Mastering the Fundamentals of Good Storytelling

Patricia Sherlock

Everyone loves a good story. For adults and children alike, the best stories make a lasting impression. Who doesn’t remember the story of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree and the value of telling the truth. While originators aren’t tasked to share life lessons, they are challenged to connect with prospects in a meaningful way. Good storytelling during the sales sequence enables producers to have a positive impact.

While we tell each other stories about our daily experiences, many salespeople do not use stories to gain rapport and trust with target audience groups. Originators falsely assume that features and benefits will sell their services and that they do not need to use a story structure. Because there is always a lender who will come out with a better mousetrap or a lower rate, promoting services isn’t enough to distinguish an originator in the marketplace. What isn’t forgotten by customers is someone they view as a trusted advisor and how the salesperson made them feel. This is where good storytelling can be a competitive advantage.

Good Storytelling Fundamentals

There are fundamentals that every good story has and incorporating these elements across originators’ communication efforts — from emails to social media posts — can make the difference in their success.

In last week’s blog, I noted that all good stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning is what comedians call the set-up which establishes the plot and characters. The middle is about the status quo not working as it once did. The end is about confronting the problem and what happens as a result. This structure provides a roadmap so the listener can easily follow along. If there is no beginning, middle and end, it is not a good story.

The next issue for the salesperson in sharing their selling stories is to describe the circumstances of what is happening versus telling prospects what happened. The difference might seem small, but it is significant because the audience becomes more involved when they are left to figure out for themselves what is being said. In simple terms, using verbal descriptions is more powerful than just telling prospects that your product is better than the competition.

A good story needs to have an obstacle or a conflict that must be resolved. Conflicts are what drive the story forward and keep the target audience interested. If there is no conflict, it’s a summary that a salesperson is giving and not a story.

Positioning the Customer as the Hero

The hero in the story isn’t the salesperson, it is always the customer. This requirement is often hard for salespeople to understand. Originators want to be the heroes. They want to be Superman and not Jimmie or Lois Lane. The reason customers should be positioned as heroes is that they are the ones who have pursued solutions when nothing seemed to work. If the salesperson is the focus, the story has become a sales pitch.

A good story has a central theme. In the sales process, it needs to be about some problem that the hero has decided to address and what the originator did to resolve it. In the story, maybe the customer had ignored the solution or had tried solutions that didn’t work. The originator can then relate that the customer had reached a point where he or she needed to do something different.

Originators should avoid trying to give every detail and overwhelming the listener. It is better to be clear, short and simple than to be too complex, discussing every issue that the prospect might encounter.

These basics are great tips to improving the impact of your selling stories. Good storytelling isn’t easy and requires practice and more practice. With practice and refinement, the selling story can be a powerful tool to convince prospects that the salesperson can be trusted to resolve their problem.

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