Storytelling is a vital part of the fabric of human interaction, and it has been since long before written language. Whether in the form of cave paintings or blockbuster films, stories transport the audience to constructed worlds and deliver powerful messages with startling accuracy.
According to the London School of Business and Finance, listeners can reliably retain up to 70% of the information they receive via a story. Storytelling isn’t just for dramatized productions; salespeople can use the specific skills and attributes of effective storytelling to better convey a message of value to their prospects and keep them engaged throughout the presentation.
Integrate Statistics that Support Your Story, but Avoid Listing Facts
Inexperienced salespeople tend to get caught up in the belief that the more statistics and data they pack into their sales presentations, the more effective they will be. It’s a logical, if ultimately flawed, conclusion; we know statistics are compelling, and including as many as possible will help build credibility with the audience, right? This leads to them delivering a sales pitch that has no narrative or thread that the prospect can follow, and is instead simply a laundry list of various data points and details about the product and its capabilities.
In reality, statistics have to be used strategically in order to maximize their effectiveness. They should be included at certain points to support the story that is being told, instead of dominating at the forefront. They’re the details that are brought out at the times when they’ll have the most power for the audience, without disrupting the narrative that you are creating. According to research from Harvard University, audiences remember stories up to 22 times more frequently than when they are presented with a series of straight facts and data. The successful integration of the two is how you can really make an impression on your prospects and provide them with valuable information that will motivate them to purchase from you.
Use Universal Themes to Incite Specific Emotions
The most effective stories succeed because they are built around universal themes, and they allow the audience to extrapolate those themes and connect them to experiences in their personal lives. In fact, you can examine almost any enduring story and see how this connection grabs us and pulls us into the world.
Very few of us have awakened to find that our partner has poisoned himself after mistakenly believing we had as well, as happens in "Romeo and Juliet" (spoiler alert!). However, we all uniquely understand the excitement of young, forbidden love, and the despair at the thought that those feelings could be taken away from us.
Or, most of us have never been in a situation as frightening as storming the beach at Normandy, as depicted in "Saving Private Ryan." But as we watch the movie’s opening, the fears that play across the actors’ faces compel us to revisit our own terrors in order to empathize with them. When you find ways to reach specific emotions in the audience as a result of expressing universal themes, your sales stories will be incredibly impactful.
Encourage Them to Picture Their Future with Your Product
As a salesperson, what you’re truly selling is aspiration and value. Your prospect’s life can be improved, and you believe that you have a unique solution for improving it. This is a decidedly aspirational notion, and you can use it to inspire clients to think about a time in the future when their aspirations have been realized. You want to find a balance in which your customer is still in the moment with you, absorbing the story, yet also imagining his or her future while using your product.
Structure the Story as Three Strong Acts
The three-act storytelling structure is a timeless classic because it works.
From early theater productions to modern movies and TV shows, storytellers create narratives in three acts because audiences are accustomed to the structure, and because each act has a very clear purpose that builds on the previous one.
The first act is always about establishing the world and drawing the listener in with captivating details. The second act is where the stakes are established. Finally, in the third act, you deliver a powerful call-to-action that concludes the journey and spurs the audience to take the next steps.
Embrace the Prospect’s Contributions to the Narrative
In the end, it’s crucial to remember that the story you tell doesn’t belong solely to you and your company. It’s actually the prospect’s story, and you weren’t even a part of it until the prospect became aware of your product. Since the story started long before you entered the scene, it stands to reason that prospects have valuable contributions to make to the storytelling process. Give them a chance to make an impact on the process, and incorporate their experiences into creating a compelling shared story that ends with added value for both parties.
Danny Wong is a marketing consultant, sales strategist, and writer. He does marketing at Tenfold, a seamless click-to-dial solution for high-performance sales teams. Connect with him on Twitter @dannywong1190.