How to Tell a Great Story in Sales

March 18, 2015 | Ann Lambert
How to Tell a Great Story in Sales

“You can have a great story, but you must make it apparently obvious.” These were the words of Corporate Visions Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer, Tim Riesterer, as he addressed our company at a recent meeting.

He started with a story of man named Morton Grodzins, whose research and publications were the basis for Malcom Gladwell’s Tipping Point. Never heard of Grodzins? His point exactly. Gladwell, on the other hand, is renowned for a work that was quite literally his tipping point into literary fame, partly because he told a better story than another man.

As Riesterer puts it: “When all things are equal, a great story – told great – will win.”

How to Tell a Great Story in Sales

This is usually true for B2B sales as well. The question is, with so many companies and brands competing for the same business, how can you make sure that YOUR TEAM tells the better story that wins the deal? How can you make your story the one that sticks?

According to Riesterer, here’s what salespeople currently do wrong, what they need to be doing, and why.

What Reps Do Wrong

“We we we we we.” Regardless of the company or the topic, it is an unfortunately widespread habit to open every presentation with information about ourselves. Our company. Our product. Our customers’ logos. The idea is that emphasizing these points at the beginning will highlight the things that differentiate us, but it often does just the opposite – because competitors are telling the same audience the exact same things.

The customer shows up expecting the focus to be on them. They live in their story and, rather than catering to that, this opening strategy effectively shuts them down for the remainder of the presentation by failing to engage them right off the bat.

Then, somewhere in the middle, you present the meat of your presentation. The stuff that everyone wanted to hear in the first place. (Notice how little I write about that; because at this point in the presentation, that’s how much attention it has gotten from the people that matter).

Finally, at the end of every presentation, when the customer has tuned back in to hear something substantial, you open it up for Q&A— or as Riesterer explains, a landmine of inquiries about your price, specs, and other minutia that would be less of a focus had you engaged them throughout with the challenges they have and the opportunities that you provide.

What Reps Need to Do Right

Riesterer notes that an audience retains 70% of what reps say at the beginning of a presentation, 20% of what they say in the middle, and 100% of the closing comments. Due to the primacy and recency effects, it only makes sense that presenters need to make the most of that time in the beginning and at the end of a presentation. 

So, here’s a new model: Open hot. Tell the customer something they don’t know. Then, throughout the middle of the presentation, attempt to grab and re-grab their attention with varied interaction and engagement. Finally, close hot as well. Give the audience something that allows them to leave the room smarter than when they came in. So when they run into someone five minutes later who asks about how their meeting went, they have a powerful story that stuck with them that they can pass along.

As Riesterer explains, a great story is one that you can give to someone, and that they can then give to someone else.

The best story is often the one the customer didn’t see coming

The idea is to deliver a story that addresses an unconsidered need and creates a sense of urgency. When reps resolve needs that the customer already knows about, the pain of change (read: buying the product) may seem worse than sticking with the status quo.

But if they haven’t yet thought of this challenge, opportunity, or need that we have uncovered, then salespeople become invaluable. The status quo suddenly feels unsafe, making them care more about your strengths, your story, and your solution.

“Don’t be Grodzins. Be Gladwell,” Riesterer implored. “Take an inherently great story. Make it apparently obvious. Make people want to take their status quo, do something different, and do it with you.”

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