Sales Performance Tip: The Power of Storytelling

This piece is part of our series on modern sales reps, by sales reps.

Who’s heard of Morton Grodzins?

… nobody? That’s what I thought.

Now, who knows the name Malcolm Gladwell? That’s right — you know the name!

What’s the connection between these two men?

Well, Morton Grodzins did an enormous amount of research and wrote a comprehensive paper on “Metropolitan Segregation” – or the more common term: “White Flight.”

sales performance storytelling 1Part of Grodzins’ discovery revolved around when the “White Flight” actually started to happen and he coined a very descriptive term to illustrate: the “Tipping Point.”

Although Grodzins was a very well respected academic, his research and writings on this subject never reached, well…a tipping point.

Forty-three years later, Malcolm Gladwell used Grodzins’ research, obviously furthered it himself and then published The Tipping Point.

Gladwell has been named one of the 100 most influential people by TIME Magazine and now demands upwards of $100,000 for a one-hour keynote speech.

How is it that anyone who’s anyone knows who Malcolm Gladwell is and that Morton Grodzins has been relegated to a bibliographical reference?

Why is it that when we’re at dinner parties trying to impress others with our superior intelligence we quote Gladwell? Yet, the name Morton Grodzins has never rolled off of our silver tongues? (At your next dinner party, feel free to use Grodzins to display your superiority. That’s a freebie on me!)

Since you’ve all read Gladwell, and if anyone has read Grodzins, which would undoubtedly make you an outlier (see what I did there?), you already know.

Malcolm is just as talented as Morton at conducting research, but is so far head and shoulders superior at telling a story from his findings. It’s like asking: “How come no one references MySpace or Friendster when they’re raving about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or SnapChat?”

When you’re speaking to a prospect, do you just vomit features and benefits only to be forgotten like Grodzins, MySpace and Friendster? Or have you developed the skills to weave a story so compelling that the person you’re speaking with has no other option than to escalate you up the organizational chart to executive decision-makers?

Oftentimes, I think a lot folks think that the ability to tell compelling stories is something that an individual is simply born with. Couldn’t be further from the truth!!

Believe me, I used to be the guy who was throwing up on prospects!!!

There are so many resources to help with your selling nausea.

At this point, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Awesome dude… Now if you have any tips to help, please arrive at them.”

Well, I’m no Mark Twain, but here goes.

Master Sales Performance with Superior Storytelling
  1. Start with an irresistible hook.

This is where you grab your audience’s attention with an attention-grabbing quote or question (that’s relevant to their situation, obviously). The caveat here is that you have to know your audience enough to make the hook personal. You should also put your prospect back in their seat, mesmerized, instead of positioning to pounce at your pitch.

In my case, I’m selling sales activity management software to sales leaders — Directors, VPs, CROs, you name it. Here’s an example of a hook I would use for this persona:

“The average tenure of a VP of Sales at a company like yours is less than 24 months. How long have you been with ABC Corp? 18 months?!?! Let me tell you about John Smith over at XYZ, Inc. I worked with him personally when he was in your exact position to bring in our solution. He’s since doubled monthly recurring revenue quarter-over-quarter and cemented some job security!”

  1.   Control the narrative with a compelling storyline.

After you’ve set the scene and stated the problem (along with the opportunity your solution provides), then transition into your crossroad. This is where John Smith became your champion (FRIEND!) and pushed his executive team to procure your solution.

Keep your story sweet and to the point. Wrap it up with the most important message: How you helped Mr. Smith uncover his issue and then guided him down the decision path to realize a new ideal state.

  1.  Conclude with a sense of intrigue.

Don’t just tell stories to hear your own voice, ending them with “and then I found $20!”

(Unless you really did find $20 and it somehow aligns with your value proposition. Then I guess you can say that. On second thought, no.)

Once you’ve driven home how you help people just like your prospect every day, give them some takeaways to think about after your conversation is over. This is a great time to revisit your hook and close by bringing your attention-grabbing quote/question back into the conversation. Resolve any objections that might come up, and review the following questions with your prospect:

  • Is this similar to your situation?
  • What was your main takeaway?
  • Do you feel like you can achieve similar results to John Smith?
  • Do you feel like you can trust me to truly help you?

Once you’ve confirmed the story is relevant (if it isn’t then you need a new story, my friend) and get buy-in that they see they have a similar problem and need a solution, ask them to be your internal champion (your advocate within that company that will introduce your solution to key executives and purchasing decision-makers). The internal champion ultimately gets the credit for bringing the solution to the company, so it’s a prized position to hold.

Finally, have your champion explain the steps that are needed to get a deal done. Then it’s up to you to drive the process that gets you there.

For the sake of your livelihood, you MUST use compelling stories to sell. Prospects in every industry are conducting huge amounts of research prior to engaging salespeople. Once they do engage, don’t be the guy with a bucket of sawdust under your desk rushing to cover up your word vomit. Bring real value by telling a compelling story that prospects will relate to on multiple levels.

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