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Your business prospects want stories, not numbers

13th Oct 2017
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Creating a compelling narrative might seem more difficult than spitting out statistics to the average sales professional, but storytelling outperforms analytics when it comes to business-to-business deals.

Think about the last local TV news report you saw. Do you remember the flurry of dizzying statistics or the strong, emotional narrative? Chip and Dan Heath make a compelling case for the power of storytelling in their book "Made to Stick."

Chip, who teaches at Stanford University, carries out a regular exercise in his classes in which he divides students into groups and provides them with statistics about crime trends. Half the students make a one-minute presentation that nonviolent crime is a serious problem while their classmates argue the opposite.

Once the presentations are complete, Chip shows the students a short video to distract them. After the video is done, he suddenly asks the students to write down everything they remember from the presentations. Even though only a few minutes have passed, most students struggle to recall any statistics. Instead, they focus on the handful of emotional stories shared by their fellow students.

Despite our natural preference for stories, countless sales teams try to woo clients with numbers and product features. Customers want skilled communicators who can articulate the need for a product, but they often get statistics absent of any emotional attachment. By reinforcing a strong relationship between products and people, sales professionals can regain their focus and break free from an unnecessary reliance on data.

Ultimately, a story will showcase value far better than raw, numerically driven information. Storytelling has become a lost art in the sales world, but like buried treasure, lost gems can be found again by those willing to do some digging.

The bard of the boardroom
Even if you have never considered yourself a skilled storyteller, you can build your sales acumen by applying four strategies:

1. Make your solution a lead player in the conversation.
Conversations turn the sales process into interpersonal experiences. Apple uses advertisements — and regular keynote events — to showcase people using its products as opposed to hammering audiences with tech specs. As a result, the brand evokes an emotional response based on a consistent story: Life is better with Apple products.

How can you become the Apple of your industry? Rather than force your products on prospects, find ways to weave the solution into a narrative. No one buys an air conditioner based on the calibration of its mechanics; people simply want access to cool, regulated air.

Show instead of tell, using vibrant words and authentic language to help audiences understand what your products do for people. Make the story come to life, and encourage listeners to feel a connection with what you are selling.

2. Keep your stories consistent.
Your stories should be consistent with your brand message and drive home the same value proposition with consistency. Starbucks provides a great example of this concept in action. The coffee behemoth offers the same ambiance whether you are in Fort Lauderdale or Fort Worth, and that atmosphere aligns with the core beliefs of the company.

Sales teams should resist weaving narratives on the fly; each story should feed into the overarching brand narrative of your company. If I head to your website, I should see how the story you just told me about your product fits into the bigger picture. The same should be true if I visit your social media pages. A disjointed, broken message confuses customers.

3. Be sincere in your customer interactions.
One hurdle of using storytelling during the sales process is the challenge of not sounding canned and rehearsed. Remember that you need to be genuine when you interact with customers. Ditch the normal formalities, and let your audience or your customers set the tone for how you speak. 

One of our clients is a national leader in the automotive services industry. Stuffy and starched storytelling does not work for this client, so we have helped the company adopt a conversational brand narrative. This strategy has helped our client achieve double-digit growth on its social media pages.

Sincerity will help you establish trust with prospects. They might not buy today, but your effort to focus on their needs will pay off down the road. Out of practice? Create a culture of storytelling in your workplace by dedicating staff development time to learning how to spin a clear, compelling yarn. Storytelling is so woven into the DNA of Airbnb that the company has a portion of its website dedicated to community travel stories.

4. Ratchet up the trust factor.
As your comfort with storytelling increases, hone your ability to build trust. Trust starts when you share your story, but it truly takes off when you engage with your leads and take the time to learn their stories.

Mutually beneficial partnerships are critical to producing impressive revenue streams. Chick-fil-A is a great example of a company focused on trust because it bases its operations on integrity. Customers enjoy consistently pleasant experiences because store managers and operators have been given the authority to make decisions and foster trust.

Increasingly accessible research and technology have made it easier than ever to deliver a mountain of metrics to potential customers, but a graph and a pretty picture are never going to lead to serious, sustainable sales. Instead, you must dig deep and work to become the best storyteller possible. When that happens, your clients will come to you to forge a relationship that ends happily ever after.

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