Yesterday was one of those days every sales manager dreads. Months of work on a huge opportunity evaporated within a few hours. How did your sales team fail to deliver the win? The sales presentation was locked. The deck was gorgeous, every visual depicting your service just right. The copy was compelling, each word delivering a high-octane mixture of optimism and value designed to close the deal quickly and painlessly.
Your sales team excitedly reported they had a great meeting with two of the key decision-makers, and your company was the clear choice. Then, they get the call that the prospect “decided to go in another direction.”
What could have possibly gone wrong? Most likely, your team’s messaging was flawed.
Sales messages often contain three basic flaws — or, to put it another way, they fail to address three issues all buyers have:
- Why should they believe the message?
- Why should they care?
- Will they even remember this presentation by dinnertime?
Let’s examine why these issues are critical:
Why Should They Believe the Message?
Buyers join a sales presentation already inclined not to believe the message. Ignore this reality at your own peril.
Maybe it’s unfair, but your team’s presentation is just the latest one the buyer has had to sit through in a career filled with presentations, many of which were misleading. Unfortunately, your sales team is stuck with the consequences. It can be even worse in a virtual presentation, because it may lack eye contact — that shred of believability.
Why Should They Care?
People don’t really care about solutions. They’re just looking to solve the problem or eliminate the headache. Often, they simply opt for not solving the problem at all, because they view living with the problem as easier and less risky than introducing change. As a sales leader, you know this reality, and it’s one of the most frustrating aspects of sales.
Will They Even Remember This Presentation by Dinnertime?
This one might be the harshest truth of all: Your team painstakingly pored over which information, detail, competitive positioning and sincere commitments to put into the sales message, and it all might be reduced to a few scraps in the customer’s memory. Now, you’re hoping they spend a great deal of money and choose your company over all the others … based on those few scraps.
The Solution: Storytelling
Fortunately for you and your team, there’s a simple solution, a solution that all of your sales team members have used their whole lives, a solution in which their expertise was in place by the age of five: stories.
Therein lies one of the greatest paradoxes of communication: We use stories constantly, in every context — before work, after work, on weekends, it’s our de facto language for everything — except when we’re in front of an audience delivering a sales message.
Stories are best defined without boundaries. They can be examples, anecdotes, word pictures, illustrations or parables. Each one helps the sales message connect with the audience on a level that’s impossible with mere facts, figures or five bullet points on slide 23.
3 Best Practices for Using Stories in a Sales Presentation
The key to effectively using stories in sales presentations is planning. Here are three best practices for your salespeople before each sales presentation:
- Look over your sales presentation. Find where you say, “We’d make a great business partner!” Instead, show them through a story that you’d make a great business partner. Tell a story about your culture. Talk about a time when your company had to make hard choices and you did the right thing.
- How about that slide that touts your superior customer service? Show them through storytelling. If you really have superior customer service, there should be no shortage of great stories that show it.
- By now, you should be seeing the formula. It’s pretty simple: Every time you make an important assertion about your company or your product, you need to have a corresponding story that shows it. There should be a 1:1 relationship between saying and showing.
Before a presentation, remind your salespeople to think about their buyer and ask themselves these three simple questions:
Will they believe your message? Yes, if you tell them about how you solved their problem in the past — or how it wasn’t solved, because a cautionary tale can also be a powerful message. Stories are ideas in action. They make them palatable and give them life.
Will they care about your message? Yes, when they can relate to it. Tell them a story about someone else in their position. Make the business challenges and problems come alive as they watch the story unfold in their mind’s eye. Make them feel the angst of an unsolvable business issue, and watch the relief roll in when your solution arrives.
A well-told story puts your listener in the front seat of the car that your main character is driving. As they steer around obstacles, your listener will be leaning into the turns alongside them.
Finally, will they remember? The stories might be the only thing they remember.
That remembering makes for a happy ending.