Continuing on our quest to increase sales, by at least 20%, by using the power of stories, we will today talk about the remaining part of the sales process and how and what kind of stories we can use to increase our impact.
First a quick recap. In the previous article we spoke about how studies across time and across industries have repeatedly revealed two facts. One, the top 20% of almost all sales forces, especially those in solution sales, outsell the average performers by close to double. Two, every sales person in the top 20% is a natural storyteller.
How do we teach the next 30% how to also become great storytellers?
In the previous article, we discussed that a typical solutions sales process has four parts: building rapport, establishing credibility, demonstrating value and finally, asking for the business.
In the building rapport phase we demonstrated how to use personal connection stories (stories that demonstrate what we value and what we care about) and success stories (stories that illustrate in an engaging and engrossing manner how we, and our products and services, have helped other individuals who are like our listener).
We now move to the next three phases. The phase of establishing credibility is about building trust. We know that people buy us first before they buy our products or services. The prospective client needs to know whether you and your company deliver what you promise. Are you reliable? It is also very important to demonstrate your knowledge of a customer’s business and its economic drivers. Gary Klein, a psychologist, says “an insight is an unexpected shift to a better story.” Stories are at the heart of building credibility.
You can share a story about something that happened in a business similar to theirs and how it was tackled. If it is unexpected and better than what they have now, you have just provided an insight.
Gartner has published an amazing array of business stories illustrating innovative ways in which IT groups have made a difference. One story is about how Swedish rail company SJ noticed that their trains were leaving platforms with empty seats. So their IT team developed an auction system to sell off the remaining places.
Now each train leaves full and they have added millions of krona to their revenue. A little story like this is an analogy for many types of business problems and helps the customer to think differently.
In the third phase, you need to demonstrate value. Your proposal should tell the story of why the suggested action is needed and how it will address the needs of the business. A very effective structure for this is, what we call the clarity story structure. The narrative usually begins with how things were in the past in the area your solution would impact. But then something changed, there were some turning points that necessitated our doing something different now (your solution). You then get into describing that solution. Finally, the narrative ends by painting a picture of the future, of what success will look like to people within and without. The story you tell will be most effective when you develop it with your customer, so that when they receive your materials it is totally familiar, as much their story as yours.
Finally, in the fourth phase, you ask for the business. This is where, like in any other sales process, we need to be adept at handling objections. Objections are nothing but stories people have in their head about why what they believe in is true. And all our work with stories has proven time and again that it is virtually impossible to fight a story with a fact. Not only is providing evidence to discredit a belief ineffective, it can also work against the objective by triggering the confirmation bias. Research conducted by Lord, Ross and Lepper (1979) suggests that people will not only persevere in their original beliefs but may come to believe in them even more strongly. It is only possible to dislodge such a belief by replacing it with another story. We call this the influence story pattern where, instead of pushing people to change their mind using data, we narrate incidences and anecdotes which demonstrate the existence of an alternate reality, a new possibility, and let the listener pull this in and replace the current story in their mind.
All the story patterns described above—connections story, success story, clarity story and influence story—are very easy to understand, grasp, practice and perfect. We have demonstrated this time and again in the work we have done. We humans, irrespective of language, culture, upbringing and current professional state are all hardwired for stories. It is not a new skill to learn but to acquire an understanding of the do’s and don’ts and learn how to apply something innate in a sales situation.
So go ahead and bring this into the larger sales team and see the average salesperson turn into a super one. Even if only the second 20% performs like the first, that’s a minimum guarantee of a 20% increase in sales.