The other day, a friend sent me an article that she knew I would really like. It was an article that listed the top 22 TED Talks about fitness, health, and happiness. She felt compelled to share the article with me because we are both long distance runners and enjoy “inspirational material”. (And if my love of sharing TED talks on our blog isn’t apparent, you need to come back on a Friday!)
I wasn’t surprised she shared it with me and I couldn’t wait to click through the talks to learn a thing or two from the great speakers TED selects. Later on that day, I saw this article shared on other networks via social media. It seemed like all of my runner friends were sharing it with one another and no one had been left out of the loop. I bet more of my running friends viewed the article than not, or at least they saw the article title floating around out there. It seemed like it would have been hard for a runner in my network to not hear about it. It was officially viral content in my world.
Beyond sharing a common interest in running, what compelled these people to share the article, creating viral content? Why did the post become so popular, as if it was “contagious” in so many networks?
What Makes An Idea Contagious
I recently read Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger and this question was top of mind when my friend shared the TED Talks article. According to Jonah Berger, there are 6 reasons why ideas, products, movements, etc. can become “viral” or “contagious”:
- Social currency– People look good to others when they share the product or idea.
- Triggers– A cue makes a person think about the product or idea.
- Emotion– The product or idea generates emotion.
- Public– The product or idea advertises itself and people can see when others are using or sharing it.
- Practical value– The product or idea helps others.
- Stories– The product or idea is embedded in a broader, valuable narrative.
I can understand how these factors all relate to virality of a product or idea. Like a lot of young professionals, we live in a world of social transmission aided by technology. Not a day goes by that I don’t share a specific article, blog post, video, podcast, or infographic with a friend, acquaintance, coworker, or stranger via social media. We consume viral content on a daily basis.
I’m willing to admit that I think it makes me look good by sharing a novel or helpful idea. (Social Currency) I share articles with certain people when there’s a trigger to do so, just as my running friend did. (She knew about my love of TED talks by reading this very blog.) (Triggers) I share sneezing baby panda videos with my friends because I know it will make them laugh (Emotion). I feel compelled to purchase a product often when I see other people using it in public (Public). I share a “How to” article when I know that someone is up against a particular challenge (Practical Value). And I happily eat up content that is wrapped in a story because we’re all storytellers.
So what does this all have to do with making a sale? What kind of impact do these “contagion factors” have on our ability to sell a product or idea to those able and willing to pay for them? What can a sales team do to create viral context in sales calls?
Why Stories Are Key to “Viral Content” in a Sales Context
The “contagion factors” Jonah Berger discusses in his book essentially create a checklist to make your idea or product contagious (or to create viral content as an individual). That’s great as part of a larger audience but sales isn’t one-to-many, it’s one-to-one. So, what can a salesperson do to be more influential in conversation with potential customers?
The simplest answer is: tell a story.
For example, let’s take a client success story. You and your sales team took a recent project and hit it out of the park for a client. The client was absolutely thrilled with your work and you were able to get a testimonial from them about your working relationship. The sales team worked really hard to win the client’s business in the first place and your sales manager was thrilled with the team’s execution.
Why not use this client success story in future sales calls?
The story applies to almost all of Jonah Berger’s “contagion factors”. Your solution ideally provides Practical Value to your customers (and if not, there’s a problem with your sales engine.) It was a high-stakes sale and the client really needed a solution to their problem quickly. There’s Emotion inherent in your story. Your client’s testimonial boosted your sales team’s credibility. Potential customers will read the testimonial on your website and share it to pitch a new project with you internally (i.e. with a decision-maker within the company.) Social Currency aids the sales process.
By sharing this one client success story, you create a vehicle for sharing so much information about your company and your solution. Jonah Berger explains: “People don’t think in terms of information. They think in terms of narratives. But while people focus on the story itself, information comes along for the ride” and that “the magic of stories…[is] that information travels under the guise of what seems like idle chatter”.
One client success story can help you share information about your company that a potential customer couldn’t possibly remember in fact and figures. It’s your job to distill the information into a story that can be shared. The story becomes a tool that a potential customer can share with his or her boss in order to sell the idea internally; it’s the vehicle for communicating your process, your solution, the benefit of choosing you as a provider, and the company’s ability to deliver high-quality results.
This client success story won’t be “viral” in the way that we think about viral content (afterall, can we really compete with the sneezing baby panda video?!) But, if the sales team shares it on a regular basis, your idea customer will be willing to listen.
(Hint: Don’t have a success story? Don’t be scared to share a failure story! Trust us.)
If you found this post helpful, you might be interested in learning how to use stories to develop an effective sales team. (For the corporate event planners out there, Sales Engine’s CEO, Craig Wortmann, conducts workshops on how to use stories in the sales process.)
Do you use client success stories in your sales process? To your knowledge, have they been shared (in other words, have they circled back to you?) What advantage do you think client success stories give your company or your sales team?