’s hat along with your sales suit, and remember:

*  Don’t follow a one-size-fits-all approach – each customer has unique needs and obstacles.
*  Speak naturally, be relaxed and maintain eye contact while conveying your story.
*  Practice your story but don’t repeat it verbatim to every customer.
*  Add moments of spontaneity to avoid seeming wooden or generic.