“Sell” Me a Story

“Tell me a story, Daddy!” That was one of the first things my children would say once they had snuggled under the covers to get ready for bed. I’ll bet those of you who are parents have had the same experience.

Think about any camping trips you had when you were growing up and while sitting around the campfire, someone would tell a scary story. Definitely gave me goosebumps…particularly on a dark and stormy night.

People love to hear stories…it almost seems like we are hard-wired to love listening to many kinds of stories: books, films, podcasts, and TV. What does this mean for those of us in sales?

It means that for us to be effective communicators we need to learn how to tell a story during the sales process…or, as I say in the title, “Sell Me a Story.”

Let’s think about telling the sales story as we would think about a three-act structure in a play or screenplay. The three-act structure consists of:

  • The Setup
  • The Confrontation
  • The Resolution.

The Setup

The first act of a play or movie sets up the characters, their relationships and the world that they live in. From a sales perspective, let’s think about the first act as:

  • The state of the customer’s business
  • Customer’s needs
  • The call to customer action.

I believe that it is important to provide a overview of the customer’s industry…give your POV on the trends, challenges and opportunities from a 50,000-foot vantage point. You can use your own experience in the industry to help frame your point-of-view by providing an aggregate look at how the customer’s competitors view the landscape. Obviously, this needs to be discussed in aggregate but it can help establish your expertise with the customer. In addition to using your own experience as a reference, you can also look at published industry research to help the facilitate the conversation. If you’re company provides proprietary industry research, make sure and use that as one of the lead discussion topics. Your goal in discussing the customer’s business is for them to realize that you are an asset to help their business not just someone trying to come in a sell them something.

During the Setup conversation, it is important to discover and discuss the customer’s needs. Ideally, you’ve done your homework and have a pretty good idea of what needs your customer has…both general and specific. There are probably some basic customer needs that all of your clients have, and you should acknowledge and discuss those with your customer. You add to your own credibility in your customer’s eyes by your knowledge of these needs. If you know specific needs for the customer you’re meeting with, acknowledge and discuss them. If you aren’t sure, ask. Make sure you get as much information as you can about customer needs because these will be the basis for going forward with the rest of your story. As I mentioned, ideally, you’ll know at least some of these needs in advance so you will have already given a basic construction of your sales story to use during the Setup. Also, try to use open ended questions to draw out as much information as you can in discovering most, or all, of your customer’s needs.

You’ve demonstrated your expertise by discussing your customer’s industry and providing either personal or company insights to help them better understand industry trends. Next, you’ve discussed and uncovered customer needs…and validated those needs with the customer. After doing both of those steps, you now need to establish the fact that something needs to be done to help the customer solve their problem or fulfill those needs. I don’t want you to give any answers yet…but I do want you to review the customer needs and get them to state that something has to be done. This stage can be tricky for the salesperson because it seems like the right time to start talking about the benefits of their products…but you’re not going to do that now. You need to walk through the litany of customer needs with them and have them verbally agree to some kind of call to action. You’re not saying “what” to do yet but just that something needs to be done.

We’ll look at Act 2, “The Confrontation”, and Act 3, “The Resolution” with the next post.

Author: Tim Hand

My name is Tim Hand, and I am a digital media, sales & marketing team leader, and I have a real passion for partnering with companies, publishers and agencies to help drive client growth and bottom-line revenues.

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