In my last post, I talked about the storytelling glue and how we all naturally give meaning to things that are relevant to us in order to help us remember what to somebody else might be an entirely disparate dump of information. In business there are lots of ways people try to make their messages stick, but most salespeople don’t think of it as telling a story.
Here are a few examples:
Customer Story: This is usually framed as customer case study, and it’s used a lot. It’s just a story, though. A story of how a customer overcame some challenges and achieved something good with you or your company’s help.
Scenario: Often a customer’s challenge and the way your product or service can help overcome that challenge is framed in a scenario. Sometimes when customers want a demo of your product, they actually ask you to show how your product or service can help in a particular scenario. Scenario comes from the word scene. A scene is found in a film, play or story. This is just another story.
Analogy:Without planning or thinking about it, good communicators can make complex concepts simple by likening the unknown to the known. Something their customer has never experienced can become something everyone understands and most likely has experienced.
The workflow in the software breaks the tasks down so that everyone in your production unit always adopts the same optimized approach. It’s like painting by numbers.
Painting by numbers is perhaps more useful that all the stuff about workflow and optimization. As a child, many of us might have painted by numbers, and actually painted something that looked pretty good – as if someone really skilled did it. Painting by numbers made us produce something really good. It felt good too! That sounds like something I would want in my production unit.
Insight: The world has gone crazy for insight – look at your linkedIN feed and you will see ‘3 things for this’, ‘65% of people do that’, ‘80% of businesses fail for this reason’ and so on. But the really valuable insight comes when a fact or snippet of information is delivered and then linked to your business, to your life. Bringing meaning and relevance to the information. When an author does that, they surround the factoid with a story linked to your business that gives you a reason to care. Another story.
The most powerful stories are those that people take over, and start telling themselves. They create their own version of it. When people paint their own picture inside their heads, it becomes theirs. It becomes their own idea, which you might think they just stole from you – outrage! But that stolen idea that they think is their own is the one that will cause them to take action. Congratulations – your story worked.
Think of the last house you bought or flat you rented. Did someone sell it to you or did you tell yourself a story of how you and your friends and family would use the space? Where your stuff would go. What it would be like to step out the door and walk around the neighborhood. Where your lovely pictures would hang, the great times you could have in that kitchen. Chances are, YOU told yourself that story.
Maybe it’s step too far for business people to describe themselves as storytellers. Alfred Hitchcock, Fredrick Forsyth and Enid Blyton – they’re storytellers. And it’s easy to associate a story with children’s bedtimes, fiction books, or going to the movies. Nevertheless, every successful sale, or movement, or victory that needed somebody to take action had a story in there somewhere. A story is what motivated them.
When was the last time you heard Richard Branson talk about of pile of benefits? Or Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet or Elon Musk? These are some of the greatest business/sales people who ever lived. They influence you and me and millions of others by telling stories.
As a young salesman, I was taught to sell the value – show the benefits – start with the return on investment. It took me years of boring people with data to finally discover that customers don’t want information – they want a story with meaning to grab onto and make their own.
Maybe you already do it. Next time you want to communicate an idea, some facts about your company, or information about your product, identify the key points in advance and wrap a story round them. Use analogies, talk about how people felt after they achieved something good. Describe someone’s personal experience. Use example scenarios. Of course, don’t announce that you’re about to tell a story – just do it. Nobody will notice, they’ll just like you for it. That’s the point: you’re a businessperson not a storyteller.
You’ll make life more fun for your audience even if that’s just one person. You personally will be liked and remembered. More importantly, your key ingredients – your message – will be more likely to be remembered. And maybe your chances of influencing someone might just improve.