Storytelling is the vehicle by which humankind has passed down information from one generation to the next for hundreds of thousands of years. It’s therefore not surprising that it’s credited with helping to close countless business deals. After all, it is an ideal way for sales teams to engage and connect with prospects while conveying the benefits of partnering with your company. Most people dislike being sold to, but everyone loves a good story.
The Science Behind the Power of Storytelling
The influence of a story on its listeners is well documented. The Neurochemistry of Empathy, Storytelling, and the Dramatic Arc highlights how stories trigger listeners’ brains to release neurochemicals like cortisol and oxytocin. Oxytocin, because it promotes connection and encourages people to feel empathy, is sometimes referred to as the “trust hormone.” This was discovered in a series of experiments conducted by Paul Zak, a pioneer in neuroeconomics, a new field that combines economics, neuroscience and psychology to determine how individuals make economic decisions. Imagine what your sales team could achieve if members were able to tell stories that built trust in your company’s brand as well as its products or services.
Benefits of Strategic Storytelling in Sales
As prospective clients or customers, when we connect with salespeople, we don’t just want another recital of the facts. The company’s website can give us plenty of that already. We’re looking for something more human: a sense of whether or not we’d enjoy working with a particular business, a working knowledge of other clients’ experiences and a deeper context to show us if their product is right for us.
Storytelling, when partnered with listening, achieves these things while building an invaluable human connection between sales teams and prospects. It delivers on the following:
- Building trust and rapport: Salespeople can share a little bit about themselves and show their human side, which makes them more relatable. The end result: an emotional connection.
- Creating credibility: Highlighting related work you’ve done with other clients shows your prospect that you understand the issue at hand — and that your company has a track record of successfully addressing it. This should leave prospects feeling that what you’re selling is worth the investment.
- Delivering insights that resonate: Prospects will remember important information when it is framed within an engaging story, particularly one that enables them to see themselves as the victorious main character.
- Differentiating oneself: Stories provide the opportunity for sales team members to allow their authentic, unique presence to come out.
- Sparking new thinking and ideas: Stories can lead to free flowing brainstorming sessions, sparking new ideas and fostering a feeling of team spirit between prospects and salespeople.
- Overcoming resistance: Salespeople can overcome objections by responding with stories about customers who felt similar doubts, yet ultimately succeeded in meeting their needs by investing in your company’s products or services.
- Closing deals and moving business forward: It’s possible to effectively create a sense of urgency and relevance through stories that move prospects to see the advantages of quick action.
Elements of a Persuasive Sales Story
The best sales stories give a soul to otherwise inanimate products and services. Through a process psychologists call narrative transport, they affect the way prospects feel about what they are being sold. Listeners become so immersed that they see themselves in the story and make it their own.
It’s easiest to emotionally hook prospects by sharing stories of people who faced challenges similar to their own. The prospects ideally start rooting for the main characters, finding them relatable. When the main characters succeed as a result of using your company’s product or service, the prospects visualize themselves as succeeding — which leaves them with a good feeling about your company.
An effective sales story typically shows most or all of the following attributes:
- Relevance: The right story will illustrate the values that its particular listeners will care about. It’s a good idea to have a variety of different stories to call upon at any time; different ones may have different impacts.
- Flow: Stories must have a clearly defined beginning, middle and end; otherwise, listeners may tune them out.
- Details: Stories chock full of descriptive details give prospects a sensory experience — they can transport themselves into the story by virtually visualizing, hearing and smelling the details within it.
- Brevity: The ideal length for sales stories is no more than one minute, preferably 30 seconds.
- Goal orientation: All stories shared with prospects should convey a target message that encourages them to take a desired action.
How to Effectively Deliver Stories That Sell
Storytelling for selling is a learned skill that begins with presence — the ability to authentically connect with the hearts and minds of others in order to motivate and inspire them toward a desired outcome. Ask sales team members to do the following to improve their presence and help them effectively use stories to close more sales:
- Practice: Practice stories before using them. This provides time to memorize them and gives tellers the chance to develop a polished delivery that drives home key takeaways.
- Relax: Focusing on the personal need to close a sale may heighten feelings of anxiety, which can cause salespeople to rush or have trouble listening. Taking some belly breaths and shifting their focus from achieving their own personal goals to achieving their prospect’s, will help them become centered.
- Listen: When prospects are talking, listen for strengths, values, challenges and concerns to determine what’s important to them.
- Reflect: Reflect on what was heard, and decide what is needed to make an emotional connection, be collaborative or contribute something.
- Improvise: Use a story that best meets what the prospect is seeking. It’s crucial to work from the prospect’s stated needs rather than a pre–determined agenda. Stories can be tied to a specific section of the sales deck/PowerPoint in order to hold the prospect’s interest. The remaining information can be addressed at some point if it’s relevant to the prospect.
- Share: Tell the story that was selected, making it vivid, clear and brief.
- Make it relevant: Underscore the story’s relevance by highlighting how it ties into what matters to the prospect. Doing so helps the prospect know they have been heard and understood.
- Refocus: Transition the focus of the conversation back to the core business issue.
Get Your Teams “Story Selling”
The best way to get your sales team story selling is to adopt a multi-pronged approach:
- Create a sales story library: Provide a searchable online “library” of sales stories your team can tap into, broken out by topic, product or service.
- Teach storytelling as a sales technique: Teach your team techniques for creating and delivering an effective sales story.
- Share sales stories: Ask your team to share their short sales stories during weekly sales meetings or calls. Ideally, take a video of them doing so, or have what they said transcribed and added to the online sales story “library.”
- Hold storytelling off–sites: Hold periodic off-sites during which sales team members are asked to share their best sales story with a colleague who must constructively critique their delivery and retell the story. This achieves two things: It helps the team expand their sales story repertoire and improves their storytelling ability.
- Use outside expertise: Sharpen your team’s skills by engaging a company experienced in using storytelling for sales training.
Few people naturally have the ability to tell an engaging sales story, but everyone can learn how to do so. Giving your sales team the tools needed to master the art of storytelling for sales will enable them to close deals faster and forge positive, lasting client relationships.