Power of StorySalesStory

How to Use Stories to Develop an Effective Sales Team

By November 13, 2012 No Comments

How to Use Stories to Develop an Effective Sales Team

At Sales Engine, we have affection for stories and storytelling (how could we not with a CEO that has written a book on the subject?). We think that stories are the most powerful tool in your sales toolkit. One of the biggest hurdles to becoming a storytelling salesperson, however, is the thought that stories need to be soft and fluffy. Business stories do not need to resemble a fairytale. Stories are effective when they are simple and directed at a specific issue or problem.  We found plenty of resources in Paul Smith’s book, Lead With a Story, but especially in the chapter entitled “Sales is Everyone’s Job”. To learn how to use stories to develop strong salespeople, read through this short excerpt:

Learning From Experience

“Sales stories aren’t just helpful when talking to the buyer. They’re also helpful to you as the leader to turn your entire organization into a formidable sales force—whether they’re in the sales department or not. The next two stories offer lessons to do exactly that.

One way to develop an effective sales team is to conduct formal sales training. Many companies do this on an annual basis, either by bringing in a professional trainer or by sending the group to a sales seminar. But there’s an amazing sales training resource already in most companies that’s rarely leveraged. Bob Smith’s story explains.

Before retiring in 1998, Bob spent 41 years in purchasing for companies making products from commercial building material, to school furniture, to fertilizers. Early in his career, when he was first promoted to purchasing manager, he found that his predecessor had been buying steel almost exclusively from one supplier. When he met the salesperson representing the steelmaker, he understood part of the reason why. He was exactly the kind of person buyers love to deal with. He was honest, fair, and wasn’t afraid to go to bat for his customers back at headquarters when they really needed something special. But Bob believed having a single source of supply for a key material was too risky. So he started purchasing from additional suppliers, but still kept buying most of the steel from the same supplier.

Soon thereafter, his ideal salesperson got promoted. Unfortunately for Bob, his replacement was nothing like him. He had no sales experience. In fact, he had been a scientist in the metallurgy department. He was a cordial but very sober character. During his first sales call with Bob, he made quite a show of the fact that he represented one of the biggest steel producers in the country and was Bob’s biggest steel supplier. Skipping all the normal pleasantries, and before even getting to know Bob personally, he reached into his briefcase and pulled out a detailed report. “I see here that during the last quarter you only bought 450 tons of steel from us. What’s the problem?

“Excuse me?” Bob replied.

The salesman restated, “It looks like you were buying significantly more in prior quarters. What happened?” Bob explained his philosophy about single suppliers. But the new salesman was unsympathetic to that answer. He concluded by saying to Bob, “I certainly hope the next time I call on you we’ll have seen a change in these numbers.”

As the buyer, Bob wasn’t used to such direct language from salespeople. He was taken aback, and responded simply, “I’ll bet you will”.

True to his word, over the next three months, Bob changed the orders from this particular steel company. By the time the salesman came to see him next, his orders had dropped 200 tons! He entered Bob’s office with an entirely different air about him. His first words were, “I guess you can tell I’m new at this”. He wasn’t throwing his company’s name around like it meant something special. And he certainly didn’t presume to tell Bob he needed to change his orders again. It was never clear to Bob why the salesman’s first call was so caustic and arrogant. Was it just inexperience? Or was it some new “power sales” technique that resembled a Jedi mind trick? Either way, the salesman learned that it didn’t work. He took the time on this sales call to get to know Bob a little better. More importantly, he took the time to learn about his customer’s needs. Orders picked up over the next quarter and continued to grow as the salesman’s skills grew.”

In most companies, departments are situated into silos and rarely talk to one another. Sales managers and leaders should encourage their teams to talk to other departments that interact with external salespeople. They will gain insights into not only how to do their job better, but also what NOT to do with strong prospects and existing clients.

When was the last time you encouraged coworkers to share stories across departments? Consider stories like these that would teach your salespeople how to develop the best relationship with their existing clients.

Paul Smith is a keynote speaker, corporate trainer, and author of Lead with a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives that Captivate, Convince, and Inspire (amacom books, august, 2012). As Director of Consumer & Communications Research at Procter & Gamble, Paul has spent a career observing and researching what it takes to connect with, inspire, and motivate a change in human behavior — in other words, leadership.

Lead with a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives that Captivate, Convince, and Inspire by Paul Smith   
©2012 Paul Smith
All rights reserved.
Published by AMACOM Books
Division of American Management Association
1601 Broadway, New York, NY 10019


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