Are you helping people buy from you, or simply telling them a bunch of stuff?
I get a bit sad inside when I see great people with great products who can’t seem to help their customers make a purchase. Even though it is the right decision for them!
Selling is hard. Let’s just admit that.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Your role in selling is to effectively help frame the customer problem before you start solving.
The same way that when my girlfriend doesn’t want me to solve…just listen and understand! Today is all about helping frame the customer story in a way that moves them closer to a decision they are excited about.
(This is a good one to listen to the audio. Well they all are… Click here or the button below)
This post is actually Lesson 5 in my FREE 7 Day Sales Bootcamp. Make sure you sign up to get all the goods!
In the last lesson, I started getting into some of the cool psychology around influence and decisions. Today is about how to build a process to easily bring in the emotion language and get your buyers excited about the future.
It’s all about the story.
If you master one skill, it’s this.
Now, everyone knows that you should be good at telling stories in selling, but do you actually have a method? Or are you just winging it?
As I have stressed throughout this series and in all my training, everything you do should be a process that you test, evaluate, and improve on. Stories are no exception.
And remember when we talked about selling in stages in lesson 3? Well, you should have powerful stories in your toolkit for each stage.
Why do stories work?
- Humans communicate through story. Since the beginning of time, language was built to spread ideas from one mind to the other. From cave drawings to folklore, stories are the ways people simply understand what happened. So why fight it? Instead of trying to explain a bunch of info to your buyer, help the see the future by sharing a good tale. This is why children love stories. It helps them make sense of the world and it gets their imagination revved up!
- Stories reduce resistance. Everyone likes to hear a story. Rather than jumping into product pitches or describing what you do, instead use these six little words – “Can I tell you a story?”
- Stories create psychological ownership. When we hear stories, watch movies, read books, or listen to music, we usually seek out a character to identify with. A good story is one where you feel compelled to imagine yourself as part of it.
- Stories trigger emotions. When hearing a story, humans use their limbic system to draw on the memory center and then emotions. Once we have identified with a character, we then begin to empathize with them and adopt their emotional state. We journey with them. And if you read my post (below) on mirror neurons, you’ll know that we are hard-wired in our brain to be emotionally contagious.
- Stories make it easier to recall information. Your goal is to be memorable, yet people only remember about 10% of what they hear. Stories simplify complex information and make it easier for the listener to remember what they heard because it followed an arc.
- Stories get retold.Want your brand message to get shared? Tell a killer story.
It’s more than just making your buyer feel good or to illustrate a point. Story telling puts people into the right mental state and open to more collaborative discussions. Instead of trying to convince someone for 45 minutes, a good 5 minute story that follows a pattern can create immediate buy-in.
Stories have a pattern.
If you search for “story structure” online, you will see there are a ton of different ideas and examples of the ways they’re designed.
- Multiple point-of-view
- Episodic structure with an arc
- Hero’s journey
Have a look at two of the examples below:
And these are the least complicated examples I could show you.
The 4 Part Story Structure
I want to make it a bit easier for you and just break down the four main sections that all stories have and how you can quickly craft your own message.
- Situation: The beginning of your story should clearly paint a picture in the mind of your audience. If it isn’t descriptive enough, or not closely aligned with the listener, it most likely will not resonate with them. It also needs to introduce at least one character.
- Challenge: No one wants to hear a tale where everything is just fine the whole time, right? There needs to be drama! Struggles and complications are the name of the game. One area we will talk a bit more about in lesson 7 is the power of being vulnerable and using vulnerability as a strength. In your story, if you can share times where perhaps you had challenges, made mistakes, or just did something stupid, your audience will see you as more trustworthy. This is a tough concept for most salespeople and professionals because they feel like they need to be perfect. When I talk about mirror neurons, you understand that one of the easiest ways to get someone to open up is to open up first. If you’re aren’t doing this now, start. It will definitely be uncomfortable at first, but it works.
- Turning Point: This is where the change happens. it’s the ah-ha moment, it’s the decisive action the character takes, or the transformation of thought. It makes people’s eyes light up.
- Resolution/Future: Once the ah-ha has been discovered, illustrate the future. What will it be like once the problem has been solved? What lies ahead? How will the hero of the story feel? Remember in the last lesson when I told you about dealing with objections and reducing the resistance of anticipated future regret? This is the easiest way to overcome that!
Another option you can try is to go back and forth between the challenge and the turning point, showing the contrast between different sides of the good and bad. This builds tension as well.
Be sure to balance emotions and facts. It’s easy to get carried away creating highly emotional stories, but keep in mind that if they go too far, your buyer may push away because they lack the substance. And of course on the flip side, a story that is too factual will not create emotional impact. This is why testing is so important. Find the sweet spot.
Two Keys to Story Telling in Sales
One big warning about story telling is that you don’t want to just rattle off stories that have no purpose or don’t matter to your audience! So..
Key #1: Have a point
Be smart about this one and map out the key challenges you face. Determine WHY you would need a story. Is it to establish trust? Is it to demonstrate credibility? Is it to get your customer to have psychological ownership? Or is it to surprise and educate?
Regardless of what you want to share with them, your story should have a purpose that you accomplish by the telling of the story. Too many times, we share stories and at the end we have just wasted someone’s time. Or we accomplished nothing. Decide the point, and let the story get them where you need to go.
Key #2: Be relevant
Does what you say actually matter? Your story should resonate with the listener in a way that they feel like it applies to them and the situation. If it is not relevant, you will waste their time.
Be cautious when you build stories so that you are as close as possible to the problems and emotions your customer is feeling. If you are not relevant, you lose.
But…If you combine it all together and build compelling stories that have a point, are relevant, and take your audience on an emotional journey, you are in great shape!
Most customer testimonials suck
Think about customer testimonials for a moment. Often, they don’t get people to act for two reasons:
- They don’t connect with the character of the story.
- They don’t connect with the decision of the character in the story
What this means is that in order for your story to work well, you first have to ensure you are using the right one that represents your buyer and the conflict they are currently in. They have to BELIEVE that if they were in that story it would work for them too.
Putting it all together…
In lesson 3, we went through selling in stages. I want you to write out those stages and come up with a story that follows the four part structure above for one of the stages. For example, maybe you want to get better on your first point of contact. Write out a 30 second story that would quickly demonstrate to your potential customer that you understand what they feel.
It could be something as simple as saying:
“You remind me of someone I was just talking to this morning. Can I tell you a quick story? Okay, cool. Well, when we first met, they had similar sales challenges like the ones you’re describing. Tired reps, decreasing revenues, and just trying a bunch of stuff. To be honest, I couldn’t quite figure out how to help them motivate their team – it was a bit embarrassing for me at the time actually. But when we dug a bit deeper into the causes of those issues, we found that we were looking at the problem totally wrong. What we discovered was it wasn’t the fault of their salespeople, but rather their processes. They didn’t need another sales trainer to come in and motivate them, but instead someone to help the drill down on exactly what the highest value activities should be. To help them de-clutter their activities. That’s what I am seeing in most organizations – busy work. Today, they are earning more, working less, and their team is fired up more than ever because of it. So my first thought with you would be to dig into those processes. In about 30 minutes, I would be happy to share with you the insights we got from that story and countless others. Show you some of the cool best practices we’ve put together that sales teams love.”
Each story should have a goal in mind. That story is geared towards setting an appointment for me. There are a number of variations, but they are very powerful to get people to understand.
Make the buyer the hero.
I wrote about this previously as well. Here is where it can get really good. Once you have met with a buyer and you want to help them make a decision, paraphrase back to them what you have heard in the form of a story. Follow the four parts and just work through each one on the fly. Put them in the story as the character.
Say to them:
“Let me make sure I have YOUR story correct…”
(Situation) “Right now, your business has done quite well. You have grown your brand and have some really cool customers who love your product. It sounds like you have found some great salespeople for your team and they really care about your clients. That’s awesome. (challenge) But this past year, you’ve been seeing more and more missed opportunities and you’re not quite sure why. Your team is starting to feel the effects of this and are getting worried about their jobs. You have invested quite a bit in marketing and your leads are strong, but why can’t they convert like they were before? You are not sure if the market has changed, your team is not motivated, or if your product isn’t as competitive as it could be. You’re not sure where to focus your efforts or invest resources. (Turning point) Through our conversation, it seems to me that your team is spinning it’s wheels, is inconsistent, and can’t tell you what works and what doesn’t. The fact that they don’t have a written and consistently followed process in place is actually great news! It means that you have a big opportunity in front of you. As long as they are coachable and you keep them accountable, you can get some wins very quickly. (Resolution/future) Over the next few months, you can get your team dialed into a very clear series of steps to follow so that you can start testing to see what works and focus on process improvements. Once you have consistency, your team will be excited, and you will then know what areas of your business you can predictably scale and where to invest more resources. Have I missed anything?”
This is the ONLY time in your sales conversation that you want to hear a NO.
Can you see how this can work for your own process? The beautiful thing about using a story in this way is watching the body language of the buyer. I do this all the time.
A lesson I learned years ago when speaking was that it wasn’t about me – it’s about the audience. How many times are you worried about how you look, how you move, and what you say? None of that mattes. What matters is whether your message resonates with your audience. Now I look for two things:
When I speak, I want to see people leaning forward, nodding their heads, and taking notes. That is when I know what I’m saying matters.
To test this, go and try using the story framework to paraphrase back to your customer their story. If you do it right, they will start to lean and nod during the situation. Key number one.
If you do the turning point right, you will visibly see them become relieved. Their shoulders will drop a bit and they will take a deeper breath. Try it.
Telling their story lets them know you are listening and that you have actually taken the time to care. You build trust and credibility.
Conceptual agreement before price
Here is where it gets really cool. In the next lesson, I am going to share with you the five buying decisions and price comes almost last.
Have you ever submitted a proposal or shared a price too early? Once you did, were objections brought to light, or changes to the solution proposed? Giving price too early can hurt the chances of you getting the business. Only once you have confirmed you understand their problem, should you give them a price.
So do this. Use the story framework as a way to paraphrase in the live situation or through an email. Tell their story and ask if you have missed anything. If you have, it’s a very easy discussion on something you may have overlooked. And these are not viewed as objections in the mind of your customer, but instead just clarification of the story. Because you went through the trouble of putting the story together, you have begun the first step of collaboration with them.
Additionally, if you write a great story in an email (conceptual agreement), they may feel compelled to share it with other members of their team and you gain further widespread acceptance.
I have done this many times and it has dramatically increased my win rates.
Now you try it. get out some paper and write down a story for one of your stages. Practice writing or saying it and then go apply it. Try and be vulnerable and put some of yourself in the story!
When I do this as a workshop, it’s surprising at how many people struggle with telling stories. But putting them to action always leads to results. It’s fun to see the transformation.
In the next lesson, we are going to talk about gaining trust, being credible, and the five buying decisions. Hint, first one is YOU.
Here are some related posts from my blog that go into more details on some of these ideas:
- Winning an Audience: 3 Quick Public Speaking Tips to Eliminate Fear
- In Selling, Make the Buyer the Hero – Not You
- Why we Make Decisions Based on Emotions (Part 4 of 4): Mirror Neurons