Members of your team are missing quotas. You’ve tried many different ways to get them back on track, but those methods aren’t working. Maybe the solution isn’t about sales tactics. Maybe it’s an issue with communication. If you harness the power of communication — clear, direct, relevant communication — we believe that sales will follow.
Let’s unpack how.
How to frame the story
To put it simply, sales is storytelling. But far too few sellers are trained to tell a meaningful, relatable story. There are many approaches out there, but a straightforward way is to build a story that helps your audience understand why they need to change, why now is the right time, and why they should go with your solution.
Sometimes, prospects in your sales pipeline already know why they need to change. After all, they’re speaking with you about your solution presumably because they have a problem.
However, to help them understand the value of your product or service, the key is to focus on the audience. This is the first step in telling any good story. Who are you speaking with? Are they senior decision-makers or lower-level soldiers on a reconnaissance mission? Do they appreciate relationship building or getting straight to the point? What do they really need, not just what they want? Knowing the answers to these questions is crucial.
Gartner research shows that at least for B2B buyers, only 17% of a buyer’s time is spent with potential suppliers. If they’re meeting with multiple suppliers, they may only be spending 5 or 6% of their buying journey with a sales rep. The rest of the time is spent researching or meeting with the buying team.
This data indicates that your communications with the prospect — the value proposition, the differentiation, the answers to “why change” — all need to be crystal clear, succinct, and compelling. Sellers need to know who they’re speaking to and what they need right off the bat.
Too often, however, sales folks are talking to the wrong person about the wrong thing. They don’t diagnose the root cause of the issue during the sales process and instead get distracted by tactical tasks instead of strategic goals.
To combat this problem, the best sales teams get from why change to why now in a hurry.
The next step is to crystalize why now is the time for change. This is where the real nuts and bolts of storytelling come into play. You want to create excitement up front, to hook them. Let’s look at the four signposts of storytelling to help you build the business case for your solution. But don’t mention your solution just yet! You’re still trying to help them understand their problem.
- Setting: Your setting is a snapshot in time, a place, or a circumstance. It immediately establishes the context for your message.
- Characters: Your characters are who or what is affected by the current situation — your customers, employees, or team. Characters help your audience relate to your story.
- Conflict: With the context of setting and characters in place, it’s time to reveal the conflict. Conflict provides the tension that gives your audience a reason to care and want to take action.
- Resolution: With setting, characters, and conflict established, your audience’s emotions will be built up. They will hopefully be ready to embrace your resolution — your recommendation, product, or solution.
And don’t forget to weave the BIG Idea — the key thing that you want them to remember — into what you share with them.
Now that we’ve outlined the major parts of a great story, apply this framework to your audience’s problem.
What is the “setting” of their issue? Is it that they are short on talent, trying (unsuccessfully) to embrace the digital transformation, or perhaps that they’re struggling with their vendors? These are obviously broad examples, but try to understand the story behind their story to see the setting.
Who are the characters involved? Is it a miserly boss, an unsatisfactory vendor, or perhaps “the economy” in general? Who is keeping the prospect back from achieving their goals?
What is the conflict they’re facing? How are the characters interacting with the setting? If the prospect is the hero (or protagonist) of the story, what is the obstacle they must overcome to save the day at the end?
If you lose because of “no decision,” helping your prospect understand why they should make the change now is critical to moving them to the next stage of their buying decision: why they should choose you.
Finally, you’re nearing the finish line of the sales journey and your prospect is eager to hear what they should do. That’s when you can tell your story.
Moving the needle on sales conversations at this point is tough, but a huge predictor of success is trust. Gartner points out that sales leaders who help their prospects make sense of chaos and help them become more confident raise the odds of closing high-quality, low-regret deals by 157%. They call this leader the “sense making seller.”
Buyers want to feel that they’re making a great decision. But with the myriad of available solutions and enormous complexity in the market today, they’re increasingly uneasy about going with any one provider.
Use the storytelling techniques mentioned above to build trust. The key to doing so is to intensely focus on what matters most to them rather than focusing on you.
Too many pitches start with what you do and what your story is, but, frankly, the buyer doesn’t care who you are. You’re one of an endless number of pitches they’ve heard that week. They are the ones with the problem, so make them the hero of the story and help them get to a resolution.
This seems counterintuitive because this section is labeled why us. But the truth is, when you focus on the buyer as the hero of the story, it communicates this to them: You understand me. You know my problems and my pain. I’m willing to trust you with this decision because you are listening to me and will be my partner in this journey.
At the end of the day, if you’re losing to competitors, it’s because you’re not clearly defining why the prospect should listen to you at all, let alone about what you’re selling. But keeping the buyer in the center of the story lets them know you can be trusted with their business.
How storytelling can close deals
Strong storytelling is one of the most effective ways to differentiate your offerings among a sea of competitors. This is especially true for mature markets in which many competitors are very similar. To stand out and plant your flag in the sand, consider storytelling to help close those deals.