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SELLING A BUSINESS

Sales Advice: Improve Your Storytelling

You've already spent time perfecting your questioning and listening skills. But how good is your storytelling?

image courtesy flickr user Lauren Manning cc

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There are three key skills that define a great salesperson: the ability to ask great questions, the ability to listen actively, and the ability to tell great stories.  You've probably spent a lot of time thinking about the first two–but what do you know about storytelling?

Stories have become increasingly important in the world of selling.  They can be a powerful tool for getting the attention of prospective clients, because they're memorable and allow you to easily differentiate yourself, and they help people to understand and connect with what you do.

Focus on Pain & Gain

Get your customers and prospects to tell you stories through open-ended questions.  Target the two emotional levers: issues of pain and gain. To understand their ideal gain, ask them, "If you could wave a magic wand, what would your business look like?" Then, to understand their pain, ask, "What obstacles are keeping you from being successful? And what's the worst-case scenario if those issues aren't addressed?"

Those two different stories are going to paint the bigger picture for you. They also help customers reinforce in their own minds where they need to invest. If you connect them with the right story, the answer will be your product or service.

Tell a Better Story

Here's what you should be doing to craft a great sales story:

  • Begin with the end in mind. What is it that you want the person to do at the end of the story?
  • Have great characters. These could include yourself, your clients, your prospects, or someone else–but your audience has to care about them.
  • Give your characters goals and a vision. Identify something they're trying to accomplish.
  • Give your characters obstacles. These should reflect real life so the audience can engage. Never let your characters get it right the first time.

The interesting thing about storytelling is that it usually happens at the subconscious level–so it's hard to know if it's working.  You won't always get immediate feedback, but that's OK.  You should still be telling the most effective stories you can when you're talking to your prospects.

This is based on a conversation with Mark Satterfield, who uses the power of "sales stories" through his company, Gentle Rain Marketing. Click to listen to the full recording.

Last updated: Apr 6, 2012

TOM SEARCY | Columnist | Founder, Hunt Big Sales

Author, speaker, and consultant Tom Searcy is the foremost expert in large account sales. With Hunt Big Sales, he has helped clients land more than $5 billion in new sales. Click to get Searcy's weekly tips, or to learn more about Hunt Big Sales.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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