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Sales and Authentic Storytelling

Let me tell you a story.

This one’s more of a fable, really. Call it, “Full of Facts, Full of Wisdom.” There once were two salespeople, Sam and Dana. Sam knew everything there was to know about the product—how to get the best deals, which items came in what colors: Sam was a walking catalog. Dana knew everything there was to know about their customers—why they were buying, who their target audience was: Dana had figured out how the products fit into customers’ lives.

Sam liked to brag about being able to sell any item, but Dana knew that they could sell to anyone, and the item didn’t much matter.

Who do you think was more successful?

Well, as time went on, Sam discovered that customers could learn facts and figures from just about anyone, or even from the internet. Being a walking catalog isn’t so useful when the customer can access the actual catalog, too. But Dana found that customers valued the relationship they had formed together and the way that they could convey the why and the how instead of just the what of the items. Dana even learned that some customers trusted them more because they occasionally said, “I’m not sure; let me find out for you.”

In short, the customers appreciated the story.

What story are you telling your customers? More importantly, are you telling your customer stories? The website for sales performance app Tenfold, in the article Why Storytelling Is A Must-Have Inside Sales Skill,” lists four key points of support for that premise (which of course apply to outside sales as well): People remember more information—up to 60 percent more!—when it’s shared through stories. Stories reach people on an emotional as well as logical level. Customers can visualize a product in context through stories. And, stories encourage action. “Everybody hates being sold to,” writer Sean Pinegar asserts, “but everybody loves a story.”

Website after website agrees. Management consulting firm Sales Benchmark Index ran an article last year by growth specialist Matt Slonaker titled Why Good Storytelling Beats Good Selling.” Slonaker landed on many of Pinegar’s same points. “A well-told, captivating story can affect listeners on multiple levels,” he wrote. “It’s no accident that storytelling is a craft that has stood the test of time ... Stories grip us and help us experience emotions.”

Melanie Collins of organizational growth agency Impact made similar arguments, also last year, in Why Every Salesperson Must Be a Master Storyteller.” She told the story of how she leveraged her experience in journalism—specifically broadcast journalism, where compelling stories often must be told in two minutes or less—into a career in sales through the magic (the skill) of storytelling.

So, with all that at stake, how do you—how do we—become better storytellers? Well, we all know how to get to Carnegie Hall, right? Practice, practice, practice! That said, there’s some specific avenues ideal for honing great storytelling that are worth calling out.

• Take a long-form improv class! Nothing will drill you better on spontaneous storytelling than improv, particularly long-form. Short-form is the style you may be familiar with from shows like Whose Line Is It Anyway? It’s a lot of fun and helps you think on your toes—but long-form improv is all about telling in-depth, meaningful (and, yes, often funny) stories on the fly. More importantly, it’s about listening to the person across from you, understanding what they’re telling you, and incorporating it into the moment. Improv classes are popular across all walks of life. My husband, a drama teacher, has done improv workshops recently for everyone from radio DJs to students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields to police officers. Everyone can benefit, but your sales acumen will skyrocket from incorporating these skills.

• Engage on social media! Really? Specifically, yes! If you engage online in a genuine, real manner, you will have a great avenue for building those meaningful connections and capitalizing on the stories you tell about yourself. The more human you’re able to be online, the more your customers will come to know you and feel that they can trust you. In a column this January on business website Inc., John Nemo drives this lesson home: “You still have to deliver quality products and services. But people will buy based on emotion and human connection ... You have to realize that, based on what you decide to share, you might repel some people. But, more importantly, you will attract people to you that end up wanting to become customers. People want to do business with someone they get along with and can relate to.”

So storytelling is about more than just telling the story of a particular product. It’s about honesty, sincerity, and powerful connection. It’s about learning a customer’s story and sharing your own with them. Sometimes, it’s about eschewing memorizing facts in favor of nuanced, interpersonal wisdom.

© Genevieve Trainor - Bankers Advertising 2018


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