Increasing sales

The power of storytelling in sales

It’s said that people buy based on emotion and rationalise their decision with logic. Doug Stevenson, a master storyteller, and highly successful keynote speaker, trainer and author, believes that storytelling sales techniques and storytelling in sales presentations are some of the most powerful tools a salesperson can possess.

Here, he shares his first-hand perspectives on the power and magic of using storytelling in sales. 

From my experience of speaking in front of hundreds of business audiences, I have learned that stories are memorable because of the images and emotions contained in the story. The lesson of the story sticks because it’s embedded in an image. The image isn’t a still picture – it’s a motion picture, a movie. While you’re listening to a story, you’re simultaneously watching the story on the movie screen in your mind, in your imagination.

Furthermore, a motion picture – a movie – works better than a still picture image. By their very nature, stories contain feelings and emotions. If you understand what kind of story to tell in the appropriate situation, you can use emotional triggers in the story to sell your product or service. Logic explains whereas stories persuade. Stories capture the big picture. 

Emotion is the key to a successful storytelling sales pitch

Emotion is the fast lane to the brain. “Story selling” is an effective way to conduct a sales conversation that balances the need to make an emotional connection while effectively communicating product value. Rather than leading with facts and data, the script is flipped. Your salespeople lead with a story, follow with facts and data, and close more sales.

The kind of story that I use to sell my speaking, training and coaching services is called a “credibility story”. It’s a story that sells without selling.

Think of it as referral selling, but the person doing the referring appears in the story, rather than in person.

We all feel more comfortable buying something on the recommendation of a friend. That’s the principle behind the credibility story. Instead of trying to sell yourself, you let the story of a past client who has already bought your product or service, do the selling for you. The story is also like giving the prospect a “test-drive” to understand what it’s like to work with you or to use your product. 

The unique twist is that credibility stories are customer-interaction stories that include the customer’s point of view using the customer’s words. It’s the dialogue between the salesperson and the customer that makes this type of story work. 

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How a business can find its credibility stories

To find your credibility stories, first, identify the three most common objections or challenges – the ones you hear on a regular basis. Here are a few that my clients tell me they hear often: 

  • Your price is too high.

  • We’re happy with the company we’ve been using for years.

  • We don’t have any money in our budget for this.

Do you have a current customer or client who initially had one of those objections or challenges? Did you find a creative way to get past the objection? Are they now one of your “happy camper” clients who sing your praises? 

The story of one of your current customers who told you your price was too high but ended up hiring you anyway is a perfect credibility story. However, it has to be carefully constructed in a way that triggers an emotional response. It’s not just a touchy-feely story, however. It also contains facts, data and percentages. 

Do storytelling sales techniques work for technical products?

Using stories to sell is even more important when your product is technical in nature. While salespeople love to talk about how their product works, going deep into the technical details and data often makes the customer gets lost and slip into a content coma.

Bullet points and dense technical slide decks tend to serve the needs of the salesperson, more than the needs of the customer.

Consider the story I share about giving my sick dog a pill. Every time I shoved the pill down her throat, she spat it back out. When I hid the pill in a scoop of peanut butter, she swallowed the pill very easily.

This metaphorical story explains what I teach salespeople to do. The pill is your content, data and product knowledge. When you overload your sales conversation with too much “pill”, your customer can’t swallow it. They get bored and check out on you. But when you embed just the right amount of “pill” in a story, it sticks like peanut butter.

Make your message memorable when storytelling 

It is very important for your message to be memorable. When you understand how the brain of your listener is activated by a story, you can use storytelling to be more persuasive and memorable. If after your speech, no one remembers anything you said, you have failed in your communication.

Take a moment now to think about a movie that you first saw over ten years ago. What do you remember when you recall this movie? 

I bet that the first thing that came to your mind was an image or a scene. If I asked you to describe the scene, you could do it in vivid detail. You remember the actors, their clothes, the location, the situation, and the emotions. You can see these images as easily now as you did when you were watching the movie.

First, we remember in pictures and images. Next, we remember the emotions connected to those pictures and images. We see and feel and re-experience the scene in real-time. 

What you often remember last is dialogue. But compared to how vividly you remember the images, you probably don’t remember much of the dialogue. Maybe you remember a line that has become famous by repetition, like “make my day” or “life is like a box of chocolates.” Your brain remembers pictures first. It then remembers the emotional context, and finally, it remembers language. 

How to make your sales story stick

To make my stories stick, I use what I call a Phrase That Pays – mental velcro that makes a point of your story stick. Because they (your audience) remember the story, they remember the point. When they remember the point, it becomes actionable. What’s the point of developing a sales presentation filled with great content if no one remembers anything, takes action, or changes his or her behaviour? 

By its very nature, a story is an emotionally arousing event that engages listeners and holds their attention. With the advent of cell phones, competing for your audience members’ attention is the first challenge a speaker or leader faces. Good storytelling solves that problem. Then, using storytelling craft, we can attach meaning to the story with a well-chosen point.

Doug is a former US actor who has brought lessons from the theatre and the power of great storytelling to lead, engage and sell, to the corporate world. He has translated these techniques into what he calls The Story Theater Method for Strategic Storytelling in Business and has successfully taught the skills to a wide range of salespeople across diverse companies and industries.

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