1. Collect Great Stories
One of the first ways to become a better storyteller is to collect great stories. Your life, including your sales life, is full of stories. Many of these stories contain the lessons that you have learned and the ideas that have proven the most useful to helping your clients succeed. Sometimes we overlook the value of these stories.
All of your experiences and stories are your own private selection of case studies. Even though they may not printed, bound, and collected in the PowerPoint presentation, they may all be useful in sharing with your prospects and clients what is possible.
Reflect on your experiences in sales and in serving your customers. What are the stories that are most compelling? What stories illustrate the lessons that you have learned? What stories help create a vision for what is possible?
2. Find the Arc
Every great story has an arc. The protagonist starts in one place and ends up someplace else. But there is never a straight line from A to B, from beginning to end. That would eliminate the drama, and drama is what makes a story compelling. Great stories don’t go boy meets girl, boy marries girl. They go boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy marries girl.
To be a great storyteller you need to find the arc of the story. You need identify the elements that give the story drama. The elements here are the problems, the challenges, and the obstacles that must be overcome. Your story might be client needed results, client tried this and failed, client worked with us in a way neither of us ever imagined, client got results (or something to that effect).
As you work on you stories, work on identifying the arc. What were the challenges you and your client faced together? What were the unexpected obstacles? What unexpected ideas caused you to succeed? What lessons did you learn?
3. Add Details: Details Bring Stories to Life
Details are what bring a story to life. Back to the old standard, no one cares about client needs results, client tries and fails, client gets results. There aren’t enough details there to bring the story to life.
What was the client trying to do? Who were the characters involved? What did they look like? Why were they trying to do it? What did it mean to them? How many times did they try and fail? What happened each time they failed? What kind of equipment were they using? Why were they failing? How did they feel? What was the cost of their failure?
How did they find you? Were they skeptical? Were they defeated? Were they hopeful? What did you learn together? How did you learn it?
Use some of these questions to give life to your stories.
4. Be Entertaining
Great stories are entertaining. The entertainment is, in part, provided by the arc, which provides the story with an element of drama. But great stories, even dramas, often contain an element of pure entertainment in the form of humor. If you have been in sales for any time at all, you have some funny anecdotal stories.
I remember being at a convention in Washington D.C. and a very well known and powerful Senator was the keynote speaker. I expected a political speech, and instead was treated to 20 minutes of stand up comedy. The Senator had, apparently, spent his time in the nation’s capital honing his storytelling craft and building a collection of stories and anecdotes that would disarm and entertain anyone.
The funny anecdotes and stories that you collect and learn to tell add an element of entertainment to your stories. They help to keep your prospects and clients engaged in the story.
Write down your collection of anecdotes and funny stories. Practice them and make sure that they are funny. Weave these anecdotes into the stories that you tell.
5. Provide a Vision of the Future
The reason stories are powerful in sales is that they provide a vision of the future. You can tell a story of something that has already occurred as an analogy, which allows your prospect or client to see themselves in the role of the protagonist. You can tell a story of what the future will look like and how you will get there. Or you can combine these devices, telling a story of how you will get to a better future, including some trips to the past to give life to the obstacles and problems you will have to overcome together.
Personally, I have heard too many stories that include the Deus Ex Machina, the God in the Machine. This is a writing device in which someone or something enters the story that allows the protagonist to succeed, even though it defies all logic and plausibility. This story goes like this: Client needs results, client tries and fails, client hires us and succeeds. It is missing the arc; it is missing the part where they encounter obstacles, challenges, and problems. There is no dragon to slay. The problem here is that it sets an expectation that is unlikely to be realized.
Make sure your vision of the future is an accurate representation. If there are dragons, there are dragons. Give them a name, and make sure your story includes the part about where you do what is necessary to kill the dragon (there is almost always something sacrificed).
Do your stories provide a picture of a better future?
6. Share the Writing Credit
Your prospects and clients have their own stories. In fact, they write the entire story up to the point where you enter the story. Then, you write the story together from that point forward. Make sure to share the writing credit by including your prospect or clients vision of the future.
What are the elements of the story that are important to them? How do they believe you get from point A to point B? What characters do you need to be part of your story? Where do they believe the obstacles lie? How do they think the story ends?
Your prospects and your clients are active participants in the story and in the vision of the better you future you envision together. Making sure you include them means ensuring that they get to write part of the story.
How can you engage your customers in writing this story with you? What questions do you need to ask them to capture their vision?
Storytelling is the ability to create a compelling vision of the future. Great salespeople include in their stories the challenges and the obstacles that will need to be overcome in order to create that future. They write the future positive outcomes with their clients as both characters and as coauthors. Use these tips to be a better storyteller!
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