Storytelling in Sales and How to Do It

by Scott - 8 Comments

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One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned over the past year is how powerful storytelling in sales can be.


I always try to incorporate stories when I’m  describing a product for a few reasons:

Humanizing Myself

When I’m communicating with a new acquaintance (especially when I’m pitching), I try to humanize myself as much as possible. One way to do this by making yourself more relatable. Bullet points and statistics are not relatable. A story about that crazy family member that always has a few too many beers at every family party is. Typically, the more we can relate to someone, the more we like them…and people buy from people they like. This is why I always try to supplement information with relatable narratives from my own life.

Effective Communication

Sometimes the easiest way to explain something is through anecdotes. People may not be familiar with your product, but they’re likely familiar with a common scenario that everyone has experienced at one time or another. This familiarity can not only only make something easier to understand, but also easier to remember and retell.

Depending on the complexity of the sale, people you talk to will likely have to pitch your offering internally. So it’s imperative to increase the capacity for them to descrive your product effectively. Arming them a story they can reference which succinctly describes the value of your product is a great thing to do.

Some Science?

I recently read a great article by Leo Widrick on “The Science of Storytelling” that speaks to why stories are so powerful. I’ll leave it to you to read the whole thing, but at a high level stories activate more parts of your brain than a straightforward presentation of information. As a result, with stories we’re more likely to engage with the information, remember it, and associate it with experiences from our own lives. In fact, stories apparently have the ability to make people think they came up with an idea themselves. From Leo’s article:

According to Uri Hasson from Princeton, a story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience.

The next time you struggle with getting people on board with your projects and ideas, simply tell them a story, where the outcome is that doing what you had in mind is the best thing to do. According to Princeton researcher Hasson, storytelling is the only way to plant ideas into other people’s minds.

How to Incorporate Storytelling in Sales

When I’m coming up with a new pitch, I’ll first write out how I’m going to describe and position my offering. The second thing I do is go back through the pitch to see where I can insert stories.

My favorite place to use stories is in the context of describing a pain that the person I’m talking to might have which my solution solves.  I always try to make the stories I use relatable and funny.

Here’s an example story I could tell if I was pitching a restaurant on the new WordPress offering for restaurants.

…that’s why we decided to build a tool to help restaurants easily manage their websites. My friends parents who owned a restaurant had their next door neighbor’s little brother build their website. Of course he moved away and now they can’t update anything on the site including the removing the weird music that blasts every time you go on it. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I went on it at work and my officemate asked me why I was listening to folk music. It’s an Italian restaurant.

Weaving a story like this into a pitch is a simple way to enhance your ability your presentation. Maybe this owner’s next door neighbor built his website too. Maybe he struggles with the fact that he can’t change the music on his website. Either way, I’ve given him an anecdote that highlights the benefits of my solution in a way that portrays me as just another person encountering life’s subtle oddities instead of a cutthroat sales guy. I’d rather be the former.

 

If you enjoyed this post and are interested in improving your pitching, you might also want to check these out:

Why I Make Fun of Myself When I Pitch

What Doctors Can Teach Us About Pitching

Why Silence Can Be Your Friend

 

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8 comments, add to the conversation.

  1. Shir

    I’ve been giving what I thought was a pretty solid sales pitch at the end of every one of my intro classes, but I can already see ways to improve it after reading this post. Thanks for the ideas!

    Reply

  2. Kyle Porter

    Another strong post Scott. Stories were always my go-to back in the cold calling days. Nobody ever turned down my offer to tell them a story.

    There’s a great book on sales storytelling by Mike Bosworth (http://www.amazon.com/What-Great-Salespeople-Emotional-Connection/dp/0071769714). We wrote about it on the SalesLoft blog as well (http://salesloft.com/what-great-salespeople-do)

    Mike talks about how stories should have a hero and the biggest problem in today’s sales storytellers is that they make their own company the hero when it should be the customer.

    It’s a fine art which I hope to improve on this coming year. Thanks for the tips!

    Reply

    1. ScottBritton

      Thanks man! I haven’t heard of Mike’s book, but I’m definitely going to check it out. I appreciate you passing this along and hope to improve my storytelling ability over the next year as well

      Reply

  3. AJDEdinburgh

    I love your blogs and writing style Scott. This post has given me some valuable input for pitching an ad campaign. Cheers.

    Reply

  4. Ramin

    Great post :) Most of the really great sales people I’ve met are also great storytellers.

    Anyone who’s enjoyed this post should grab a copy of this book which is currently free for a week on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Buyer-Legends-Executive-Storytellers-Guide-ebook/dp/B00OQT8U6M (Written two NYT & WSJ bestselling authors).

    I’ve always loved stories, but I’m far from a natural born storyteller. However, one thing that helped me to become better at it was studying how stand up comedians tell stories. Even if the purpose of your story isn’t to be funny, there’s so much to be learned from how they set up and structure stories, and later refer back to them to make a certain point, how they keep their audience interested, and so on.

    And, since you interviewed him recently, I thought Oren Klaff also touched on some great points on using storytelling to sell in his book Pitch Anything.

    (Btw. small typo: It’s Leo Widrich, not Widrick :))

    Reply

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