The Power of Story: Why it Matters so Much in Sales

Sales organizations today can benefit from what some are calling the dawn of marketing’s golden age. The secret behind much of it: a revolution in bold storytelling.

As management firm McKinsey & Company points out in a recent article: “marketers are boosting their precision, broadening their scope, moving more quickly and telling better stories.”

They argue there are five factors driving this change—science, substance, story, speed, and simplicity. It’s a solid list based on a compelling argument, but bear in mind that the factors they identify are meant to apply to a broad range of functions in a business.

Readers and customers of Engage Selling, on the other hand, are a lot more focused on specific, achievable steps to accelerate sales.

That’s why I have my own take on what needed to power this revolution in storytelling: one that’s based on what I’m seeing in the marketplace today and tailor-made to apply to sales performers and the business leaders who manage them.

Facts and feelings: you need both.

You can stir curiosity with facts, figures and data. But you can’t close a sale with a spreadsheet. People are more complicated than that. They look for stories where there is a clear business problem that they can identify with on both a rational and emotional level. Yes, you should look for measurable results that you have helped that customer achieve, but that’s only half the storytelling equation. You need to dig deeper. As Maya Angelou once observed: “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Do more with substance.

Stories tell deeper truths. They give more substance to the business case you’re making, and can prove your claims. Why? Because they hinge on how you work with others and what those others say about you. That’s why I’m so fond of testimonials and case studies as I have written about extensively. They work because they reaffirm for others what you already know is true.

It is in these kinds of stories you can leverage the full power of technology to master the age-old art of storytelling. Since we now live in a highly interconnected world, it’s easier than ever to tell these stories in ways that incorporate print, audio and video.

For example, a financial services client of ours arranged for a video crew to spend a few hours onsite, interviewing executives for the case study and showcasing the success of the business. In telling the story of the business—and the story of their success with the financial institution—a powerful message was communicated helping them earn more customers. At the same time, the client’s business was highlighted, which they love because it’s free marketing for them, too.

Creativity is your secret weapon.

Technology today is powerful, but it’s a means to an end. It’s not enough to have a state of the art platform, a potential audience of billions to serve, or elaborate ways to measure engagement. Granted, each of those is important, but you still need to find a way to connect emotionally with your readers and customers.

You do that by connecting ideas in ways that invite people to see a little of themselves in the story you are telling. This is where creativity helps to make you thrive.

When done right, a well crafted, creative story does more than just showcase your know-how: it explains a problem that your audience can relate to and in which they see themselves in the solution you found to that problem.

For example, a chemical company we work with has a very complicated proprietary process that needed to be communicated to prospects because it was a key differentiator in the marketplace. But they were failing. The sales team kept trying to explain the process methodically—and it confused people. When we turned an explanation into an illustrated story—adding metaphors and making comparisons to other approaches in the industry—people understood better and sales quickly rose.

Gifted storytellers are invaluable to your sales team. If you don’t have that talent in-house, outsource it. It’s worth the investment.

Less schedule, deeper scope.

In a sense, sales and marketing have changed much the way television has in our lifetime. Far less managed on a locally focused prime-time schedule the way it used to be, we now can broadcast worldwide 24/7 to audiences that have an endless appetite for original stories that communicate with empathy and insight. Here are at Engage, our library of sales articles on our website gets steady inbound traffic around the clock, even on long weekends. Furthermore, in the sales training sessions I hold throughout the year, I make sure that every key bit of advice that I share is complemented by a real-world example. The deeper your scope of storytelling, the more opportunities you give for your audience to connect with your message.

Better platforms and robust analytics.

This final point typically gets top billing, but the way I see it, you need to focus on all the fundamentals first before you try to make sense of the vast amounts of data you potentially could start measuring as a result of making wider use of the newer technology to tell your story. There are great platforms out there today—from podcasts to email marketing, from webinars to social media—and you can learn plenty from modern analytics about what resonates best with your readers. However, you need to remember that these are tools that complement your work in sales. They will never replace the need that people have to feel a sense of belonging and to connect with the challenges that others face.

So remember: while there’s a revolution in storytelling underway, it isn’t because the methods of telling a great story have changed. They haven’t. It’s that you can do more and reach more with that secret talent than ever before.