Summary

To excel in sales, mastering the art of persuasion through compelling storytelling is key. This involves actively listening, making emotional connections, and understanding the customer’s perspective. Effective communication in this manner can accelerate your growth in sales. However, a common mistake is focusing solely on what sets your product or service apart, without considering the customer’s concerns. A more successful approach involves stepping outside your own perspective and getting curious about the customer’s world, addressing their specific needs and viewpoints.

 

The Power of Storytelling in Sales

Sales professionals must excel at storytelling, regardless of their audience—be it potential clients, partners, or product distributors. Take a grocery store, for instance, where shelf space is a premium. Convincing a retailer that showcasing your product prominently will drive profits for both parties requires a persuasive narrative. Similarly, at a sales convention, you must demonstrate to prospective clients that your offering is worth their investment. In both scenarios, the ability to tell a compelling story is crucial.

Gina Fong, professor at Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management and a consumer anthropologist, and Esther Choy, founder of Leadership Story Lab, which coaches business leaders on storytelling for business success, we have centered their careers on the power of storytelling. They’ve learned that a compelling story in sales explains why a good or service meets someone’s needs. It also involves active listening, makes emotional connections, and considers the customer’s perspective. Mastering this skill early can significantly accelerate your growth in sales. Here’s how to avoid common pitfalls and craft stories that resonate.

 

Common Mistakes in Sales Storytelling

A food and beverage company they worked with aimed to secure better shelf placement for its beverage in a supermarket. The sales team emphasised the product’s state-of-the-art production process. The team argued that prominent placement would boost sales, expand distribution, and eventually lower consumer prices, making the premium product more accessible. This approach was their first mistake.

The story focused on the benefits to the company and its customers but overlooked the retailer’s concerns. Predictably, the supermarket chain refused, citing low sales and the high price of the beverage.

When the sales team approached the experts, they lamented, “The retailer just doesn’t get it.” This attitude was their second mistake. Instead of blaming the client, they needed to listen more closely and reframe their narrative to address the retailer’s needs.

 

Crafting Stories that Resonate

To tell persuasive stories in sales, you must set aside your assumptions about why others should buy or promote your product. Your knowledge is valuable, but focusing solely on your perspective can lead to frustration when others don’t “get it.” Instead, use your expertise to highlight how your good or service meets the customer’s needs.

To create stories that connect, follow these steps:

  1. Identify Obstacles
  2. Tap into Emotions
  3. Tell a Different Story

 

Step 1: Identify Obstacles

Imagine you’re selling a newly released vehicle at a car dealership. You’ve highlighted its high-tech features, but the customer remains unconvinced. Frustration is natural, but it’s crucial to step back and show humility. Instead of focusing on the product’s features, get curious about the customer’s needs. Ask, “Why are you looking to buy a new vehicle today?” Listen carefully and empathise with their situation.

For instance, you might learn the customer needs a vehicle suitable for a growing family. This insight allows you to tailor your story to address their specific needs. When working with the food and beverage company, Gina and Esther identified two main obstacles: the product’s high price and low sales. The sales team needed to address these points to make any headway.

 

Step 2: Tap into Emotions

Emotions significantly influence decision-making. To persuade someone, appeal to them emotionally as well as rationally. Let’s return to the car dealership example. Understanding the emotional reasons a new parent might want a particular vehicle—such as safety and reliability—can help you craft a more effective story.

Similarly, the food and beverage sales team needed to shift from a purely logical approach to one that considered the emotional drivers of their customers. Parents, their primary consumers, often make price-driven decisions. Understanding why a parent would spend more on their product—because of perceived long-term health benefits—was key.

 

Step 3: Tell a Different Story

With a deep understanding of your customer’s emotions, your sales story can shift. At the car dealership, you might focus on the vehicle’s family-friendly features. Frame them in terms of safety and reliability, which are likely important to a parent.

For the food and beverage company, a chance encounter with a diner waitress who loved their product revealed a new narrative. She purchased the beverage despite its high price because it benefited her son’s health. This personal story highlighted the product’s real value and resonated deeply with the sales team. They gathered similar testimonials to reshape their pitch, focusing on the product’s health benefits and cost savings over time.

In their next meeting with the retailer, the sales team shared these consumer stories. They shifted the narrative from production processes to personal impact. This approach led to a small commitment from the retailer to feature the product more prominently. Over time, sales increased, and so did the shelf space allocation.

 

Key Takeaway

As a sales professional, your story is your differentiator. Its effectiveness depends on its relevance to your customers. By identifying obstacles, creating emotional connections, and fostering shared understanding, your narrative can stand out. When your story resonates on these levels, your audience will truly “get it,” and your sales success will follow.

 

Source: Harvard Business Review (2023)

 


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