Posted: August 29, 2014
Best of CoBiz: Top seven tips for creating a winning sales story
Give it the "So what?" testJulie Hansen
Once upon a time, the ability to tell a good story was merely a handy skill for entertaining friends, clients and coworkers. Now experts are recognizing that storytelling is also a powerful sales tool for differentiating yourself from your competition and driving home your value proposition in a compelling and memorable way.
Prospects are told things all day long: “We’re the best… We reach more customers… etc. ” Showing your message, solution or results in action and letting your prospect reach the desired conclusion will often have much greater lasting power than hitting them over the head with a list of facts.
In Part 1, we looked at the potential impact of a smart sales story on your prospect. Now, let's look at seven tips for creating and delivering a story that sells:
1. Add drama:
Stories are based on drama and drama requires conflict and tension before it ultimately comes to a resolution. Give your story the “so what?” test. If it doesn’t pass, you may need to escalate the dramatic tension. At every point in your story ask yourself, “and then what would happen?” The tension should be at a peak before you show the solution.
2. Be descriptive
Think in terms of word pictures. Allow your listener to experience the story in a three-dimensional way by using words that engage them through multiple senses. Be careful not to go adjective crazy. Pick and choose only those descriptions that help color or advance your story.
3. Be specific
Focus on a few key details. According to Chip and Dan Heath in Made to Stick, “if you tell them three things you’ve told them nothing.” Don’t try and cover too much. Providing too many details will quickly overwhelm your listener and create tune out. Highlight a few key elements of your story. Quantify when you can. For example, “ninety-percent” rather than “most” or “five” instead of “several.”
4. Cut to the chase
Where do movies start? With the director telling the audience what they’re going to be seeing, why they made the movie or what the theme is? No. They start with the car chase or the bomb threat, in other words, where the action is. Why? Because increasingly short attention spans demand it. Audiences and prospects have little patience for a lot of introductory fluff. You have a precious few seconds to grab your listener’s attention and draw them in. Don’t waste it setting up your story with a lot of prologue. Jump into the action and trust that your listener will be able to keep up.
5. Keep it short
In a world of increasing demands and expedited communication, your story needs to be short and to the point. If you’ve followed the previous suggestions, focused on fleshing out a few key details and started in the middle of the action, your story should be fairly concise. If it’s not, consider whether you are trying to get too much across and take the time to edit down to the essence of what you’re trying to say.
6. Stick the landing.
During the Olympics what did the announcer say after almost every great vault? “She really stuck the landing!” Pity the gymnast who executed a perfectly beautiful vault but faltered on the landing only to lose critical points in a competition separated by tenths of a point. In the same way, a brilliantly told story with an unclear, over-explained or simply blown ending loses critical points with your prospect. Know what your ending is and when you’re finished, resist the urge to start explaining what your story meant and its relevance to your prospect. Stick your landing!
It takes practice to tell a story with impact – even if you know it well. Actors don’t wait until they get a part to start rehearsing so don’t wait until you have a meeting to start practicing your story. Consistently practice your stories before you need them. Having a good story ready to go at a moment’s notice will give you greater confidence and free you up to really focus on your prospect.
Julie Hansen helps sales and business executives differentiate their solution and deliver winning presentations by leveraging proven performance skills from film, stage and improv. The founder of Performance Sales and Training, Julie’s techniques have been adopted by Fortune 500 companies across the globe, including IBM, Oracle, SAP and local Colorado companies to gain a competitive selling edge. Julie is an international speaker, sales trainer and the author of ACT Like a Sales Pro! Learn more about workshops and keynotes at PerformanceSalesandTraining.com, start a sales conversation at Julie@actingforsales.com or connect with Julie on LinkedIn.