Storytelling helps people make decisions. How? Cognitive science helps us understand that as humans, we don’t make decisions the way that we like to think we do. We aren’t always rational logical creatures who assess the data and come to the most logical conclusions. Most of the time, our subconscious emotional brain makes a decision. A few nanoseconds later, our logical brain justifies and rationalizes that decision. If you want to influence people’s decisions, you need to speak to both parts of the brain. Storytelling is a spectacular way to do this. Paul Smith shares the key ingredients necessary to craft stories that sell in this episode of Sales Reinvented.
Most great storytellers—movie directors, screenwriters, novelists—will typically tell you that you need three key elements to build a great story:
The hero people care about is a relatable main character that the buyer can relate to. Tell a story about another client who faced the same challenge they are. The villain is a relevant challenge that your audience is likely to run into themselves. The “epic battle” is a worthy lesson learned through struggle. If you translate those into a sales story it becomes a relatable character facing a relevant challenge who learns a worthy lesson. Simple, yet compelling.
It’s helpful for a salesperson to have an outgoing personality and the ability to talk to strangers. But most importantly, Paul emphasizes that you need stories to tell. Paul believes having stories to tell is more important than being a great storyteller. Why? Most salespeople aren’t professional performance artists, actors, public speakers, etc. No one expects you to be. But no one wants their time wasted with a boring or irrelevant story. So you must be intentional about cultivating stories. The story is more important than the delivery.
Never apologize or ask permission to tell a sales story. If you’re in a sales meeting with a potential client, don’t say, “Sorry to interrupt—can I tell a quick story? I promise it'll only take a minute!” That communicates that what you have to say isn’t important. If you don’t think it’s important, don’t tell it.
Secondly, don’t announce that you’re telling a story. Doing so is neither exciting nor captivating. It turns most people off. They’ll automatically think that it’ll be boring and irrelevant. If you tell a great story, they’ll be fascinated and learn from it.
Lastly, Paul recommends that you keep your stories to two minutes or less—they shouldn’t be long epics. Leadership stories can be 3–5 minutes long because they can command an audience. You don’t have that luxury in sales.
Need help with crafting compelling stories? Get Paul’s “25 Stories Salespeople Need” in the resources below.
Paul was at an art fair in Cincinnati with his wife, who was looking for some art to hang in their kids’ bathroom. They walked up to a booth selling mesmerizing underwater photography. One of the photos struck Paul—it was a photo of a pig swimming in the ocean. So he asked the photographer about it. That’s when the magic started.
He said, “That picture was taken off the coast of an island in the Bahamas called “Big Major Cay.” A local entrepreneur decided to raise a pig farm on an uninhabited island. But there was no vegetation growing on the beach other than cacti. The pigs had nothing to eat. So a local restaurant owner on a neighboring island boated his kitchen refuse and dumped it just offshore.
While pigs don’t normally swim, slowly but surely they all learned to swim so they could get to the good. Three generations later, all of the pigs on the island can swim. When the photographer got to the island to photograph the pigs, he didn’t even have to get out of the boat. The pigs swam to him immediately. Paul paid cash for the photo immediately—he HAD to have it.
Two minutes earlier, that was just a stupid photo. After hearing the photographer’s story, he had to have it. The story is what made the art interesting. And that’s why it’s hanging in Paul’s bathroom.
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