People love stories, our brains are wired for it.
Good stories hook our senses on different levels — we imagine what’s happening, we put ourselves in the protagonist's shoes, we try to imagine the ending, and we are guided by the storyteller.
How could a statistic ever compete with that?
From the retail sector, luxury and non, to the pharmaceutical sector, companies have been investing in better storytelling because: To sell better is to tell more compelling stories. That’s how people get hooked.
Salespeople are very technical, and they are taught to be. Most in-house sales training teaches the minute facts of a product. Thus, sales representatives become academics about the company’s products inside and out. They have literally read (and sometimes then written) the book about what’s being sold.
Need to buy a watch? The salesperson will perform a beautiful swan dive into the tech specs of the product: the millimeters of the watch face, the metal alloys in the band, the horological history of the mechanisms.
Go to the next shop and a sales rep will sing the same song, different watch.
The customer is bored. He has already heard the spiel. It might have been interesting the first time. It’s definitely not the second. The sale is lost in the bin of immemorial experiences.
Brands know that stories are magical; they have been storytelling for hundreds of years. A famous example? Michelin, the tire company, started a guide about the best restaurants. They stopped talking about tire tread thickness and started telling stories about the wonderful places those tires could take you.
People want to see themselves in the brands that they buy from. They want to align their values with the brands’. Stories are our conduits for emotional exchange, they convey these values.
In order to facilitate human connection, companies have invested in an empathy-based sales approach. Retail divisions have started teaching their sales teams what marketing has known for years: humans connect through stories.
However, despite the industry-move away from the product-first sales pitch, fact-telling still remains the strategy that most sales associates put into practice. Why?
Simply put, talking about the product is where most sales professionals feel comfortable. They know all the facts, more than a client, and it’s easier to talk knowledge than talk emotion.
So how can we help them? How can we give our sales professionals the tools and examples they need to become good storytellers?
It starts with listening.
Listening is just as important as telling.
Before starting your story, ask the customers to share theirs.
Start connections by inviting them to share. If they’re buying a watch as a gift, ask how they met their friend and what they like about them. Or ask for a more striking story, like a time when a watch failed, and what happened.
Sales associates can gather so much information when a prospective customer shares a story. For example, who is the protagonist? How does the client describe him or her? What is the setting? What problem needed to be solved? What saved the day?
With this information, sales representatives can start to craft their own story, relevant to the customer. One that speaks personally. One that avoids the facts they don’t care about, and one that highlights the parts that are interesting. It’s about valuing what's important to the person who is investing their time and money into buying the product or the service.
This isn’t about superficiality.
There is so much space to be authentic, sincere, open, and transparent in a sales approach.
After we listen, we move to telling. Like all skills in life, learning to tell better stories, and thus to create stronger connections, is the result of practice.
Here are some tips:
Center your listener. Who or what are we talking about? Where are we? What’s around us? What can we see? Touch? Smell?
Your objective: to create an interest to enter into the story.
Gucci will take you back to 1966, to Montenapoleone in Milan, and tell you that one day Grace Kelly walked into the shop and received a gift.
Canada Goose puts you directly in the where and what by inviting you to step into their cold rooms: you are the protagonist, and you are now in -27°.
Stories ring true when we see ourselves in them. Providing details and interesting facts can also help your customer to think out of the box: all of a sudden it is not so far from their reality. They, too, can engage with the concepts at play.
In Medicine, this is often shared through patient stories, or even shared success stories from doctors who had to dig deep to find the answers. Product excellence does not stop at its design, or its quantitative impact on the numbers on a patient chart, it is also about the qualitative impact on the patient’s life and their support network.
What you share should be of interest to your listener. The pride in the artisanry and the decisions in the design, or the joy in the gift giving and the magic of caring for someone; different things will inspire different listeners.
Stories can be fun and can leave us wanting more! Does your story have a cliffhanger? Was there a challenge to overcome? Is it hard to source the materials? What incredible ways has the company developed to overcome these challenges? How was the person in the story inspired to find solutions? And what happened?
So much happens behind the scenes, entire organizations work long hours, weeks, months, years, to get to this moment with the customer. And let’s face it, the behind the scenes is always interesting.
Stories have been effective communicators for centuries. Facts remain dry, while stories illuminate our minds, literally. In a sales process, they allow customers to feel what a brand means through pathos (emotion) over logos (logic).
Now, in 2022, stories have an even more potent purpose than before. Having been separated for so long, having the experience of feeling alone, customers are interacting with sales people looking to feel understood. Having been worried about the future, customers are looking for meaningful investments. The interpersonal experience is more central to sales than before, as people are looking for connection.
Integrating your sales strategy with storytelling will humanize you, your brand and all your connections. And it feels good. It feels good to have had a moment of connection and conversation before the day is done.
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