Why Salespeople Need to Be Storytellers
Sales | Jan 11, 2019 | 3 min read
If you've read The Challenger Sale, then you know you can't close a sale by simply sharing a business case and a jazzy pitch deck full of charts and data. To impress your customers, you need a carefully curated commercial insight that highlights new thinking and leads to, not with, the optimal solution.
Image + Research Credit: Challenger Advisor Ken Revenaugh and Insights Beyond Research
The six steps or 'choreography' of the commercial insight mimic the high-low-high of a conventional story arc. And who doesn't love using a little drama to drive home the disruptive nature of a successful Commercial Insight?
Storytelling has been at the core of human communication and connection for as long as humans have been around. It's one of the most compelling ways people connect. As a result, a persuasive storytelling approach can be a salesperson's best tool. What is it about a story that drives home the point so well? It's all to do with emotions, and connecting with the audience through an emotional journey of sorts.
Beyond creating a meaningful connection, storytelling allows people to better comprehend and process complicated information and fully visualize an outcome.
But how does this all fit with the art of closing a deal? In a solutions-based selling environment, a salesperson must walk the buyer through complicated information and scenarios. Utilizing a storytelling approach can be far more persuasive than the traditional 'facts and figures' pitch, and it allows for a deeper connection between buyer and seller.
A successful teaching pitch brings the buyer on a journey, but it's not enough to simply use rational or emotional arguments on their own, instead there's a careful balance between the two to create disruptive change.
Following the classic 'Cinderella' story arc of the rise, fall, rise, we can take a closer look at creating a Commercial Teaching moment and all the necessary storytelling elements needed to make it successful.
The first steps of the teaching pitch are all about leveling with the buyer and laying out the scenario of the story. In the warmer portion of the reframe, sellers build credibility through empathy; sharing experience with similar companies who are experiencing similar situations.
The drama of the reframe peaks when the seller introduces that new idea; a new problem or concern that all of these similar companies also experience but don't consider. Perhaps the buyer is in the same situation and feels that sense of personal concern and so begins the fall.
This is where true storytelling reaches its crescendo, through rational drowning and emotional impact, buyers put themselves in the story and they both think, and acutely feel the difficult and dark places the story could go.
Sellers must paint a vivid picture of how companies with similar challenges have failed, by engaging in behavior that's easily recognizable to the buyer. At this point, the buyer isn't passively interested in a solution, but craves it as a matter of necessity.
In true Deus Ex Machina fashion, it's now time to provide a solution and relieve the buyer's tension. But here is where master storytellers show their talent. A direct product pitch can provide quick relief and set up the close. But, like a contrived ending, it's a let down. No, the master storyteller holds the drama through the solution. The ending is not about how much better lives would be with the seller's specific solution, it's a story about how much better lives would be if things were done differently. The buyer, still in suspense, asks, "but, how, how do I do this?" And the seller responds, "I'm glad you asked."
Now the story comes to its rightful conclusion. The buyer is convinced of a solution he or she personally owns and appreciates that trusted adviser (the seller) who can make it a reality.
While it may not look or feel like Cinderella, following this commercial choreography does in fact bring the same drama and emotional impact you would get from any story. American Playwright David Mamet, says the only interest of the audience member is always "what happens next." In a sales conversation, just like any story, spoil that ending - by leading with it or making it all about you - and you lose the audience.
If talking about commercial insight and the choreography has made you curious, we've written a few books on this subject. Contact us here if you'd like to learn more.
This blog post was written with insights and research from Ken Revenaugh and fellow Challenger Advisors. If you'd like to learn more about our team of Global Advisors, check them out here.