We have heard it said often – salespeople should use storytelling to increase their sales. And yet, despite being the oldest art form, it is a task that many struggle with.
Storytelling helps build emotional connections with our customers. And although facts and figures might be appealing, anecdotes and narratives increase the impact manifold. When we tell a story, people stop to listen. They imagine themselves in the story and try and think of what they would do in a similar situation. We also like to predict the direction that the story would take.
There are many studies that prove that after a presentation or speech, people remember the stories but over time forget the facts. We are far more likely to be influenced when our brain is in storytelling mode than if it were in analytical mode. Stories trigger an emotional response and increases our receptiveness to information. It builds trust and makes salespeople look more authentic and human.
One of the main reasons sales professionals struggle to tell stories is because they do not know how to craft the story in a way that aligns their value proposition to the customer’s pain points. Storyteller Anna Ong states in an interview with Global Coaching Lab that salespeople must first figure out their case study.
So how can sales professionals leverage the power of different storytelling methods to drive sales? Let us start with four different storytelling techniques.
Nested loops is a storytelling method where you include two or more parallel stories within each other. There is a central theme or core message, and several stories are used to elaborate that message. In other words, these are stories within a story. The first story you start can be the last story that you finish, and the second story could be the second to last story. These type of loops create anticipation and closing the loop brings the story home. Both are necessary for a sales professional to close the deal. This technique works better for longer presentations.
An example of how salespeople can use this method to drive sales is by talking about a wise person in their life who taught them an important lesson or value that they still stand by. This builds credibility in the mind of the customer. The first nested loop is the salesperson’s story, and the second loop is the wise person’s story. The entire loop closes with the core message, which in this case would be the important lesson or value learnt.
Nancy Duarte is a well-known communications specialist who created Sparklines, which is a form of narration that uses contrast. She states in her book, Resonate, that the best speeches use this format where they compare and contrast ‘what is’ with ‘what could be’. By doing this, the individual draws attention to the problem while presenting a vision of what could be in the future. It is a technique that provides hope, motivates the listener and fuels their desire for change.
This is a great technique that sales professionals can use to highlight to the customer what their future could look like. Start the technique by recollecting what the current challenges and realities are for the customer. Use data to show how this reality, if unchanged, would not serve them in the long run. Next talk about what could change if they used your product or service. Go back to specific pain points and list how your product or service could address that and so on. Alternate between the challenge and the answer, or the pain point and the solution three to four times before highlighting the big picture and the reward that awaits the customer in the end. For example – ‘your sector is becoming extremely competitive and cutthroat, but we can disrupt that by introducing a new product offering.’ Or ‘Gender diversity in B2B sales is lacking and I can see it is the same with your organisation. Companies that have more female representation at the executive level show profits that are 50% higher. We can help empower your next layer of women executives by helping them build their brand.’
In medias res
In medias res is a Latin word meaning ‘in the midst of things’. It is the practice of beginning a story or narrative by plunging the listener straight into the heat of the action, before starting all over at the beginning to explain how we got there. Kumar Somayajilu, Director Business Development at Tripura Multinational, uses this storytelling method in his article to explain why BANT alone was not enough to qualify his deal. By plunging the audience into the action straightaway, the narrative grips the reader from the beginning, and they stay engaged till the end to see how it ends.
This technique allows sales professionals to capture the audience’s attention by opening with the most interesting part of the presentation. By starting in the middle and capturing the customer’s attention, it becomes easy to go to the beginning as the audience is already invested in you. One way to do this is to start with a powerful question that gets the customer thinking. The other method is to ‘shock and awe’ by disagreeing with something that is commonly accepted as the norm, or say something bizarre/unexpected, which requires further explanation.
A false start story starts with a predictable storyline before unexpectedly disrupting it and beginning all over again. It is a powerful technique that first makes your customer comfortable but then shocks them by doing a U-turn. This format is great for talking about failure and how you were forced to go back to the start, reassess your situation, identify the lessons and how it led to innovative solutions that helped you succeed. This is another great way to get the customer to pay close attention to your message.
Sales professionals can use this technique by sharing stories of other customers who had what seemed like a normal business that suddenly developed problems and led to losses. The story can then lead to how your product or service helped them go back to the basics and rebuild a better business. Highlighting the lessons learnt and how it was resolved builds credibility for your product or service. It is also a great way to showcase the benefits of a flexible approach and create social proof.
There are many other storytelling methods or techniques out there. No matter which one you choose, remember to select your story and your technique based on the end goal and the composition of your audience. Comedian Anshu Mor, who left a lucrative job with Microsoft to do stand-up, states in his interview with Tripura Multinational that situational fluency is important in storytelling. The ability to read the room and either stop or pivot is crucial for success. And like most skills, practice makes perfect.
More and more organisations are beginning to discover that storytelling is a great sales and marketing tool. However, it does require time, effort and commitment. As a seller, if you tap into those parts of the brain that customers use to imagine a better future for their business, you create reasons for them to see the future in a way that involves your solution. This helps drive sales.Give your customer a superior experience by giving them a story that they can easily retell themselves, hopefully to upper management and the key decision-maker.