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The art of storytelling has gotten a lot of attention in recent years and for good reason. It seems that every businessperson wants to be a storyteller who can convey a compelling narrative for the company brand.

Storytelling in sales is nothing new. Great salespeople have known, often instinctively, that stories, not facts, have the most powerful impact on how people feel, and stories can therefore pave the way to closed deals.

The hard part is knowing exactly which stories we need to tell. In the case of the “brand narrative,” the product or service is the protagonist that saves the day. This is, of course, an important element. But is it the one we should always be telling on sales calls? Maybe not.

If your brand storytelling approach has not been winning all the sales you wish for, let me suggest you try this narrative instead: the client as hero.

My company came up with this mantra a couple of years ago when a global social media company asked us to teach storytelling to their sales reps. Many were early in their careers and eager to learn, but as we spoke with them in an attempt to get to know their company better, we learned that even though “storytelling” was high on their agenda, most people could not agree on what this actually meant.

Fortunately, one veteran sales manager brought it into focus. He said that the great salespeople understand that they are not bringing their own story (or the brand’s) into the relationship, nor are they using the sales call to weave a story from scratch. Rather, they are entering a preexisting story as a supporting character who is there to help the hero — the client — achieve his or her goal.

The client as hero. It was a revelation — and one that led to many successful new practices. Once salespeople understand they are supporting the hero’s success, it becomes obvious that they need to continuously learn about the client’s perspective, pain points, and needs. As a supporting character, they are more likely to engage the client in meaningful conversations by asking questions, rather than going on about how great their brand is.

For this client, we took these sales storytelling skills even further by developing a guide to help salespeople structure each sales call as a story unto itself. Like most good stories, it had a clear beginning, middle, and end.  

We used a three-act play as the format:

Act I: A compelling opening. The sales rep portrays the world as it is in its current state, featuring the client as hero who faces great challenges.

Act II: A clear build. The world as it could be, changed by the brand. The sales rep provides singly important facts and rising action that describes how working with the brand conquers obstacles, reduces pain, and increases success.

Act III: A powerful close. This is the ask. It can be a clear call to action — a signed contract, down payment, or the scheduling of a future meeting. As the closing note, the sales rep reiterates the world “as it could be” in partnership with the company brand, featuring the client as an “ever-more powerful hero.”

Resist the urge to take a bow until you get back to your office. Even though you are a minor character on your client’s play, you will be an “ever-more powerful salesperson” on your own stage, and a hero in your own right.

Storytelling in business is nothing new. The hard part is knowing exactly which stories we need to tell.”

Cathy Salit | CEO, Performance of a Lifetime
 
 
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