How to Use Storytelling to Propel Your Sales Efforts
How do you make a compelling argument for why someone should buy your product or service?
Selling would be easier if you could simply state the details of your business solution to an eager listener on the other end of the line who would immediately understand the value of it.
But, we’re not selling to robots, we’re selling to people, and people love a good story.
Plus, research shows that in complex sales, people rely on intuition to make buying decisions. This means that while people may not realize it, they are often influenced by their instincts over logical reasoning.
A “vivid customer story” can activate the parts of the brain that process the senses, which can help decision makers understand, in a holistic sense, the value of your service.
When you understand the structure of a story and use the digital tools that are available today, you can turn your pitch into a compelling narrative that will elicit both an intellectual and an emotional response from your listener.
So, what makes a good story? And how can you use storytelling to propel your sales efforts?
In his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell demonstrates how all human stories (from all cultures, in all times) essentially follow the same path and include familiar character archetypes.
The Hero’s Journey begins with -- you guessed it -- a hero. The hero has a problem. Through a series of tests, trials, and encounters, the hero finds the solution and returns to their starting place, having gained some knowledge or understanding that they lacked before.
Stories tend to have certain familiar archetypes, i.e. types of “characters” you run into along the journey.
- The unwilling client who refuses to budge
- The mentor who provides valuable insight and wisdom from their experiences
- Allies who seek to help along the way
- Gatekeepers who guard the doors and bar newcomers from entering
- Enemies who are competing for a client’s attention
Go through your contacts and see if you can identify who matches up with these characters.
Keep in mind these archetypes are not static, in stories or in sales.
Someone may start out as an enemy or a gatekeeper but eventually turn into an ally. Effective sales reps understand this and have the ability to convert these potential roadblocks into opportunities.
For instance, let’s say you’re in touch with someone at a prospective client’s company who is not the decision maker. They are the gatekeeper. Rather than viewing them as a roadblock that you need to overcome or avoid by going over their head, ask yourself: How can I turn them into an ally who goes to the decision maker and fights on my behalf? What do I need to do in order for them to trust me?
While you certainly have your own goals and objectives, and may see yourself as the hero of the story, when you’re talking to prospects and clients it’s critical to think about their story. The client is the hero and you function within their story.
Apply It To Your Sales Approach
A stereotypically bad salesperson might function as a “trickster” or a “shapeshifter” (someone who’s merely in it for their own gain without regard for their client’s success).
Instead, see yourself as a “mentor” or a “shaman.” You should aim to be a consultant who your client can trust, an advisor that will provide honest feedback and is willing to collaborate on ideas for the future.
Try to put yourself in the client’s shoes. Think about their experience and point-of-view:
- Perhaps the client has been burned before by a “shapeshifter” and is now, understandably, slower to trust a new contact
- Maybe they are reluctant to try something new because of lackluster results and internal backflash
- Or, it could just be because change is scary and the thought of taking a risk on something new can be unsettling
Think about the clients you’ve worked with in the past who’ve had similar reservations or challenges. You can use this idea of ‘archetypes’ or character profiles to tell a compelling story about one of your current clients and how they were reluctant to try something new at first, but gave it a shot and found it to be worthwhile.
When we hear a story, we identify with the hero. So if previous clients had initial fears, a new client will find that relatable.
Consider including answers to questions like:
- Were they forced to try something out of necessity?
- Did they need to adapt along the way?
- What kind of success did they see in the end?
- Where are they now?
Share the story step by step, highlighting the emotional changes that they experienced along the way.
Putting It All Together
Here’s an example of how to weave a story that puts all of these concepts together:
A couple of months ago, I talked to a business owner who shared your concerns. She was worried about the initial cost and what that would do to her business in the short term. We talked about the ROI, but she still wasn’t convinced. Even though our product has worked for other businesses, she believed that hers was different. Then, she had another bad month. She knew she had to do something drastic to help her business, and our solution is the least risky option. So she gave it a shot. Three months later, she’s out of that slump. I was with her every step of the way to track her progress. Now, she’s my biggest advocate. She understands that an initial investment has the potential for increased rewards over time.
In this example, we present a reluctant hero. She cares about her business and feels protective over it. This makes her relatable. Out of necessity, she entered into a new world with new challenges. Ultimately, she achieved her goal.
Digital Media Storytelling Tools
Now that we've shared the essential structure and a key element you should include in every story, we've taken it a step further and identified 3 digital media tools to help you take your storytelling to the next level:
It’s a tool that is great for teaching and explaining complex topics. Whether you want to illustrate how your business solution works through an easy to understand example, or share a story of a client’s success, you can easily put it together on this app.
It allows you to incorporate illustrations and animation into visual stories that you create. We talked earlier about the importance of right brain engagement, and Storybird’s philosophy is to “start with pictures” to engage both the emotional and intellectual parts of the brain.
This site allows you to easily make and share videos, so it’s a great way to deliver a virtual sales presentation or create a video testimonial. Perhaps you can ask a client you’ve worked with to tell their story. Oftentimes, people like to share the story of their success and connect the people who helped them with others who could benefit from that service.
The facts and figures of your business solution is not enough to convince a potential buyer.
A good sales pitch and presentation requires the confidence and enthusiasm of an excellent storyteller. Use the principles we’ve shared here today to take your client on an emotional journey so they can understand the value of what you’re selling.
Storytelling, sales, and digital marketing have a lot in common...keep your momentum going and download our latest eBook 5 Digital Marketing Terms Applied to Sales.
About Brittany Bookbinder
Brittany is an actor, writer, and Muppet enthusiastic. She grew up on Long Island, where her hobbies included writing love poems and watching TGIF, often at the same time. These days, she writes for Evil Studios Ltd., performs comedy and music, and makes video shorts independently and with the iO Comedy Network. She has performed in independent films, regional theatre, sketch comedy and improv all over Chicago. She is also an artistic collaborator with Theater Unspeakable, with whom she co-created Superman 2050 and Murder on the Midwest Express. She has performed Superman 2050 throughout the country, including Lincoln Center in NYC and the Kennedy Center in DC. Training: She holds a B.S. Theatre, a minor in Creative Writing and a certificate in Music Theatre from Northwestern University. She has studied acting at the School at Steppenwolf and British American Drama Academy. She has studied improv in the Second City Conservatory, iO Chicago, CIC Theatre and currently at the Annoyance. Brittany is a guest blog contributor for DMTraining.