May 15, 2017

Storytelling That Sells

It’s been said that people buy on emotion and rationalize their decision with logic.

A study done at University of Florida revealed the following: “The national study of 23,168 people shows that no matter what people may presume, feelings and emotions, not Spock-like logic, drive consumers to make even big-ticket purchases,” said Jon Morris, an advertising professor in the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications.

By their very nature, stories contain feelings and emotions. If you understand what kind of story to tell in the appropriate situation, you can use emotional triggers in the story to sell your product or service.

So, if it’s true that people buy on emotion, and stories are the best way to make an emotional connection with a buyer, perhaps you need to flip the script. You’ll get better results if you lead with a story, and follow with the data. If you want to engage your audience or customer, establish trust, and build relationships all at the same time, you have to become an effective storyteller. Storytelling is the magic ingredient for high-closing-ratio sales presentations.

The kind of story that I use to sell my speaking, training and coaching services is called a Credibility story. It’s a story that sells without selling. Think of it as referral selling, but the person doing the referring appears in the story, rather than in person.

We all feel more comfortable buying something on the recommendation of a friend. That’s the principle behind the Credibility story. Instead of trying to sell yourself, you let the story of a past client who has already bought your product or service, do the selling for you. The story is also like giving the prospect a “test-drive” to understand what it’s like to work with you or to use your product.
The unique twist is that Credibility stories are customer-interaction stories that include the customer’s point of view using the customer’s words. It’s the dialogue between the salesperson and the customer that makes this type of story work.

To find your credibility stories, first identify the three most common objections or challenges – the ones you hear on a regular basis. Here are a few that my clients tell me they hear often:

  • Your price is too high.
  • We’re happy with the company we’ve been using for years.
  • We don’t have any money in our budget for this.

Do you have a current customer or client who initially had one of those objections or challenges? Did you find a creative way to get past the objection? Are they now one of your “happy camper” clients who sing your praises?

The story of one of your current customers who told you your price was too high, but ended up hiring you anyway, is a perfect Credibility story. However, it has to be carefully constructed in a way that triggers an emotional response. It’s not just a touch-feely story, however. It also contains facts, data and percentages.

For instance, one of my coaching clients came to me for help with his stories. He was making presentations to small groups of potential clients to get new business. He’d made five presentations to a total of 200 people. Out of the 200 prospects, he got 2 new clients. That’s a closing percentage of 1%. Pretty lousy, wouldn’t you say?

That’s what he said, too. And he admitted that he was telling stories, but they weren’t working. So, he came to my studio to work with me on his 30-minute sales presentation. We worked together for one hour.

I asked him to identify the three most common objections he hears from prospective clients. He answered immediately. Then we identified stories about “happy camper” clients that had released those objections and ended up working with him for a successful outcome. By the end of one hour, we had designed a new presentation with three new stories.

A couple of weeks later, he came back for another hour of coaching. Before we began, he was ecstatic to share with me that he had made one presentation to a small but important group of 10 prospective clients. Four of them are now his clients.

He went from a closing ratio of 1% to 40% after only one hour of coaching. He said, “Doug, you were right. It’s like you said: emotion is the fast lane to the brain. The difference was the emotion in the stories. I hooked them.”

With a “happy camper” client like that, I don’t have to sell myself. I let that client do it for me with that Credibility story.

Using stories to sell is even more important when your product is technical in nature. While salespeople love to talk about how their product works, going deep into the technical details and data often makes the customer get lost and slip into a content coma.

Bullet points and dense technical slide decks tend to serve the needs of the salesperson, more than the needs of the customer.

After you finish reading this article, take a minute to watch the Pill in the Peanut Butter video on my website. It’s a short story about trying to give my sick dog a pill. Every time I shoved the pill down her throat, she spit it back out. When I hid the pill in a scoop of peanut butter, she swallowed the pill very easily.

This metaphorical story explains what I teach salespeople to do. The pill is your content, data and product knowledge. When you overload your sales conversation with too much “pill”, your customer can’t swallow it. They get bored and check out on you. But when you embed just the right amount of “pill” in a story, it sticks like peanut butter.

Storytelling is a learnable skill. It’s a craft. My Story Theater Method is storytelling technology. Like the iPad, that is capable of doing amazing things, storytelling is likewise capable of doing amazing things. But you need to know how to work a story, just like you learn how to work an iPad.

In conclusion, Story Selling is an effective way to conduct a sales conversation that balances the need to make an emotional connection while effectively communicating product value. Rather than leading with facts and data, the script is flipped. Now, your salespeople lead with a story, follow with facts and data, and close more sales.

About The Author

Doug Stevenson, CSPDoug Stevenson, CSP, has been teaching people how to tell their stories more effectively for over 20 years. His clients include Microsoft, Google, Oracle, SAP, Caterpillar, Genentech, Mead Johnson, Sanofi-Aventis, Wells Fargo, US Bank, State Farm, USAA, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Verizon, Coca Cola, Nurses At Home, Lockheed Martin, and many more. Whether Doug is presenting an entertaining and informative keynote or conducting a one-day storytelling seminar, his presentations are high-energy, highly-interactive, and fun-filled experiences.


Partial list of Doug's Corporate and Association Bookings:

  • Amgen Biotech — storytelling training for marketing
  • Microsoft — general session keynote on storytelling
  • US Bank — branch manager leadership training
  • Allergan Facial Aesthetics — Aikido Selling — Sell it with a Story
  • YPO-Manhattan — luncheon keynote for young executives
  • Caterpillar — opening keynote — global human resources conference
  • Con Agra Foods — storytelling for managers and directors
  • USAA Insurance — storytelling for leaders
  • Deloitte — Storytelling for Impactful Results workshops
  • Coca-Cola Latin America — storytelling for managers and leaders
  • Genentech Pharmaceuticals — future leader workshop
  • HCA-NY, Home Health Care Association — annual conference keynote
  • Wells Fargo Bank — storytelling training for media managers

Other clients include Oracle, Bayer, Lockheed Martin, Cisco, Verizon, Time Warner, Abbott Labs, Mortgage Bankers Association, TD Industries, National Education Association, Institute of Real Estate Management, American Medical Association and many more...

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Hire Doug for a keynote or training for your organization. Contact Deborah Merriman at 719-310-8586, or email her at [email protected]

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