Small Business

From Tales to Sales


My children remind me of prospective customers. My little ones often say "tell me a story," but they have never said "tell me some facts." Likewise, when potential customers meet you for the first time, they want to hear a story or two about how you helped other customers just like them achieve amazing results. Unfortunately, some salespeople forget this and just start spewing facts like model numbers, capacities, and prices.

Don't get me wrong: The facts do matter. However, selling with facts alone is weak. Selling with stories that are supported by facts is a powerful combination that can send you to the front of the line when it's time for clients to make their buying decisions.

I got to thinking about the power of selling with stories after I met a gentleman in an airport who was bragging about his adult son. He told me, "My son is so smart. There was a company that tried to figure out a particular process for two years, and they just couldn't get it to work. Then they hired my son, and he solved it in three months." Wow -- that's a powerful story. In just a few sentences, it had all the components of a good Hollywood blockbuster: a setting, problem, struggle, and resolution.

SALES PACKAGING. Even though the story is brief, he sprinkled in some facts. He mentioned the size of the problem -- a two-year struggle. He told me the result -- the process was solved. He also made the son a star, which was the point of the story.

Let's say you sell manufacturing equipment. You could describe it in terms of its "feeds and speeds." Alternatively, you could tell prospective clients about a customer of yours that had another brand of equipment and replaced it with one of your machines six months ago. Now she has 15% more international customers placing orders that are 20% larger at profit margins that are 8% higher. Now that's a story!

No matter whether you sell products, services, or ideas, using stories can help you sell more. Here are some of the benefits:

Stories are believable. Potential customers are more likely to believe specific stories about the results other customers have experienced than a salesperson assuring them that the product is "blazingly fast and super-reliable" or that their service is "the best."

Stories are memorable. Customers may remember a story about your offering long after they've forgotten the exact name of the product. They're more likely to say, "I want to take the cruise that stops at that little island where Pierce Brosnan has a home" than "I want the Caribbean Moonlight cruise."

Stories are visual. By putting your product or service into action in the customer's mind, they can see how your offering would work in their situation. It's like you're a Hollywood producer and are creating a movie just for them.

Stories compress time. It's often faster to explain how your offering saved other clients time, money, or heartache than to describe the facts of your actual wares. That was true in this father's story too. He didn't start out by telling me his son's educational degrees or his IQ score.

Stories are portable -- that is, they can be easily passed from person to person. This is important, because if your customers have to explain to their bosses why they want to buy from you, they can retell the stories that you told them. This underscores the significance of crafting good selling stories and rehearsing them so you tell them well.

Stories can be used to get a customer's attention. Your customers are busy thinking about other things all day long. When you begin your sales pitch, a story can break through this mental clutter, and make sure your idea is heard and understood, so you can move on to the meat of your sales presentation.

Stories can be used to secure an appointment. When I encountered customers who were hesitant to meet, I told them, "I had a client once who didn't think they needed sales training, so we just sat down to do a free sales checkup. We got the whole sales team around the table, and I asked who sells to which clients. One rep covered all the customers from A to F, one from G to M, and one from O to T -- whoops!"

I continued, "We discovered no one was calling on all the clients who started with N. In that small amount of time, we helped that client increase sales by at least 4%. Maybe we can find a way to help your sales during your free sales checkup, too."

Stories can be used to close the sale. When it's time for the customer to sign the purchase order, a story about other happy customers -- or how your offering will make their life so much better -- can push them over the edge, and get their John Hancock on the dotted line.

Stories can even add value. In the world of antiques, this is called provenance. A belt is just something to hold your pants up until it's "the belt Johnny Depp wore in his latest movie." Now it's worth a lot more money because of the story behind the belt.

GET TO THE POINT. Want to add more stories to your sales presentation? First, make a list of the points you want to make. Then brainstorm for stories you could tell that would make your points for you.

Make your stories short and punchy. Hone them by writing out the main points, then tell them to a co-worker or two and watch for feedback. Keep refining them to make them shorter and stronger.

In Texas, we say, "It ain't bragging if it's true." The proud papa in the airport really wasn't bragging -- and you won't be either if you tell more stories about how your offering has benefited other customers. As a result, you'll write more and larger sales orders. Happy selling!


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