Spotlight, 2016’s Oscar winner for Best Original Screenplay, proved yet again that a good story, well told can pay big dividends. Storytelling can pay big dividends in your sales presentations as well when you follow a few rules. The first rule is critical to the success of your story, and that is being crystal clear why you are telling a story.
Why “the why” is key in your sales story
Stories that are used solely as attention-grabbers and lead nowhere waste time and try the patience of busy prospects. While this may work in everyday conversation, a sales presentation is not an everyday conversation. It is a purposeful, heightened communication and every element, including a story, must be tied to the reason that you are there. Whether that’s to solve a business challenge, explore an opportunity or overcome obstacles to doing business. Should a story also grab attention and entertain? Of course. But you have to start with the why. Many times sellers start with the story and then try to retrofit it to their presentation. You can see why this strategy is doomed to fail.
Do you suppose writers Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy wanted to entertain audiences? Sure. Did they hope to win an Oscar? Of course. But there was a deeper, more compelling reason to tell the story than just grabbing attention and a little gold man. They wanted to explore the rampant scandal in the Catholic Church and subsequent cover-up from the eyes of the reporters tracking the case. This clear focus on purpose made for a compelling story that ended up drawing audiences in by the millions.
If you start with a clear purpose for telling your story, ideas will flow and it will help you craft a story that moves the sale forward.
Here are 5 great reasons to tell a story in your presentation
To challenge a perception or belief:
Say you find yourself in front of a prospect who has been using your competitor’s product for years and believes — incorrectly – that it’s superior to yours. To approach this type of resistance head on is often a losing strategy. Rarely will you hear, “Thank you for correcting me,” when you tell someone they’re wrong. In fact, prospects are more likely to shut down and draw a bigger line in the sand. The right story however can soften a hardened position and open a prospect’s mind to a different perspective.
For example: A personal story about a firmly held belief that you once had and how you discovered it was inaccurate, allows your prospect to re-evaluate and re-form her opinion without feeling like she is having her arm twisted.
To simplify a complex idea:
Many products and services today have complex features or processes. If your product sounds too complicated prospects may get overwhelmed and tune out. Using a story in this situation — particularly a metaphor or analogy — is an effective way to make what your product or service does quickly understandable to your prospect.
Here’s an example: Assume that you sell a solution which allows your prospect to operate many of her business processes remotely. Comparing what your product does to the instrument panel on an airplane that allows the plane to safely go from point A to point B without manual input gives your prospect something familiar to associate your solution with.Much like a good infographic, the right analogy can give your prospect a quick mental picture and help her grasp a more complex concept.
To address an objection:
Sales conversations and presentations aren’t always a smooth ride and part of your preparation should include a strategy for addressing potential objections. A story is one way to effectively diffuse an objection. Whether it’s a service or feature you don’t provide or a price or value issue, having a well-crafted story specific to that objection is a handy tool to have in your pocket.
To reinforce a key point:
You want to shine a light on some points within your presentation — a competitive advantage, a benefit, a value proposition — so that your prospect doesn’t miss them. Building a story around a key message or capability is an effective way to focus attention on an individual item and reinforce its value to your prospect.
To create urgency:
Your presentation goes well, everyone is in agreement and then . . . nothing happens. Time passes, other priorities pop up, and the deal gets stalled. Stories can be used to create greater urgency for your prospect to take action — either by highlighting the pain of postponement and/or the benefits of taking quick action.
Arm yourself with a purposeful story in your next presentation by starting with the why. For more tips on storytelling in sales, check this post out.