People talk about telling stories all the time. When we think about certain people in history, great story tellers like Mark Twain standout. If we hear a great speech, usually there is a great story intertwined inside that speech. People don’t make decisions logically or rationally in most cases. They use their limbic brain.
In the sales process, great salespeople constantly tap into the limbic brain. They ask Impact Questions. When they email, they think about the words they use and use action words. When they filter, they even think about risk or fear. In their proposal, there is a call to action. When they close, they build a human, tangible relationship.
The funny thing is people like to think of themselves as rational and logical. “I am a data dog.”, they’ll say. They like to think that they comb through a mountain of data reaching the optimum decision. However, it’s been proven that on each individual basis, people use emotion and heuristics to make decisions. Stories help people remember and categorize things. That allows salespeople room to influence with a great story well told.
Stories illuminate things for people in ways simple hard facts cannot.
Facts are neutral until human beings add their own meaning to those facts. The meaning they add to facts depends on their current story. People stick with their story even when presented with facts that don’t fit. They simply interpret or discount facts to fit their story. This is why facts are not terribly useful in influencing others.
Stories are powerful. If you can use a story, you are 2x more powerful in persuasion terms than using a basic fact. The ability to tell the right story at the right time underlies the whole selling process. If you disagree, think about how big consumer brands try to weave story into their ad message. Story is one of the most powerful influencers we have.
Now, put yourself in your customers shoes. What’s happening to them? Continually, they gain access to more and more information through news, radio, television, periodicals and social media. They are bombarded. As a salesperson, you have to break through.
Ask yourself two questions:
- Are you adding more to the channel? (Content)
- Are you helping people make more meaning out of the information that bombards them? (Curation/Filter)
As people embrace new channels of information, what do they give up? They have to give up something. There is a cost/opportunity cost to using a new device, subscription, app or other river of information. What we have seen is that people give up:
- Social Interaction
How does the salesperson bring meaning to all interactions with customers?
- Add more facts
- Tell a great story (Selling the Why)
Stories trump facts because stories add content and connect to human emotion. Listeners can feel it. Overloading people with facts causes them to disengage and shut down. Telling meaningful on point stories are powerful.
But, how do you capture, distill and tell great stories? It’s a skill and anyone can do it. It takes practice and discipline, just like everything in the selling process. Great stories are all around you. In an eight page book review of , The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson there are twenty five stories. The stories make the article come alive and allow us to attach human emotion to someone that we never, ever would (or will) meet.
- Capture it. Save it for the right time
- Distill it down. Take everything out that isn’t absolutely critical.
- Tell the story, and practice it.
There are four kinds of stories that you can tell. They become arrows in your quiver. You save them for the right place at the right time to use in front of customers. They are:
- Success Story
- Failure Story
- Fun Story
- Legends Story
There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of story. Be strategic about when you use them.
Success-Aspirational, motivational. But, if you overuse them it will feel arrogant or egotistical.
Failure-A story about failure can be packed with lessons learned. Adds humility to your persona. But, tell too many and you damage your credibility. If you tell a fail story when people are down in the dumps, it takes them down even further.
Fun-Lighten the mood. Lowers intensity. Great steam relief valve. Too many in a row and you will become entertainment. You are selling you aren’t auditioning for a role in Second City.
Legends-Powerful stories that encompass parts of all stories. There are a lot of moving parts to Legends stories. They take time. You are asking the person listening to pay attention, so they have to be ready to come on the journey with you.
If you doubt that great stories can win over facts, just look at the story lines in the last election. All the fact checking on both sides didn’t matter one iota. When I speak with Clinton supporters, I always ask them, “What was her campaign slogan?” So far, not one of her supporters could tell it to me. When I ask the same people, “What was Trump’s campaign slogan?”. They can recite it word for word.
Great story tellers know how to sell the why. They know that if they can tap into human emotion, they have a better chance at influencing, and winning.