Getting started with storyselling: How your salespeople can close more deals by telling stories

by Jo Johansson

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The first potato chip ever made was intended as an insult.

The year was 1853. George Crum was a chef at the upscale Moon’s Lake House in Saratoga Springs, NY.

One day, a patron complained about Mr. Crum’s fried potatoes. He called them soggy and bland. He sent them back and demanded a new batch.

Mr. Crum did not deal well with the feedback. He proceeded to slice a potato into paper-thin cuts and fried them until they were so delicate you could shatter them with a light pressure between two fingers. Next, he over-salted his new creation and sent it out to the disappointed patron.

The patron? He loved it so much that he ordered a second serving.

The word quickly spread, and soon “Saratoga Chips” were known all over New England.

Today, we have a multi-billion dollar snack industry that simply begun as an intended insult.

Next time you see someone eating potato chips, what do you think the odds are of you telling them this story? We say it’s pretty high.

And next, what if we told you all you need to do to close a deal is tell a good story?

Think we’re crazy? Perhaps a little. But science is on our side.

In this post, we’re going to look into how you can use a story-based approach to more effectively communicate, and ultimately sell, your product or service.

But let’s start from the beginning. Why the heck do stories work so well?

Why do stories work?

Humans have been using stories as a primary method of communication for over 40,000 years. But why do they stick in our memories? Why do we tell them over and over again? Why do they have such a huge impact on us and the way we interact with each other?

The simple answer? We’re wired that way. We store, index and retrieve information in the form of stories.

Research shows our brains are not hard-wired to understand logic or retain facts for very long. Our brains are wired to understand and retain stories. A story is a journey that moves the listener, and when the listener goes on that journey they feel different. The result is persuasion and sometimes action.

Jennifer Aaker, marketing professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business

That’s right. Evolution has designed our brains for storytelling. When we hear stories, chemicals are released in our brain which make us feel empathy and motivate us to cooperate with other people. It’s a neural mechanism that allows us to develop relationships with strangers.  

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Once a story has captured our attention for long enough, we become emotionally invested. That’s why stories can do something to us that facts and figures can’t achieve. They can move us to tears or change our attitudes, opinions, and behaviors.

This scene from Mad Men, in which Don Draper uses his own family in a pitch, illustrates this perfectly.

When you sell a product, your prospect will start thinking about what their day currently looks like and their daily challenges. Next, they’ll then start imagining how your product or service will resolve those challenges.

But before we get into all that, let’s look at what it takes to craft a good story.

The core elements of a compelling story

You don’t have to be a natural storyteller in order to tell a good story. You just need to understand the basic mechanics of it in order to effectively convey a message.

These are the seven core elements of a story.

1. Stasis

This is the everyday life in which a story is set.

2. Trigger

The trigger is beyond the control of the protagonist and can be either unpleasant or pleasant.

3. Quest

The trigger leads to a quest for a solution.

4. Critical choice

This is when the protagonist needs to make a tough decision which truly reveals their character.

5. Climax

The decision the protagonist made results in the highest peak of tension in the narrative.

6. Reversal

The reversal is the result of the critical choice and climax. This will change the status of the character.

7. Resolution

The resolution is a return to a new, fresh stasis. The characters should be changed, as they’re now wiser and enlightened. At this point, the story is complete.

Now, we’re going to use the above elements and demonstrate them in the context of our CRM.

The search for a better sales process (Example)

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When Mark started his new job, the company looked very different from today.

Stasis

The sales process was fully controlled by the individual sales reps. The data was all over the place. Everything was extremely time-consuming.

Trigger

As the recently hired Sales Manager, all eyes was on him to make things better.

Quest

So Mark went looking for a solution. He needed an automated sales process that would help his reps be more productive and not spend all their time on admin tasks and data entry.

Soon, he found our inside sales CRM, Close.io.

Critical choice

After a few calculations, he realized that the investment was a no-brainer.

The CRM would significantly cut down the time his reps spent doing calls, entering notes, and writing and sending email. That time saved would add up to approximately $60,000 per rep per year.

He bought it.

Climax

The following day, Mark introduced the new tool to his sales reps.

Reversal

In the first week, one rep increased his personal sales by 50 percent, others by 10–20 percent.

Resolution

Since then, the trend has continued. The sales reps are more productive than ever and consistently bring in more revenue.

This is the story of a real Close.io customer. Next, let’s take a look at how you can bring storyselling into your sales process.

How to bring storyselling into your sales process

First things first, what exactly is storyselling?

Definition: Storyselling is the act of selling your product or service through telling a story.

But there’s much more to it than what this simple explanation provides. Using stories in sales will help you:

You can use stories at every stage of the sales process: explaining product features, handling objections, answering questions, and negotiating.

Depending on your prospect’s situation, you’ll want to use one or a combination of the following: company, product, customer or personal story.

The company story

Every company has a founding story, a reason why the business exists in the first place. Often, it starts with a passion, an idea, or a revelation. Share that story. It’ll create authenticity and credibility.

Ever heard the story of Close.io? This is why we exist and continue to build the best inside sales CRM on the market.

The product story

Your product story can be about the inception of your product, and also about how it changed and improved over time, and why it is what it is today.

Push for Pizza uses the story behind how they came up with the idea for the app in this brilliantly simple ad.

Customer stories

By sharing your customer stories, your prospects will be able to visualize what they can do using your product or service. It’ll give your product or service a higher level of relevancy, regardless of the situation they’re in.

Airbnb does an amazing job at putting their customers (hosts and guests) at the center of their brand. Take a look at Stories from the Airbnb community and you’ll see what we mean.

Your personal story

People buy from people they trust, like, and have a connection with. People connect through stories. Sharing your personal story will help build trust and rapport with your prospect.

In this Medium post, The Muse founder Kathryn Minshew shares her failures that ultimately led to an extremely successful business.

The happy ending

We don’t like change.

In fact, science tells us we don’t just dislike it—we fight it. Our brains want to stay put. They want to be comfortable and safe. So in order to change, we need to both see and feel a new and better way of doing things. This can be achieved through stories.

Limitations to change only exist in our heads. Once we change our minds, we can change (and improve) our business.

Present your prospect with two outcomes:

  1. The happy ending: Your prospect takes action (buys your product or service) and it results in a positive change, e.g. more productive sales reps, increased revenue.

  2. The heartbreaking ending: Your prospect doesn’t take action and starts falling behind their competitors, putting the entire business at risk.

Your story is not about features. It’s about a narrated journey that transforms the life of your prospects and customers and leaves them in a better place than before.

How to get started with storyselling today

Getting started with storyselling is easier than you might think. How about we start right now?

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Collect existing stories from your team. Not just from sales reps, include marketing, product and devs, too. Get every department involved.

  2. Evaluate the stories you’ve collected. Do this together with your salespeople and get the full scope on which stories have been successful in the past.

  3. Figure out what’s missing. Are the stories good enough or do you need new and better stories?

  4. Create new stories. Based on current inventory, you might need to create new stories that are better suited to tackle common objections.

  5. Test your stories. Test your existing and newly crafted stories on your leads. Start with less important leads and, once you learn what’s working and not working, begin using your best stories on more important leads.

  6. Maintain your story inventory. Keep an inventory (a spreadsheet will do!) of your most successful stories that’s accessible to your entire sales team.

  7. Do consistent check-ins. Are the stories working as well as they used to? Can they be replaced with better stories? Keep an eye on the use of stories to make sure they achieve what they should.

We've created a template so that you can get started with storytelling today. This includes:

  • Story collection template
  • Story elements
  • Storyselling examples

Share it with your team members today and ask them to share their most valuable customer stories or personal stories that have proven to be effective.

Simply enter your email and you'll be redirected to your template. Soon, you and your team will be telling deal-closing stories.

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