I spoke at a conference recently, but was both humbled and marvelously inspired by the keynote speaker, Carla Harris. She shared with us her observations on the biggest trends impacting business, which were incredibly useful, but that wasn’t what I remember most. It was what she said about Carla Harris the person.
She told the audience how she brings Carla Harris the investment banker, Carla Harris the recorded gospel singer, and Carla Harris the new adoptive mother to important meetings. And she shared how when these details precede the ‘official’ meeting, the meeting always goes much more smoothly. She’d shared something personal that allowed her to engage emotionally with the other meeting attendees. She may even have told a story about singing at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Here was a story about storytelling that had the those of us in the audience eating out of her hand!
Using Stories to Sell
Storytelling is big in sales and marketing these days. Only here’s the thing; it’s never really gone away. Because it works.
Let me throw some sales maxims out there: People buy from people they know, like and trust. When people connect with you, they’re more likely to buy. Ergo, connecting with someone through a story becomes one of the most effective ways to sell. Here’s why.
What Stories Do to Your Brain
It’s actually a neural process that affects more than just the prospect’s ability to remember what you’ve said. Although that helps too. Stories are remembered up to 22 times more than any facts you might use to make your case.
When you tell someone a story with both emotional and contextual detail, your listener’s brain is responding with electrical activity in both the emotional center and the motor cortex – they are literally feeling what the character is feeling and sensing what the character is sensing in the story. Now your prospect is engaged emotionally and in a neurological place to accept new ideas because, contrary to what we’d like to believe, decisions are made by the emotional part of our brains.
You know this from your own personal experience. How often have you had a group of friends hanging off your every word as you tell a story? How often have you been totally enthralled by the story spun by a really great keynote speaker (and then been willing to buy whatever they were selling)? There is a reason why stories have been an integral part of human culture since the very beginnings of language. Our brains are wired to respond to stories on a primal level.
Building Rapport With Stories
You may tell a story at the beginning of your sales conversation to help establish rapport with your prospect. You may even find your prospect telling you a story too. This is where your listening skills as a sales person become so critical. In your prospect’s stories are clues as to how you may be able to connect with your prospect and/or discover how you can best help him or her.
Using Storytelling to Sell
Here’s how you use a story to win business. Your story needs to have a hero (NOT you) who is facing some obstacle or problem, and there needs to be resolution where your hero emerges transformed. (That’s where you come in!)
In a business context this story is about a client just like the prospect in front of you. This client was having all sorts of issues that your prospect can identify with, even going so far as to be concerned about losing his job/losing market share/losing customers, you get the idea. Then, transformation. The issues were resolved (through your solution) and the result was a happy client riding off into the sunset.
This is overly simplified, but you get the idea. A story needs a hero, a challenge, and a resolution to be complete. In his book, Sell With A Story, Paul Smith provides countless great examples and themes of stories in a B2B context. He even includes ‘story spines’ so that you can craft your own stories to use in your sales conversations.
I hope by now I’ve convinced you of the value of storytelling in sales. If I haven't, I probably needed a better story!
Now all you’ll need to do is develop a handful of stories that you can hone in the telling. Include just enough emotional hooks and contextual detail. And then practice. And practice some more. All the best storytellers (and salespeople!) do.