If you needed the one-sentence plot description for the story most sales people tell their customers, it goes a little something like this:
“Buy this, and you’ll live happily ever after.”
Not the most gripping tale, is it?
Some reps are natural born storytellers -- they’ll almost immediately connect with customers on a “human” level about topics in the news, the latest sports scores or common areas of interest in their personal lives. When it’s time to “get down to business” and formally pitch, though, some of that storytelling ability can get strangely muted. It’s almost as though the formality of the buying process demands that a pitch deck stick with facts, statistics or speeds and feeds about the products and services under consideration.
You can deliver a much stronger pitch, however, when you tell a story that illustrates how other customers are overcoming their pain points in a way that’s educational, inspirational and (yes) entertaining. It’s just a matter of preparing for your next pitch session a little differently.
The best part is that unlike more traditional storytellers -- who may need to spend a long time starting at a blank page or a blank screen before they can come up with an idea, there’s a host of potential plots just waiting for sales reps to use. These are the stories that have been contributed over time in CRM like Sales Cloud.
While marketing departments may take the best of these stories and turn them into fully-fledged case studies, reps should weave them into whatever they put in front of other customers’ eyes as early and as often as possible. More than likely the highlights of these stories will be remembered better than many of the other items in your pitch deck (other than price, perhaps).
Still not sure how to tell the kinds of stories we’re talking about? It’s just a matter of keeping the following rules of thumb top of mind:
The history of literature is filled with stories about famous characters like King Arthur and Sherlock Holmes. Think about how dull their stories would be, however, if the authors referred only to the collective doings of “The Knights Of The Round Table” or “London Consulting Detective Inc.” What’s important is not simply where someone works, but who they are.
When you’re talking about a customer story, get specific about the key contact person’s name, their time with the company, their particular projects and how they contributed to the overall organizational objectives. If there was increased competition or other challenging market forces, talk about them in terms of how they were affecting that key contact person, rather than generalizing.
A great storyteller knows you need the audience to feel as though they’re walking in the protagonist’s shoes. That way, you build empathy and the audience becomes invested in seeing how the plot plays out. That brings you one step further towards closing the deal.
Stories come to a standstill if there’s nothing at stake. If Hansel and Gretel don’t escape the wicked witch, we know they’re done for, so we keep reading.
Similarly, don’t merely talk about the challenge or pain points that other customers were experiencing before they bought your product, but spell out the worst-case scenario if they hadn’t chosen to act. Maybe the organization would have seen its sales decline, or employees leave, or new competitors overtake them.
Chances are, the customers to whom you’re making the pitch have their own high-stakes battles going on behind the scenes, and they will be eager to see how their peers are facing similar kinds of issues.
If you look at that one-line story we mentioned at the beginning, you might think this is the point where it’s inserted into the narrative. Wrong.
The best stories not only have their heroes overcome their challenges -- the experience of doing so changes them in some way. They behave differently, they think differently or they look at the world in a new way. That’s probably true of your best customer stories, too.
Maybe your customers used your product to learn more about their own clients, which shifted their internal culture. Maybe they realized they could expand into new markets more quickly by focusing on their core competency. Don’t just talk about their win as the result, but about the longer-term impact the win may have had.
In classic fables, there was often a lesson hammered home to the audience such as “don’t steal,” “look before you leap” or simply, “things aren’t always what they seem.” Fables were intended to teach these things directly.
In sales storytelling, you’ll know you’ve done a great job when you don’t have to moralize about why organizations should buy your products and services. If you’ve described a sympathetic hero, built some suspense over what might happen to them and shown how their experiences changed them, your customers will get the message almost intuitively.
One final point: have more than one story up your sleeve. Even the best tales can get too shopworn with too much retelling, and in some cases customers might ask questions or want examples from a completely different kind of company, just to see what the rep will say. If you’re making good and consistent use of Sales Cloud, that won’t be a problem, because it serves as an almost bottomless well of great customer stories.
It may take some practice, but storytelling is also a lot more fun than having to come up with the same kind of generic pitch customers and prospects have heard from all your competitors. You may not get actual applause when you’re done, but there’s a chance you might get something even better -- a commitment to a purchase, and the basis for one of the next stories you tell in a meeting down the road.