What sets top sales people apart? What is it that they do better than the rest? There are, of course, a number of factors, but one that we frequently observe is that top sellers are great story-tellers. They put their points across not by pitching their products, but by sharing relevant, situation-specific anecdotes and stories that their prospects can relate to.
Your most experienced and effective sales people - and your senior executives - probably have a stock of these stories. Telling them seems perfectly natural. They use their stock of stories to give direction to the customer conversation.
But just imagine how much more effective the rest of your sales team - and those working for your business partners - could be if they had a similar stock of stories and the skills to share them effectively?
The challenge is that many expert story-tellers turn out to be "unconsciously competent". They may not have thought about sharing them in a structured or systematic way with others in your organisation, or been encouraged to do so
You need to establish a mechanism for capturing these stories, and publishing them in a format that makes it easy for other team members to re-tell them - and to identify the right stories for the appropriate circumstances.
Finding a Formula
Everybody brings his or her unique personality to story-telling. But we've found that there is a formula - it’s not dissimilar to the “story arc” used by the developers of movie scripts - that leads the listener towards the conclusion you want them to reach. Here’s one that we’ve found particularly effective in the B2B environment:
“One of our customers, [company name] a [type of company] first came to us because [brief description of critical issue]. It was causing [consequences] and affecting [people/ departments/functions affected by the issue].
They had tried dealing with it by [previous unsuccessful initiative, if one existed], but had struggled because [reason why previous attempts had failed].
Working with their [key sponsor’s role], we helped them implement [brief description of our key capabilities] that allowed them to [brief description of benefits]. But that wasn’t all – as a further unexpected benefit they found they were also able to [unexpected benefit].”
You see what’s happening here? The story-teller starts by setting the scene. Then they describe the need for change, and the barriers that stood in the way. Then they show how they were able to help. And then finally, they add a memorable additional benefit. They don’t necessarily have to have experienced the situation at first hand - the prospect understands that they are telling the story based on their company’s collective experience.
A Guide, not a Script
Every element of the storyline is intentional. Now, you don’t need to incorporate all these elements into every story. But following the sequence helps. The final documented anecdote should be seen as a guideline for successful storytelling, and not a rigid script. It needs to sound natural, and not forced. But we hope you agree that the framework helps to convey a powerful, memorable and relevant story.
Developing Storytelling Skills
Having a collection of stories helps. Adding to them regularly is even better. Categorising them enables sales people to identify the ones that are most effective in specific circumstances. But you'll probably want to provide your sales people with some coaching in the art of effective story telling.
Listening to your top storytellers helps. But I'd like to suggest that having a formal skills development session could dramatically accelerate progress. Get your sales people to role play a selection of stories. Encourage them to tell them in ways that seem (and sound) natural to them. Make story swapping a part of your regular sales meetings and kickoffs.
Storytelling and The Challenger Sale
If you're a fan - as we are - of the principles behind The Challenger Sale, you've probably already recognised how powerful storytelling can be in giving direction to the customer conversation. If not, and even if you've implemented another sales methodology, I'd encourage you to incorporate anecdotes and storytelling into the process.
Download the template
We've created a short-two page framework that I think you'll find helpful. You can download it here. Please let me know what you think - and tell me how you're using stories and anecdotes to enhance your own sales processes.