Storytelling for Sales People

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Connecting with clients has been on a journey from transactional and consultative approaches through to the challenger sale. The “new” kid on the block for many blue-chip organisations is the power of storytelling which is certainly not new but has lots of scientific back up to its effectiveness.

A series of experiments performed by neuroeconomics pioneer Paul Zak found that stories that are highly engaging and contain key elements — including a good structure – a beginning, middle and an end - including the climax or dénouement that can elicit powerful empathic responses by triggering the release of oxytocin, often referred to as the “trust hormone”.

Michael Gazzaniga showed that stories in presentations help sync the left and right hemispheres of our brain. The left-hand brain is used for systemising, facts and figures and this part of the brain is triggered when someone merely goes through a list on PowerPoint. However, it is our right-hand part of the brain that is used for our “people” emotions, seeing patterns and filling in the gaps of people’s stories to allow us to “see” what others are describing. 

But even without the research, there is no real mystery to the effectiveness of storytelling as humans have passed down knowledge for millennia using this approach. We enjoy films and plays that tell stories and pass messages through engaging characters but these stories must be well crafted and of relevance to hold our attention, so a good story takes practice.

Erik Luhrs, author of “Be Do Sale” suggests that stories allow the subconscious mind of the prospect to truly ‘get’ and see the valuable application of the solution. He adds that this is because neuro-linguistic programming shows that “all humans run 99 percent subconsciously and only 1 percent consciously.”

Businesses are made up of people, serving people, so no surprise about the importance of the emotional connection we make with brands. 

This begins to make more sense for a business setting when considering visionary speaker Simon Sinek’s simple structure of how we connect with the most successful organisations.

Having over 32m views of his TED lecture, I guess this is well known and beautifully simple in its business message.

Sinek looked at inspirational leaders and companies and said they start with “why” they were in business rather than what they did and how they did it. He looks at Apple who position themselves as “everything we do challenges the status quo (why) so we designed (how) beautiful PCs that are easy to use (what)”. The “why” works on our story telling, right hand side of the brain and hence why we connect with some brands more than others.

As he suggests, most organisations are more comfortable with what they do and how they do it but many struggle with the “why” or the purpose of what they are doing. We shouldn’t confuse purpose with goals, so making money is a goal and hence why many organisations struggle to articulate the purpose beyond that.

The “Why?” plugs into our emotional, right hand part of the brain.


Music, song and dance

It was said that a good musical needed all three of these elements to come together to be successful and it is the same with people and their story telling when then body language (dance), tone of voice (music) and the story (song) come together into a cohesive, relevant journey. This is why some people are better raconteurs than others. However everyone learns these techniques even the seemingly naturally gifted people – they weren’t born with the ability to speak after all.

So to increase your sales capability try to pass your messages in well crafted stories, especially weaving in the “why” your organisation does what it does. Remember that telling engaging stories takes practice but as you build your skills you will increase the oxytocin in your listener, so when you finally talk about what you can do and how good you are, that will sound very different when your clients are listening with trusting ears. 

Mdina International