Every morning, if you listen closely enough, you can hear executives parroting Alec Baldwin’s famous (and famously misunderstood) “Always Be Closing” speech from Glengarry Glen Ross to unimpressed sales teams across the country.
And after, if you listen even closer, you can hear near-silent groans from top salespeople because they know something that so many people seem to miss:
Salespeople aren’t salespeople anymore. They’re storytellers.
While, to outsiders, it still looks like GGR-style dial-farms are the most effective ways to meet someone, convince them to buy something, repeat, insiders know the reality is a bit different. In fact, sales these days is a pretty radically complex process given the different sales cycles, buying styles, acquisition models, and the necessarily differentiated steps involved in selling SaaS vs. software vs. hardware vs. services, etc.
And, while salespeople know this (and are incredibly enthusiastic about content creation and strong messaging as a result), no one’s really developed a great framework for incorporating storytelling into sales in a structured, reproducible way that boosts productivity, allows for individual rep flexibility / creativity, and which reliably nurtures, qualifies, and converts leads to closes.
So that’s what this is: an outline of the story development process as it applies to sales. It may not be the end-all-be-all of storytelling guides for salespeople, but it’s definitely a place to start.
The Art of Storytelling in Sales: A Salesperson’s Storytelling Guide
Before you ever speak a word to a prospect, you should think about the story you’re telling. For sales, that story comes in 3 parts: 1) story of the customer, 2) the story of your customer’s industry, and 3) the story of your product / brand.
But really, it’s more like a math problem:
the best product story = customer story + industry story
When the three of these all work in unison, it’s sales bliss. When they don’t, you create multiple opportunities for potential customers to drop out of your funnel.
Understanding Your Customer’s Story
Your customer is the single most important piece of this story. They’re your hero, your frame of reference, and (most importantly) your paycheck, so don’t waste any time getting to know as much as you can about them. Start by taking a quick walk to marketing and ask to see their customer personas. These personas are typically painstakingly developed and can show you the in’s and out’s of your customer: what they’re likely to do on the weekends, how they like to be communicated with, topics that currently affect them, etc.
Once you have a broader understanding of the “persona” of the person you’ll be speaking to, it’s important to do a little personal reconnaissance. Go check them out on LinkedIn, on Facebook, and add them to whatever tool you use to track employment /role changes in real time to get a better sense of where they come from and where they’re going. What’s important is that this should be fast, should fill in a few gaps that personas can’t account for, and should give you a great sense for the best way to approach a conversation with this person / type.
Understanding Your Customer’s Industry
Though, no doubt, you’ve already got your head in the ideal industries for your product / service, it’s always a good idea to brush up a bit on the key challenges your potential customers are facing right now. And for that, there’s only one solution: blogs.
Breaking into and discovering the most relevant blogs for a given industry can be a bit challenging but, fortunately, you only have to do it once. Often, googling terms like “best marketing blogs 2015” yield great, relevant lists, but you can also check out blog aggregators like Bloggeries and begin to piece your understanding together. For whatever you find, create persona-specific RSS feeds (like, for example, one for product marketers in the tech industry), adding the blogs that you think are the most relevant for that type of person.
That way, before you begin your talk with anyone specifically, you can quickly skim the various headlines to get a good sense of where their industry’s at and how to best position your product / service as a life-saver.
Understanding Your Product / Brand
Though this is obvious (and you’re likely thinking to yourself I already know the product just fine), doing it correctly – and, in return, gaining the ability to let your customer and their industry totally inform your product story – is a pretty complex process.
Let’s take it in short steps:
- Think about your customer takeaways in terms of the “how” “and the “who” of the story. Intel on the customer him/herself provides you with the words to use, the comparisons to make, and idea of how personal / impersonal you should be, etc.. You’ll also get a good sense of how best to approach their personal part in the story. Because any good sale makes the buyer a “hero” of sorts, you’ll want to understand what that might mean to them.
- Think about your industry takeaways in terms of the story’s plot. Every great story has a conflict, and in the world of business, that conflict is always a problem with the job that could be done better. Using your “customer language,” develop a story about an industry problem worth solving (both economically and ideologically), one that makes their personal lives better but which also positions them as a hero of the business.
- Let your product be the sword that kills the dragon. By adapting your story to both the person and the industry you’re selling to, you’ve created a pretty great plot. There’s a problem (revenue, productivity, transparency of process, etc.), and you’re approaching that problem in the way they would, in their language. Now don’t go kicking them out of their own story!
What I mean is this: you’ve built this story for them, not for your product. Your product is just a tool – a tool that transforms businesses, sure, but still a tool. You’re selling them the reality of being a better marketer or accountant or leader. The tool itself is just a vehicle for their success that happens to check all the right boxes.
Once you have all of this, you’ve got a clear understanding of your story: you’ve got the plot, the hero, the sword, and the language: everything you need to persuade someone that your product is right for them.
Then, map that story onto your funnel. What do you say when to create the most drama? To show the most value? As with any sale, you’ll have multiple touches across the buying cycle, so you’ll want to develop strategies for sharing and reinforcing your story for each of the decision-makers involved.
And, believe it or not, you’ve already got the infrastructure in place to take care of those touches too!
Think about it. You’ve got:
- A self-building sales story machine that, after a few semi-intensive story builds, continues to produce relevant info for your sales efforts
- A stable stream of relevant content flowing in from those RSS feeds that are great for nurturing and which reinforce the stories you’re telling to your different personas
- Clear direction and great information for building out highly-targeted lead gen campaigns, incredibly resonant premium content, etc.
- A process that can be tested at any step. If you find your story underperforming, simply tweak by applying new language, new circumstances, or a new connection to your tool
So what are you waiting for! Story is the most important tool in your toolkit. Go forth, tell great stories using this salesperson’s storytelling guide, and sell!
Austin Duck is Content Marketing Manager for CircleBack, an innovative address book designed specifically for networking and sales. He regularly contributes to StartupGrind, Business2Community, and elsewhere and lives in DC with his wife and army of cats.