We have often heard that you have to know your numbers to be effective as a salesperson. You should do your research on the prospect and have all the figures and stats at your fingertips. However, this alone might not be enough to close the deal because there is something more important than just data. And that is the power of a narrative. As salespeople, you can increase your effectiveness by packaging available data into a familiar story narrative for selling.
One reason that storytelling is an important skill for salespeople has to do with our childhood. Remember how we loved sitting with adults, and wait for them to tell us stories? For centuries, storytelling has been an important ritual of growing up for generations. It is where most of us learned about life, morals, having fun, etc. Whether it was an impossible fairy-tale that held us wondrous or stories of courage and bravery that inspired us, storytelling first introduced us to the imagination.
Storytelling is one of the best ways to establish an emotional connection with listeners. Stories inherently appeal to our younger selves and evoke positive feelings in those who listen. Sales training in India usually overlooks this important skill in sales. You might ask, what is the relevance of storytelling to the serious business of sales and selling?
We all understand the importance of presenting facts logically to the prospect. Each prospect has his own decision-making process which he will use to evaluate your offering and come to a decision on whether to buy or not. This decision-making process is driven by rational thoughts, but not entirely. People, in general, are more receptive to anecdotes and stories rather than with rational data.
This is because right from our childhood we learn the language and thought through listening, and replicate from the conversations that happen around us. This is why for centuries knowledge was passed on from generation to generation orally. We mentally think in terms of concepts (not logically), and we are more amenable to information we receive through stories. This narrative network subconsciously triggers attention from the listeners.
When listening to a story, it triggers our emotional response centers, engaging us by making us link our own lives or business to the story being shared.
This does not mean that salespeople should randomly start sharing stories. If we really want to connect with our customers, we must share stories that can resonate with them or their business. Another important factor is that we are naturally drawn to stories that are relevant not only to us but to members of our social group. You must have noticed how we tend to remember something better if it is relevant to our team members. When someone genuinely thinks that a story is worth retelling, they respond with increased interest and with greater memory.
This is a crucial aspect of sales training that is not given enough importance. Especially in India, there can be too much emphasis on other skills. But we firmly believe in leveraging storytelling in sales training. Here are three main reasons why you must develop your storytelling skills if you want to up your sales game:
1. Stories help build genuine relationships
Storytelling is a great way to build and maintain trust. We tend to intrinsically trust people we know (unless they have given us a reason not to). We are more likely to not trust people we do not know. So how do you make a prospect decide that they know you personally?
When you tell a story, it reveals a highly personal view of your life. When you hear someone share their story, it establishes a connection between you. This is because you think you know some of their stories, so you know something personal about them. This is actually the difference between a resume and an interview. With a resume, they have access to all your facts, but until they personally speak to you and you share your experience, there cannot be an emotional connect.
2. Storytelling directly addresses the decision-making centers in the brain
Sales training in India seems to overlook this fact. Our understanding of cognitive science tells us that though we may think we are very rational, it is not often true. We arrive at decisions, sometimes subconsciously, through emotional, and oftentimes irrational triggers. We, later on, rationalize the decision as something else entirely. This is true for all of us, and understanding this is crucial to a salesperson.
So when you are trying to influence a prospect’s decision to buy, your role should not be limited to providing data. Speak to them emotionally, so they are persuaded to see you not just as a salesperson but as someone they trust. The easiest way to achieve this is through stories.
3. Stories help the prospect remember you, your ideas and your product
Research unequivocally shows that facts are far easier to remember when they are delivered through stories. When all the data makes a meaningful scene to a listener, they are more likely to remember it as opposed to just sharing dry data.
As a salesperson, you are sharing your ideas and products with a prospect. You can ensure that they are more receptive to the information you are sharing with stories that are relevant to them personally or to members in their social group. If you use a story to present your ideas and facts that is relevant to them, they are more receptive to what you are saying. Stories build an emotional connect with the listener, which increases your chances of persuading the prospect.
What is a Story?
Most people are sure of themselves as storytellers. This is not surprising since most of us think in terms of stories, and hence are very confident about our storytelling abilities. However, there are some pointers for you on how to develop a strong story.
Storytelling in sales should be a completely logical exercise, which means that they have to follow a logical progression. Depending on the context and the situation, the way you tell a story might change (too formal/ too casual), but the structure has to retain its integrity in storytelling. When you start telling a story, each section has to come from the section before. Every sentence should lead into the next sentence seamlessly. Only then will you be able to tie in your product/ solution into the story, which is the ultimate goal. When there is a smooth flow from the first line of your story to the end where you position your product as a solution, there is greater receptivity and acceptance of your ideas.
The skill of storytelling is crucial for a salesperson and can elevate him to the next level. There is tonnes of information available to everyone in the world today, but a great salesperson will be able to convert this data into stories that resonate with prospects. He should use a conventional story structure to underlie the information in a pitch. When a pitch lacks this unifying narrative, the ideas seem all over the place and will confuse the audience. The bottom line is that data makes the solution legitimate, but the story is necessary to promote the solution.
Here are a few things you can include in your story to make it more effective at sales:
– How different types of customers have leveraged your solution
– How another customer of yours has faced a situation similar to the prospect and how your solution helped
– How a customer faced a problem that seemed impossible at first and how you helped
– Can you highlight results you have produced for another client of similar size
– The show, don’t tell, the future for your prospect if he ties up with you