Seven Stories TrimmedI’ve long believed that top sellers are storytellers. They are able to call upon a rich fund of relevant anecdotes that they use to communicate and persuade far more convincingly than a conventional sales pitch could ever do. And in sharing their stories they encourage their customers to tell their own stories.

As humans, we are wired for story, and have been since long before the days of Homer. Some of us are naturally gifted storytellers, and others have to work on developing this critical skill. But we can all learn to do it well if we have the right framework and are prepared to put in the effort.

But unlike product knowledge or presentation and questioning skills, storytelling skills have rarely been part of the sales training agenda. It’s a subject that has been woefully neglected. The sales profession has been crying out for a guide, and I believe we have finally found one in an outstanding new book from Mike Adams…

It’s never been more important for salespeople to be able to rise above the clutter of cookie-cutter communications and really engage with their customers at both an emotional and a rational level. And it’s never been more important that we cut out all the buzz-word and jargon-ridden nonsense and adopt a more empathetic approach to customer conversations.

All we’ve been waiting for is a guide. And Mike’s new book “Seven Stories Every Sales Person Must Tell” is the most comprehensive handbook I’ve ever come across to enable salespeople to both tell more effective stories and to stimulate our customers to share their own stories in return.

According to Mike’s analysis, successful stories incorporate a sequence of events that fit a known framework, are interesting and unpredictable, turn on one main character and make or illustrate a relevant business point. If any of these are missing, the story is unlikely to engage, persuade or convince.

Perhaps most important, the listener needs to be able to relate to the protagonist and see some important aspects of their own situation in the journey undertaken by the hero of the story. And if the story is to be realistic, it must include some believable complications along the way.

If there is no struggle, there is no story. I believe this is why so many overly-sanitized case studies that follow a simple problem-solution pattern without acknowledging any difficulties along the way simply lack credibility – and why you’ve got to question whether there was any value in publishing them.

As Mike points out, myths, movies, and novels can have complex narrative structures of the sort described by Joseph Campbell in “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, but at minimum, the narrative arc of any good sales story must include four key elements:

  1. Setting: First off, our story needs a setting to establish context – typically including time and place markers that allow our audience to start painting a mental picture
  2. Complications: If we are to establish our credibility and engage our audience’s attention, our story needs to incorporate complications and some element of unpredictability
  3. Turning point: Although complications are necessary to establish interest and credibility when telling sales stories, we (mostly) want to end on a positive note, so the turning point provides the crucial pivot for the story
  4. Resolution: The journey ends with the complications being resolved, tension and suspense being lifted, and a valuable lesson conveyed to the listener

We can embellish or extend these elements. But if any of these four key elements is missing, our story is unlikely to engage or persuade or be in any way memorable to the listener.

By the way, I also recommend that where possible you add a fifth and final element to Mike’s formula: the unexpected benefit. Once you have revealed the resolution, the story can become even more emotionally engaging if you add something like “but in addition to resolving their initial problem, they found that an unexpected benefit was [insert surprising additional benefit]”.

Who are the most effective storytellers in your own organization? I’d expect many of your best-performing salespeople and business consultants to be members of this group, but it would be unusual if the company founders weren’t also highly effective storytellers.

How can we learn from their experiences and establish a company-wide storytelling competence – one that not only makes existing staff more effective but also inducts every new employee into a culture of storytelling and shared experience?

Well, it requires that we establish an ever-growing pool of shareable stories and encourage and equip our customer-facing people to practice and continually develop their storytelling skills.

Mike’s book provides an essential foundation for this endeavor, and I commend it to you.

Well, you’re probably asking, what are the 7 Stories every salesperson must tell? Well, for the full details I suggest you read the book, but here’s a taster:

  • Your personal story
  • Key staff stories
  • Company creation story
  • Insight stories
  • Success stories
  • Values stories
  • Teaching stories

These story types differ in their choice of central character and their purpose. But Mike makes a compelling case for mastering every one of these story types – and provides detailed guidance on how to best develop and articulate each of them.

So – what’s your story? And how has storytelling helped you succeed? Be sure to comment below and tell me about your experiences – and I’d be happy to share my stories in return…