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Supercharge Your Sales Conversations with Story

 

A guest post by Andrew Nemiccolo

We hear a lot these days about the importance of storytelling in business – especially for sales people. But if you’re a sales person, you may still be wondering how exactly you’ll weave stories into your next face-to-face sales call. The marketing team has provided you several written case studies of client success stories, and your sales boss has asked you to “throw in a few personal anecdotes, too.”

Many sales people, business owners and fundraisers want to start using stories more effectively in their sales efforts, but are a little unsure how to begin.
Much of this apprehension is due to some misunderstandings about story. I frequently encounter this hesitation as a story strategist and sales coach.
I’ve heard it all: “It’s hard to just launch straight into a story,” and “I’m not sure which story to tell,” and “I don’t have time for a story with all the other info I need to tell.”

With the right mindset and a little prep, however, stories can be one of the easiest ways to be memorable and meaningful. After all, humans are wired for story!

Here are three tips that I’ve learned can make a huge difference.

First, Ask Instead of Tell
First, let’s take some pressure off right now. Your first task is not storytelling at all! Your job is “storylistening,” a term I thought I coined until I read some research that Brian W. Sturm of UNC Chapel Hill did back in 2000. Dr. Sturm studies how we can immerse ourselves completely in the experience of hearing a story.  
Everyone loves to talk, and the most effective sales people remember to pause their own agendas and let the client talk more. So you can quote me on this:
Storytelling will make you memorable. Storylistening will make you loved!
Cultivate your curiosity and ask questions that get your client talking. Encourage stories with prompts like:
Tell me about…
What happened next?
How were you feeling when that happened?
This isn’t an interrogation. Just let the conversation happen naturally. It might be more circular than you prefer but that’s okay. Listen carefully to the patterns in the stories you hear. What is concerning your clients? What is attracting their attention and enthusiasm?
Next, Develop Your StoryBank
A “StoryBank” is a repertoire of stories, organized by theme, which allows you to share the right story at the right time. For individual and organizations alike, a StoryBank one of the best communication tools I know.
Devote some time to developing stories about yourself and your products. Digging for potential story content is StoryMining, and anything can be considered: your past experiences, product success stories, borrowed stories from teammates, and of course, those case studies your marketing team gave you. 
Effective storytelling is not accidental; it’s purposeful. After listening to your customers for a bit, you’ll have a better idea of what to use from your StoryBank. (And you’ll have earned the right to share a story, too!)

For example, I know that if a situation calls for a personal flexibility story, I might share the experience I had living with a family in Kyoto, Japan for a year. For a service credibility story, I might tell what activity made my most recent sales workshop in Orlando work so successfully. For a humorous story demonstrating my humanity, I might recount an embarrassing mistake I made at a health care meeting in San Francisco this spring. You get the idea.

Practice the stories so that you relate the conflict and how it was overcome in 1-2 minutes. Having a variety of stories (whether spoken anecdotes or written case studies) increases the odds of having a brief, relevant example handy to contribute to the conversation.
Developing a working StoryBank is an investment in time, but imagine the power of a confident individual or even an entire team, all engaging clients with well-matched stories.
  • Develop a new relationship
  • Uncover customer needs
  • Help a client grow faster
  • Repair a problem
  • Change a misperception
  • Advance or close a sale
Now Get Started!
So you’ve been listening to clients and have a story you’d like to share. It might be an idea from one of the written case studies; or it might be anecdote from your personal StoryBank that you feel is more relevant.
Don’t put pressure on yourself to read the case study with the client! That’s a big misconception. Sometimes case studies are better used as a send-ahead or leave behind – the written story works when you’re not there. Other times, the case study might make the exact point you need, and thus serve as the focus of the conversation. While you’re face to face, the point is to bridge into the ideal story for the moment.
Many people find it helpful to have a “story starter” phrase that makes it comfortable for them and the customer to introduce a story into conversation. Some of these examples may sound corny to you; others may resonate. Just find something simple that works for your style, like:
It really surprised me when…
That reminds me…
Something happened recently that made me think of you…
Can I share this story with you…?
Another client was in a similar situation, and what they found was…
The language of stories is something you already use every day with friends and family. It’s too powerful a communication style to ignore in business, too. Don’t make it too complicated, just start and have fun connecting with clients.
Not every face-to-face sales call demands a story, but why not be prepared?

About the author:

Andrew Nemiccolo is founder of Seven Story Learning, helping people to learn, lead and sell with stories. Andrew gives keynote talks, leads classes, and works with sales and marketing teams on projects to align story strategies. For more story resources, visit http://sevenstorylearning.com and connect with @nemiccolo on twitter , Facebook or email.

*Creative outlet photo courtesy of Mark Sebastian

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More Stories By Casey Hibbard

Casey Hibbard is the founder and president of Compelling Cases, Inc. and author of "Stories That Sell: Turn Satisfied Customers into Your Most Powerful Sales & Marketing Asset." She has helped dozens of companies create and manage nearly 500 customer case studies and success stories over the past decade. Casey is featured in numerous books, articles, and teleclasses. She consults with organizations one-on-one and conducts online customer-story classes.