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Top five reasons to tell a story in your sales presentation

Every element of your pitch needs to have a connection


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One of the benefits of working with business pros on their presentation skills is that I get to hear some really interesting stories. Last week, a salesperson shared a story about his scuba diving adventure in the Maldives.

While fascinating, it had little or nothing to do with the presentation he was delivering.  When pressed as to why he told this story, he shared what I hear all too often from presenters: “It grabs my prospect’s attention and helps create rapport.” 

He was right, storytelling can do both; however, he made a common mistake by not following the first rule of good storytelling: Have a strong “why” for telling your story. Stories that have vague goals of “building rapport” or “gaining attention” often lead nowhere, waste time and try the patience of busy business audiences. Unlike ordinary conversations, a sales or business presentation is a purposeful, heightened communication and every element, including a story, must connect to why 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 if you don’t start with a strong why, your story will be built on wobbly foundation and can cause severe damage to your credibility and lower audience attention levels. If you start with a clear purpose for telling your story, ideas will flow and it will help you craft a story that moves your conversation in the right direction.

Here are five great reasons to tell a story in your presentation:

  1. 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:  Sharing 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 her arm is being twisted.
 

  1. 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 your product to the instrument panel on an airplane 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.

  1. To address an objection:

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.

  1. 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 audience 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 audience.

  1. 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 audience to take action — either by highlighting the pain of postponement and/or the benefits of taking quick action.

Do you and your audience a favor in your next presentation and arm yourself with a purposeful story by starting with the why.  

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Julie Hansen

Julie Hansen, author of Sales Presentations for Dummies, helps sales and business executives craft and deliver winning presentations and demos by applying today’s best practices from business, acting, improv, and storytelling. Julie’s techniques for leveraging proven performance skills in presentations have been adopted by Fortune 500 companies across the globe, including IBM and Oracle, as well as local Colorado companies. Learn more about sales workshops and keynotes at  PerformanceSalesandTraining.com, start a sales conversation at Julie@actingforsales.com  or connect with Julie on LinkedIn.

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