Instead of pushing your message out to your prospects in hopes that they’ll latch on, sellers can make their message magnetic and practice better selling through storytelling.
John Livesay is known as the “pitch whisperer” because he helps people become compelling storytellers. Plato said stories rule the world, and it’s still true, except 2,600 years later, we have many distractions that he didn’t have.
Push and pull
Pushing your message out to sell a product or service just doesn’t work anymore. The new technique is to pull people in with great stories. John’s work as a storyteller began at an ad agency where he was tasked with creating 30-second commercials for movies. He discovered the need to tell a concise story that made people want to see the movie.
During a stint in Silicon Valley, he competed against IBM and other massive companies to sell technical products. He realized that if you confuse people, they say no. But you can pull people in by telling the story of what the technology does.
His work culminated in a career selling ads for Conde Nast magazine, where he had to bring to life the vision of a particular brand to a particular advertiser so they could see why their brand would resonate with the stories being told in the magazine.
Self-esteem roller coaster
John points to the fact that sellers tend to feel good about themselves only when their numbers are up. When they’re down, self-esteem suffers.
He recognized his sense that he had to constantly push information out, which was exhausting. Even worse, if you’re pushing and trying without getting anything in return, you end up feeling bad about the whole process.
The glow of PowerPoint has replaced the glow of campfires, and we often sit in meetings where someone reads to us from a slide. Don’t do that. Nobody wants to be read to. John suggests using a series of images from which you can tell a story.
Stories work because of our right-brain, left-brain way of processing information. If you’re buying a car, when the seller shares how many miles-per-gallon it gets, you cross your arms and prepare to negotiate on price. But if you say, “Donald, let me tell you a story of someone like you who bought this car and how it changed his life,” you’ll pull the buyer into the story.
People buy emotionally and then back their decision up with logic.
Sellers who deal in Ferraris don’t talk about miles-per-gallon. They sell the emotion of driving a sexy car. People buy emotionally, and storytelling is the best way to tap into people’s emotions.
If you tug at people’s heartstrings, they open their purse strings.
John recently worked with Honeywell on the sales of technical products that keep the air clean inside operating rooms. The team talked a lot about the technology and the specifications and how it was better than what the competition had to offer.
The real story is what happens if the air isn’t clean in the operating room. The patient gets an infection and has to be readmitted for additional surgeries.
Just about every seller has a case study or testimonial of some sort that can form the basis of a good story.
Paint a picture
Some sellers use before-and-after pictures to sell their product or service, accompanied by a bunch of facts. There’s no emotion or story.
A good story has exposition and it paints a picture of the work you did with a previous client. It marries the who, what, when, where, and why of a client with the problem you were solving. It demonstrates how much better life is for your client after he works with you.
But you are never the hero in the story. Tell your story so that the client can see himself in your story. It will make your closing very different because the client will want to take that journey with you.
Tell a story with specifics, and be sure to include the drama that happened along the way.
Most sellers make the mistake of having too many words in their PowerPoint presentations and failing to think about what their opening will be. Thanking them for the opportunity to be there isn’t memorable because everyone does it. The fact that you’re excited isn’t what excites your clients.
Whether you’re pitching to fund a startup, to get hired, or to tell people why they want to work with you, use an opening that pulls people in. It’s the most important part of any presentation.
Sellers often rely on ploys like presenting last in hopes that their presentation will be the most memorable, but the best story is going to get the sale. It doesn’t matter what order you present in.
Sell yourself first, then sell your company, and then sell your product or service. Most people skip the first two. Tell a story about yourself, then about the company and its culture, and then how you help other people.
Elements of a story
Don’t just tell the story of how you solved a problem for a client. Paint a picture of the resolution and what the client’s life looks like now.
John recounted a client who was dropped into the Amazon jungle when he was 18 to survive for two weeks as a rite of passage. The entrepreneur shared the story of how his lessons in the Amazon jungle translated into the concrete jungle of entrepreneurship, and he got the funding he was looking for. His investors figured if he could survive in the Amazon, he’ll figure out how to survive here.
Make yourself memorable and connect emotionally with your prospects. It gives you a tool in your toolbox that you don’t normally have.
Anytime you’re starting out with this concept, ask yourself these questions:
- How am I going to sell myself? Why did I take this job?
- What’s the company story of origin?
- What case study can I develop into a story that people will see themselves in?
Arthur Ash, tennis pro, said the key to success is confidence, and the key to confidence is preparation.
“Better Selling Through Storytelling” episode resources
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