“Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger.” - Ben Okri
The enjoyment of telling and hearing stories is ingrained in all of us. It’s what we do when we get into the office first thing in the morning (“You won’t believe what happened to me on the train … ”) or when we finally get the whole family together during the holidays (“Uncle Scott has no idea how to drive. We got lost three times!”).
While it might be obvious that we love stories just from observation, science also backs up this fact. Studies have shown that when we listen to or read a story, our brains act as if we are living it, not reading it. We get caught up in the moment, and experience exactly what the characters we’re reading about are experiencing.
So if you’re in sales, how do you use this information to convert more leads into customers? The first step on the path to a closed deal is helping the prospect write their own story.
Here are the three easy steps to start using the power of stories in your sales process.
1) Create a narrative.
A study from Jeremy Hsu found that humans actually think in narrative form all day long. We make up our own stories, activating the insula in our brains, as a way to relate to what’s happening around us.
A narrative is the backbone of any story. Whether you’re spinning a yarn about product, your customer, or something else entirely, you have to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Two key points to focus on:
Use cause and effect.
Our brains naturally work in cause and effect moments, so shape your story accordingly. “Business X was failing. But after they introduced our product, revenue increased by over 150%.” “VP Y wanted to get a promotion to CEO. After she implemented our strategy, she got the job -- in half the time she expected it to take.”
Put the prospect into the story.
As we pointed out earlier, when we hear or read a story about someone else, we think of it as if it is happening to us. So when you’re relaying a case study, actually put the prospect in front of you into the protagonist’s shoes. When you hit the high and low points in your narrative, prompt the customer to visualize themselves experiencing these feelings. One way to achieve this is to say, “Imagine you were in this situation … ”
2) Stick to the narrative.
There’s nothing worse than leaving a movie with unanswered questions about the plot, right? Like, how did that person come back to life? Or how did they move so quickly from place to place?
Turns out, the reason plot holes bother us so much is rooted in neuroscience. Our brains like simple. We don’t want to work to try to figure something out; instead, we would rather just follow along with a clear story.
Keeping the narrative the same throughout a sales presentation is critical. This allows you to paint a clear picture, which helps the brain process the information. If a prospect has to continually ask “Wait, what?” your story will lose its effectiveness.
Remember to keep it simple by embracing the following tactics:
Write it down.
There’s nothing wrong with having a few notes by your side to keep you on track during a demonstration or presentation.
Sales reps are great at reviewing their calls and analyzing what went wrong, and what went right. Apply the same mentality and critical eye to your presentations and stories.
Phone a friend.
Ask teammates to listen to your calls and give you feedback. Constructive criticism about where your presentation or messaging could be improved is invaluable.
3) Keep the story alive.
Obviously, prospects don’t have time to hop on the phone every single day for 30 minutes to hear each and every customer success story you’ve got. But that doesn’t mean the message has to die when the story ends.
The easiest way to keep the story going is:
Send the occasional email.
Including a piece of content you’ve created or a case study on one of your customers can go a long way. This way, your message lives on well after your call has ended.
In addition, ask a prospect about their story. How are they going to get to the top of whatever mountain they have their eye on? Just as much as people love hearing stories, they love telling them, too. Let them talk about their goals, dreams, and struggles. Listen intently, and then use that story down the road. And if you spot a place for your product in the narrative? Work with your customer to write it in.
Stories in sales are cyclical. A good story can lead to a customer, but a good customer can also lead to a good story. Approach each and every prospect with the intention of making them a hero in the narrative of their lives, and the sales will roll in.