Once upon a time, my youngest brother - who wasn’t very tech savvy at the time - worked with me selling enterprise IT automation software. He was very successful, far more than seasoned IT salespeople on the team, and I couldn’t quite explain why.
Then one day I began to read about the power of storytelling.
And I realized that in almost every single sales call, he started with a story. He would tell the story of how the company was founded. Or a problem someone experienced with our competitors. Or a client who had resolved a particular issue using our product.
It turns out, this was an integral part of why he was so successful.
There is a lot of research available into why storytelling is powerful. How it literally aligns brainwaves among listeners and storyteller.
But what I want to talk about today, is the how. How do you help your salespeople to harness the power of storytelling to make more sales?
What some people do instinctively, can be implemented across your team, by teaching specific storytelling techniques and reinforcing them inside each salesperson’s workflow.
What is storytelling, exactly?
Storytelling is a primal activity that involves weaving together characters, plot, and usually some sort of message.
But storytelling doesn’t always start with “once upon a time” and doesn’t always contain a traditional plot or even any defined characters. Hemingway once famously told a compelling story in only six words: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
In fact, storytelling can come in so many forms and features, that it can seem impossible to learn and apply storytelling across an entire organization.
To make it simple, focus on a few key storytelling techniques. Teach your salespeople to use them, and give them the tools to make it easy. Here are three to start with.
1. Analogies help the brain gain clarity
An analogy is a comparison between two things, usually extrapolated across multiple levels, that helps the listener understand a complex topic more clearly.
For instance, we like to compare the complex b2b sale to a relay race. In a relay race, it’s not always the team with the fastest runners who win because if you drop the baton, you’ll lose. And the team most effective at passing the baton seamlessly between stakeholders wins.
Likewise, in a complex b2b sale, it’s not always the company with the best product or the slickest salespeople who win the deal – often, it’s the one whose sales efforts are the most seamlessly coordinated.
Although there is a longer “story” that goes with this analogy, the analogy itself constitutes a type of storytelling that helps the listener’s brain align with what the speaker is trying to communicate. The analogy can be carried across multiple levels, to describe how team members hand communications off among themselves, how salespeople manage communications among different buying stakeholders effectively, and how interactions among sales technologies and all the other moving parts of a complex sale should be smooth and seamless.
Analogies help listeners better understand the point, and they give the brain a “hook” to hang that understanding on. Analogies often get shared “virally” by word of mouth, often without the sharer even remembering where they got the analogy. Over time, a powerful analogy can communicate substantial amounts of information with only a word or two.
For instance, once a sales team has been exposed to the analogy above, simply saying, “Pass the baton” can communicate a substantial amount of information about the importance of seamless coordination.
2. Metaphors work at a subliminal level
Metaphors are similar to analogies, in that they compare two things in order to make one thing more clear or compelling.
But while an analogy generally tries to compare the two things explicitly in multiple ways and at multiple levels, a metaphor doesn’t require the same degree of rigor. In fact, a metaphor is often mentioned in passing and can have a more subtle, but no less powerful, effect on the listener.
For instance, your rep might tell a prospect that your product will “fire up” their workforce, or that a competitor’s product will “bog them down” in unnecessary details.
In the first case, the rep has compared how their product inspires the workforce to the act of lighting a fire. In the second case, they’ve compared a competitor’s product’s overly complex construction to the sucking action of a murky bog.
In neither case is it necessary or desirable to extrapolate the point further.
In both cases, the metaphor likely passes below the level of conscious awareness. Because it goes unnoticed by the critical brain, it can have a powerful impact on how the buyer feels about the matter. Simultaneously, it has the effect of creating a visual image in the listener’s mind that is far more powerful than a dry, literal explanation.
3. Visualizations stick in the mind
Another reason stories are so powerful is that they create mental images that “stick” in the mind.
For instance, in a recent article posted here, I talked about my experience in Las Vegas and the $85 bottle of water I bought. I described the beauty of my hotel room, and the extravagance of its hospitality, and how they had included a nice display of “free” water and other “goodies.”
Then I described the way all my fuzzy feelings about the hotel evaporated when I realized they’d charged me exorbitant prices for something I had assumed was included–those nicely displayed bottles of water with no price tags attached.
I compared the experience to the feeling you get when you buy a piece of software or other product only to discover expensive hidden fees and other costs that were not disclosed at the time of your purchase, but that are necessary to make it work the way you had been led to believe it would work.
Once I’ve established the visual image of what happened in your mind, and made the connection I want you to understand, in the future all I have to say is “It’s an $85 bottle of water,” and your mind immediately grasps the meaning of my critique of the competitor’s product (because of course, we don’t sell $85 bottles of water here at Membrain!).
That’s the power of visualizations. Your salespeople don’t have to tell long stories on every call to take advantage of this power. Graphs, charts, and infographics can be shared to emphasize points. Analogies and metaphors likewise create memorable visuals.
That’s nice, but how do you get salespeople to do it effectively?
There’s a knack to choosing the right storytelling element at the right moment. Some people do it naturally, intuitively.
But it can also be learned and enabled. I recommend reading our interview with Mike Adams, author of Seven Stories Every Salesperson Must Tell. Mike has spent a lot of time thinking about the power of stories in a sales environment.
To equip your team to make the best use of storytelling elements, start by training them to understand the importance of these techniques. Then equip them with tools to use the right analogies, metaphors, and images at the right time.
Membrain’s Content Hub enables you to attach content directly inside the salesperson’s workflow so that they can access it at exactly the right moment in their process.
To make the best use of this feature, take the time to understand what stories, analogies, metaphors, and visualizations your top performers are using, and then propagate those choices across the organization by including them in your enablement content and ensuring your salespeople see them right when they can best use them.
It’s also useful to assign marketing the task of developing creative analogies, metaphors, and visualizations to meet the needs of your sales force. In particular, notice which conversations your salespeople are having that buyers respond to with confusion or lack of interest. If those conversations are important, then get your team to develop effective storytelling elements to make them more engaging and compelling.