The following post is courtesy of Diane Harrison who is principal and owner of Panegyric Marketing, a strategic marketing communications firm founded in 2002 specializing in alternative assets.
December is a time for retrospection, introspection, and connection. Family and friends gather to share their favorite memories while making new ones together. People respond to storytelling in ways that other communication channels can’t match. Indeed, the Hallmark Channel has made a virtual industry of this season, creating reams of holiday-themed movies, based loosely on 3-4 main feel-good tales, which are wildly popular across America and all age groups.
Why is storytelling important if you are a business looking back at your success, or lack of, in sales in 2019? Because there are tips to take from the art of storytelling that can increase these sales figures in 2020, if one is willing to take note.
Years ago, the Harvard Business Review ran a piece, The Irresistible Power of Storytelling as a Strategic Business Tool, which really captures the benefits of being able to tell a tale. As the author, Harrison Monarth, so aptly put it: ‘A story can go where quantitative analysis is denied admission: our hearts. Data can persuade people, but it doesn’t inspire them to act; to do that, you need to wrap your vision in a story that fires the imagination and stirs the soul.’
Monarth points out that there is an art to telling a good story. Stories need to evoke emotion to stick in the minds of the listeners. Indeed, while there is an unlimited range of topics from which to choose a story to tell, the construction of a good story invariably takes shape within a familiar framework, shown here in what is called Freytag’s Pyramid.
This classic progression of storytelling dates back to the days of Aristotle, and was used by master storytellers, from Shakespeare in his plays to Budweiser in their award-busting Super Bowl commercials, because it works. Let’s examine how this might be useful to the sales process in financial markets.
DON’T SELL IT, TELL IT
Too often, business sales literature and presentations are a litany of product or service features and advantages that extol how advanced or superior something is. They list descriptions and show graphs or charts of how much better their offering is versus the rest of the competition, and close with who to call to get more information. Far less often does the sales piece address the question uppermost in a prospect’s mind, which is, ‘Why should I care?’ Effective sales pieces illustrate, through examples, case studies, or a well-told story how the product or service actually identified a client need, addressed its challenge, and ultimately resolved or improved the situation.
The key is in understanding the motivation of the buyer—it’s NOT what you sell, it’s what they want. Convincing them that you understand their needs, because you do, puts you on the same side of the table as the buyer, working toward a solution to their need. Pushing something at someone only results in resistance. Solving problems leads to collaboration.
Returning to the example of Freytag’s Pyramid, a successful sales story roadmap would include: 1) Exposition— what is the client need/want?, 2) Complication— why/how this is causing concern or a problem?, 3) Climax—what can address this need/want to help solve it?, 4) Reversal—how the implementation of this solution can alleviate/resolve the client issue, and 5) Denouement— the outcome of satisfaction/success.
Storytelling allows you to describe the benefit or value you want the buyer to accept without just asking them to believe you. People are naturally resistant to change of all kinds. It’s easier to keep to existing behaviors than to adopt new ways even when a current situation is not ideal. If you can bring a problem or issue to life by describing how the situation can be resolved for the better, this helps a prospect overcome the ‘why should I change?’ hurdle more easily.
TIMING MATTERS TOO
Know when to use a story. It can help you bring data to life in a more engaging way for listeners who aren’t stimulated by boring facts and figures. It can help to make key statements more memorable for prospects, and therefore help your presentation have greater impact. It can bring to life an otherwise dry concept by showing its real-life application and ability to work change for someone.
Another interesting article written by SBI, a management consulting firm specializing in sales and marketing, ‘Why Good Storytelling Beats Good Selling,’ offers additional insights into just how telling a compelling story can enhance the sales process and influence potential buyers. ‘When we listen to a standard presentation or boring lecture, the Broca’s area of the brain is stimulated. This area deals with language and logic. In contrast, when we are told a story with rich meaning and visual cues, things change dramatically. Both the right and left sides are activated. The right side (creative side) is engaged and stimulated. Stories grip us and help us experience emotions.’
Coffee’s for closers only. – Alec Baldwin as Blake in Glengarry Glen Ross, 1992
There’s one more point to note about being better at sales, and that’s to know when to move on. If your sales process is more effective, not only will you see an uptick in closed deals, but you should see a faster progression from the death knells of selling, which is the client stuck in ‘Maybeland,’ to a positive or negative reaction to your offering. Learn to get comfortable with a ‘no.’ It may seem counterintuitive, but more yeses will come if you get to the nos faster. Time is a precious commodity all around, and wasting time on sales prospects that are very unlikely or not going to happen only detracts from the potential yeses that are out there waiting to be convinced.