The Art and Science of Storytelling in Sales

“I understand….let me tell you a story.”

They are some of the most powerful words we can convey. The invitation to listen is also my favorite moment in a sales presentation. 

This inflection point so often determines the outcome of a presentation.  

Which is precisely why storytelling is a critical competency for all sales teams. Stories matter. Borrow a few ideas from my framework for incorporating stories into your sales presentations, and move your prospective customer to decide. 

Storytelling Creates a Bond

When you hear stories, your brain starts to synchronize with the storyteller. And reading stories activates the parts of your brain that imagine people’s motives, perspective and next actions. In other words, people experience stories as if they were going through the experience. Think of how you’ve been affected by deeply touching stories — and how you can do the same for your audience. 

Data and facts are important, but your audience wants more than dry information. Research suggests that after people hear short pitches, 63% of participants can recall the stories, but only 5% can remember the statistics. Compelling stories help you connect with your audience in a way that no data point can match. 

Stories are especially critical when you want someone to purchase from you. Gerald Zaltman of Harvard Business School says 95% of purchase decision-making occurs in the subconscious mind. By telling stories, you’re creating a connection that can help you move the prospect toward a purchasing decision. 

Creating that bond requires you to be brave, to be different, to be willing to do things that your competitors won’t. As ERA Strother CEO Denise Strother told me, ““Take risks. Be yourself. Don’t change because you’re fearful someone will shoot bullets at you. They’re going to do that anyway.” 

Introducing the Storytelling Framework 

Effective sales stories build connection and show your relevance to the buyer. Stories identify common ground you stand on today and the future destination you can achieve together. 

As you develop your storytelling protocols, consider these nine ideas when building a sales presentation. 

Establish Connection

What experiences can you share that demonstrate how you can help the client get where they want to go? Facts and figures support your value proposition, but stories bring it to life and can be an entry point for prospects. 

Three common story types you can use are:

  • Success stories: Tell how your customers found success with your product. Use these case studies to illustrate not just that your product or service succeeded, but also the difference it made.
  • Vision stories: Tell a story that looks to the future, helping your audience see themselves advancing with your help.
  • Consequence stories: What is the cost of not taking action?  What is lost or gained upon assuming the risk and cost associated with change?  Examining the alternative choice can motivate and inspire action.

As you are deciding on the type of story and which story to use, ask yourself:

  • Are you trying to establish the customer’s need for your product?
  • Do you want to share customer success to inspire confidence in your business?
  • Are you trying to highlight transparency with your prospective customer?

Reveal the Inflection Point

The inflection point is that significant moment that changes the trajectory of a company or a person. The pandemic’s enforced pause, for example, was an inflection point that forced many people to confront themselves and commit to change.  

Inflection points can be powerful moments in the stories you tell customers. Tell stories that share moments of adversity as catalysts for moving forward in a positive way. The details within these stories can pull in your audience and move them closer to your objective outcome. 

When you are preparing your story, ask yourself: 

  • Which details need to stick out to reach my audience? 
  • How does knowing these details move my audience closer to a decision?
  • What detail can be misconstrued? 
  • What detail will drive my outcome objective home?

Understand the Decision-Making Framework

By the time you present, many potential customers are already aware of you and have done some level of research. They’re analyzing you and deciding whether they should move toward action. 

At every stage of the buying cycle, stories matter. They can bring out the curiosity of early-stage prospects while helping mid-stage prospects better understand who you are and how they can learn from your expertise.

Remember that there are  just four types of decision-making situations in business: autonomous (solo decision maker), consultative (solo buyer with advisers), joint (by committee) and delegative (the committee/buyer was given specific instructions). 

Understanding your prospect’s buying situation can help you craft a story that aligns with their journey. Powerful stories help your audience clarify their understanding of you and how they can move toward a purchasing decision. 

Create the Vision of Their Future With You

You need to demonstrate how your product or service will transform someone’s life or business. Of course, every company says, “We can help you.” But can you describe how that will happen? Great stories paint the picture of what the future looks like with you by their side. 

Storytelling can illustrate how you can help them reach their goals and how your product or service is different from what they’ve experienced previously. 

To create this vision, set the scene. Get specific — put energy into this description to help your audience feel that it’s happening. Guide them forward from the current state to the future state. Identify the risks associated with not changing.  Show how you’ll help them overcome obstacles and reach the finish line together. 

Clarify the ROI

A good sales story demonstrates the business value. You can’t earn the purchase if you can’t dollarize the value.

ROI always involves numbers and defined outcomes, of course. But how you define the return on investment is up to you. Help prospective customers see how moving forward with your product or service will benefit them and why they can’t realize that ROI anywhere else. 

Evidence matters. Testimonials can also be a powerful way to illustrate ROI. When prospective customers understand the success other clients have achieved by working with you, they’ll see your value is real.

Make the Customer the Hero 

You are the narrator of the story, not the protagonist. The stories that move us are about people. So when developing your story, listen to the questions your customers and prospective customers are asking. 

Don’t stop there. Ask them more questions. Get to the root of their goals and concerns. Be obsessed with customer outcomes and pain points. By listening deeply and following up, you build trust and help the customer choose you.

Show Your Audience What to Think, Know, Feel and Do

Even the best sales stories need a takeaway. What should people do with your story? I borrow a page from the playbook of expert Kindra Hall and use the “Think, Know, Feel, and Do” framework. 

  • Think: What mindset do you want and need them to be in?
  • Know: What is the most important thing you want your audience to absorb from this presentation?
  • Feel: What emotional connection are you trying to make with them? Why is this story necessary?
  • Do: What is the action that you want them to take immediately after your presentation is done? Buy the product? Sign a contract?

Create a “Yes” Momentum

When you’ve used these story techniques, you’ll have your audience excited and ready to take action. But they might still hesitate. You still need to build that “yes” momentum. 

One way to create and maintain momentum is to anticipate the resistance that you’ll receive and incorporate it into your story. Resistance isn’t rejection. Resistance signals someone’s interest in your product and service. Use that curiosity to propel them toward a “yes.”

Elevate the Sense of Urgency

How can your stories illustrate that your value proposition is phenomenal and can’t wait? Many businesses sell around compelling events, but you don’t need to wait for the calendar to turn. Be the catalyst for a compelling event through your storytelling.

People Remember the Story

Great storytelling brings a presentation to life and helps prospects see your value and their success in partnership with you.  Storytelling changed my business, my growth trajectory, the opportunities I receive and the impact I can deliver in a presentation.  It has become foundational educational content for our Impact Eleven Community because it is that important. Master this, and you are on the move! 

Use this framework to organize and strengthen your storytelling in sales presentations. You’ll build stronger relationships with customers, better understand what motivates them and learn how to inspire a customer to decide and commit!

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