Many years ago, as my colleague Marta and I sat down to a large Christmas Eve buffet brunch, a senior couple —they had to be over 90 years old—marched in wearing red Santa hats with bells ringing in the tips. They were adorable. They sat down next to us, each of them with ear-to-ear grins. I couldn’t help myself, so I leaned over and asked, “What’s the secret to a happy marriage?”
The husband turned towards me and said, “You know, I first met Helen out of the Navy. You may not know it now,” sitting taller, “but I was a handsome fellow back then. Helen kept pestering me to get married. I kept telling her, ‘I need to think about it.’
“That’s when she said, ‘You’ll never know how good it can be until you do it. Why not think about it while we’re married?’
“And so, I did. 67 years later, I’m still thinking about it!” They both giggled. They giggled their way through their ham, eggs, and cheesecake—happy and in love, all those years later.
Our brains love stories, but our hearts cherish them even more.
For years when I sold a B2C product, I told this story to couples who, at the moment of truth, just couldn’t make a decision. It almost always pushed them over the edge.
New research confirms that hearing the right stories at the right time cause the brain to release oxytocin, the neurochemical responsible for empathy. Oxytocin, dubbed the “Moral Molecule,” by neuroeconomist Paul Zak, makes people more trustworthy, generous, charitable, and compassionate! Even if your prospect is interested in the facts of your offering, he won’t be inspired to act without his emotions leading the charge. Your customer may think your solution is right in his head, but he’ll only take action when it feels right in his heart.
The problem is most salespeople don’t know how to tell stories or what I call the Art of Story Selling.
Strategize Your Stories
Many salespeople share how others have used their product, but they fail to think about why they’re telling the story or how it will benefit the customer and the sales process. Before telling any story, ask yourself these questions:
- Why am I telling this story?
- What’s the intended impact?
- Does it serve a purpose?
- Is there a link to my customer’s emotional motivator? Does it solve a problem or overcome an objection, or simply drone on about me and my company?
- Is it structured in a way to hold the customer’s attention?
- What’s the punch line, and is that punch line memorable?
Five Rules of a Compelling Story
#1: The Story Must Serve a Purpose.
Quite simply, ask yourself, “Why am I telling this story? What impact do I want it to have on my audience?” A story must serve one of the following purposes:
- Hit an emotional buying motive – You’ve heard that emotions sell and stories sell? There are 7 key motivators that drive all decision making.
- Solve a customer’s potential problem – Careful not to craft too wide a net. Does your story or brand message solve a specific motivator or is it vague? Your story must solve your customer’s specific issues.
- Overcome an objection – You know what the best way is to answer an objection? Overcome it before the customer brings it up. It’s your job as a sales professional to bring up objections and overcome them through stories of how like-minded customers overcame the exact same challenge.
- Enhance Company Credibility – Do this through stories of other satisfied customers, AND be specific. There’s a line about journalists worth repeating: the good ones don’t just report that there was a dog in the street—they get the name of the dog.
#2: The Story Must Be Based On Truth.
Only when you share examples of real people and real experiences will your stories resonate as authentic. It’s important when telling a story that you relive it as you tell it. Put yourself in the moment that the event occurred.
#3: The Story Must Be Relevant.
Don’t tell your CEO customer from New York City that he reminds you of Bernie Hansen, a farmer from Nebraska. Stories only resonate with customers if they can hear them and think, “Me too! I’m just like so and so—obviously I would have the same good experience.”
#4: The Story Shouldn’t Be About You.
Look, you’re supposed to use and love your product. You’re selling it. Effective stories are endorsements from other customers who’ve received emotional or financial value from your product.
#5: The Story Must Be Specific.
Have you ever noticed that the more specific a story or claim is, the more credible it sounds?
Just as specific praise for accomplishment is more effective than a generalization, stories with specifics are more powerful. Attorneys, advertisers, and top salespeople know that specificity engenders believability. For example, which testimonial seems more credible?
“Our power dialer is the best in the world for creating customer contacts.”
“By using qualified leads upfront and calling more selectively, the power dialer we sell typically increases conversion rate by over 35%.”
Stories aren’t just a list of events and happenings, they take on the meaning that we give them, they humanize and unite us. Stories help us understand the world around us.
Events in and of themselves don’t have meaning; rather they take on the meaning we give them. Make your stories credible, authentic, compelling, and heartfelt, and you’ll not only sell more, you’ll have a better time doing it.
To book a Story Selling workshop for your team inquire here.
How interesting. I am retired now but, twenty years ago, I was teaching my sales people third party stories. We had a story for every situation. Every objection that could possibly come up was handled in advance with one of the stories. They earned me the reputation of being one of the best sales manager/trainers in Europe.
Will you be passing through Oralndo in the coming months, I would like to meet with you if you are in town.
Thank you for your note, John. While my Fall bookings do not include Orlando, I’d love to chat with you for a few minutes. I’ll have my assistant reach out to you.
That is fabulous, David! Thank you for sharing.