Storytelling works in sales because humans experience life as one big story.
Scholars like Walter Fischer, a USC professor and researcher, have been have been studying how we interpret our experiences and how that affects human communication for decades.
The resulting theory, called the Narrative Paradigm, helps explain why humans are more often persuaded by stories than they are by cold, hard facts:
Shari Levitin says it best: “Our brains love stories, but our hearts cherish them even more.”
Everyone sees life as a story. For example, a conversation between two close friends:
Logically, this is just an interaction between two mammals who produce sound waves with their mouths and interpret them with their ears via biological and psychological processes.
But that is not how we see it or experience it. Our emotions make us see this as a story:
The conversation is a moment in time in a history of friendship, an experience that adds to how we think about that person. Our emotions make us value that relationship. “I’m hanging out with my buddy” “I’m spending time with my oldest friend” are snapshots in our life story that mean something to us.
Trust me – using stories to persuade works. This was most obvious to me when I taught two semesters as an adjunct professor. As a young instructor teaching dry material (communication theory) I was constantly battling for my students’ attention – they would zone out, browse their screens, and lose interest.
That would immediately change when I would tell a story to illustrate a point. Any time I told a story, all eyes would look up from their screens and be on me. Seeing all 30 students looking at me at once was an obvious difference to the regular day to day lecture content.
Every single time.
Stories work – they hold attention, and they persuade. We go into greater depth about why stories matter in this previous post, but how do you find the inspiration for a good story to tell your prospects and clients?
Every great sales rep is a great storyteller.
The best storytellers know how to craft a narrative that speaks to their prospects needs, challenges, and goals. They know how to take inspiration from what is relevant and share that in a way that draws in their audience.
If you are struggling with inspiration to introduce stories in to your sales conversations, consider these sources:
Stories about your company include the story of how the business came to exist. This tale showcases the ideas or revelations that inspired the founder(s) to get started. This story is often inspiring, interesting, and relatable. Everyone wants to support an entrepreneur and can find something to relate to in the tale of courage, braving tough market conditions or doubt to create a great company.
Another aspect of these stories showcases the stability and/or growth of the company. The inclusion of ups and downs within your company’s journey may be advantageous as well. This type of story creates authenticity, credibility, trust, and confidence. These stories especially resonate with business owners and leaders by demonstrating an understanding of the pain and experience they may experience.
Stories about your product demonstrate why certain features or components exist and how they have evolved over time. They also involve challenges or successes encountered as the product was developed. Telling stories of this type provide context to help prospects gain a better understanding of your offering. Furthermore, they show that the company is open to change and continuous product improvement. It may be used as a step into customer stories that demonstrate how a feature is used or where a particular user/customer made requests that the company followed through on.
Beyond a simple case study, customer experiences can include deeper stories about different customer scenarios and individual rep outcomes. Of course it’s important to also share official case studies since they include actual facts and figures, especially around customer results.
But, the more casual stories often act as allegories. They’re short and closely related to the situation at hand. Often an example of an outcome that a similar prospect had as a result of the same thought or action at a particular stage of the sale. This might also be an expanded version of the old ‘feel, felt, found’ answer to an objection.
Other versions of these allegories are the happy ending and the heartbreaking ending. One is about a customer who took action, bought your product or service and received positive results. The other is about a customer who chose not to take action, fell behind their competitors as a result and put their entire business at risk.
Customer stories of all types make it easier for prospects to envision what it will be like to have your product. They provide memorable stats to help them build a case to the Buying Committee. Plus, they build trust and confidence to accelerate the sales process toward a close.
People buy from people they know, like, and trust. Sharing stories about yourself helps build a stronger connection with prospects and customers. They may include those about why you do what you do, ones about your past that relate to the prospect, or challenges you have in common with them. These commonalities also help to display empathy and understanding.
Wondering where these stories come from? Some of them, like the company and product stories as well as official case studies are usually available from Marketing. The more casual customer stories may be collected a variety of ways, including observation and various methods of sharing. Perhaps consider doing so during sales team meetings. And you can always hop on Slack, Chatter, or similar to ask for stories where you are lacking. That way you’ll have stories for every situation with every prospect along the sales cycle. Of course, your personal story must come from you.
Preparing your stories and practice them. Then you’ll be ready to start telling them in sales conversations with prospects, and you will notice a big difference in your sales conversations.
Alex Lamascus is the Sales Content Manager at RingDNA. He has previously scaled and managed an inside sales team and has supported B2B sales in various industries for the past 5 years. When not writing or buried in the latest sales book, he can be found repairing vintage turntables in his garage or honing his grilling skills.