I challenge you to tell a story in the opening of your sales call. It’s the number one persuasion method and attention-getter. Stories allow us to connect emotionally and intellectually. They earn likeability which creates trust and credibility.
They’ll allow you to sow the seeds of ideas in the minds of your customers. They’re also a very powerful way to get your listener to take action. However, if you’re like most people, and this is not your usual process for a sales call, you worry about making a change and impacting your business. At first, it will probably seem awkward and you’ll worry about how to start. But, as you practice and use these skills, you’ll become proficient and see the tremendous rewards stories generate. They’ll turn you’re your meeting from a pitch into a conversation. So, here’s a few tips to get you started.
A “Who I Am” or “Who We Are As A Company” stories can get you started as they’re among the easiest and you have the most resources on those types of stories. Your story should not be a feature or advantage dump pretending to be a story but a real story. Customers can smell a sales pitch a mile away. If it sounds like a sales pitch or something too fantastic to be real, then they won’t believe it. So, tell a real story about you, your company, or a happy customer. You want to demonstrate authenticity and build trust. You can use emotional and colorful words that add depth to the story to maintain interest but don’t tell untruths as they will probably lose that customer.
Ensure your story has a goal such as how you helped a friend, family member, or customer escape a terrible situation or such as how you sold the right insurance policy and protected someone from a great loss in a hurricane. You may want to tell how you stopped something from happening such as how you worked with a customer and saved him from losing his business.
A story that contains a universal truth or connects with a personal or professional interest will allow them to empathize. Your story may be about how you overcame a challenge or barrier to achieve something big such as my story about being a single mom and part time college student who worked three jobs and eventually became a global manager for a Fortune 500 company. Can you share something from your childhood, college days or early career? It doesn’t have to be an ”I’m a hero story”. It can be about a mistake you made, what you learned, and how you changed.
What is it that your company consistently delivers? Do you have a story that provides an example? I noticed that Chrysler is now telling the story of the Dodge brothers and how they were leading edge and how Dodge continues to include leading edge technology. Toyota is including stories of adventure in its commercials. UPS tells stories of their logistics expertise to get your package there on time. Disney tells many stories of making our dreams come true. Tell your company story.
Create a vision with emotional words and a bit of suspense. By telling the barriers or challenges with emotional words, the listener will virtually join you in the story and want the hero of your story to win. Regardless of your country or culture, stories that include values such as: loyalty, honesty, respect, trustworthiness, ethical conduct, and fairness are a huge success.
Remember to keep it simple. If the listener gets too much information, it won’t be easy to understand. So start with just 2 to 3 minutes. That makes your story just 300 to 450 words as the typical speaking rate is about 150 words per minute.
Opening Your Story
To get their attention, your story must contain useful information. Your prospects don’t have time for chatty stories like those told at cocktail parties or around the water cooler that are going nowhere. Therefore, openings are the most challenging to those new to selling with stories. Depending upon where you are in the sales cycle and the purpose of your story, you will use different openings. It’s better to dive in than to say, “Let me tell you a story.” Start with something like, “That reminds me of a situation …” or, “Before we get started, I want you to know a little about who I am and why I believe we should have a conversation to discover if there’s an opportunity for us to do business together.”
I sometimes tell a story about being pulled out a snow drift by a tow truck driver who told me he was a reformed counterfeiter. I could start that story with something like this: “A counterfeiter saved me in a snow storm like the one we’re having today.”
Mysteries make great beginnings. Open with a question and leave it open as long as you can. Another powerful opening is to introduce a main character your listener can relate to and immediately put her in a challenging situation or dilemma. You tell who she is, what she wants, and what barrier stands in the way of her getting it.
In his book Lead with a Story, Paul Smith tells of his experience in Proctor & Gamble with an initial presentation to the CEO for a new project. As Paul tells it, the CEO entered the room and sat below the projection screen facing Paul instead of facing the screen. So Paul had to win support for his project with his story and no PowerPoint backup. He was so afraid he would not make his point and get fired. Everyone can relate to how he felt. Paul found out later the CEO was more interested in his voice and body language to determine how committed he was to the project and its success. Stories like this one are a treasure.
Challenge yourself to give it a try. These tips should give you a start. You’ll be surprised at the positive reaction from your customers and prospects and how much more you will learn if you actively listen to their responses to your stories. We have more information and offer courses on our website.
About the Author: Phyllis Mikolaitis is a sales coach, author and speaker with over 30 years’ global experience. She is dedicated to taking you beyond the typical “how to” courses to the heart of persuasion techniques incorporating insights and stories to win the sale. Visit other posts, courses and our stories on this website to learn more about storytelling and sales skills.