How's Your Selling Storytelling?

I read an article in a strategic management mag from a few years back with timeless resonance for salespeople.  It discusses ten books that unmask story-telling as a definitively powerful tool in persuasion.  It must have been a buzz-topic of the time, as I later found an old copy of Inc with a similarly supportive storytelling article.

The first premise discussed offers brilliant insight:

influencing people through scientific analysis is a “push” strategy. It requires the speaker to convince the listener through cold, hard facts. That sets up an antagonistic conversation. Storytelling is a “pull” strategy, coaxing listeners — disarming them, even — into imagining outcomes toward which facts would not lead them.

So then, Pull, don’t Push.

I’ve always realised stories are powerful when selling.  One of my most recurring uses, is when I realise a prospect is going through a similar problem to a client I’ve helped in the past, then I really labour how they were afflicted, in high-def detail, with all the associated emotion of the time.  Another common story topic that produces attentive nodding is about how the ideas for my products came about and how they subsequently evolved.

Using fables and cliches are also recommended in the aforementioned article as,

“no matter how fantastic or fanciful … stories quiet the nettlesome nit-picking of left-brain thinking and stimulate people’s creativity”

(… and the use of comparing the early bird with the second mouse eating the cheese was a cracker, albeit with a message with which I generally do not empathise.)

All well and good, but how do you create a story that has impact?  One suggestion is to write down a list of ‘story triggers’.  Another (and the best tip) is about the four-step dramatic pattern that must be in every story in order to capture people’s imaginations and emotions:

  1. We find a protagonist with a situation or problem,
  2. depict a change that creates drama (a decision, an outside development),
  3. highlight a turning point in the drama (crisis, conflict), and
  4. describe the aftermath.

The Inc instructions adds colour to this by recommending your story needs:

  1. a ‘spine’,
  2. an inciting incident,
  3. a hero (you, preferably, but not essentially),
  4. a valiant quest,
  5. remembering to throw in some conflict, and
  6. a happy ending (“the object of desire”)

(…extra resource:)

Then after reading these articles, I happened on the beeb’s latest reality show, searching for the country’s best young speaker.  The microsite they’ve put together for it has a useful section on how to speak well, with plenty of video, including one specifically on storytelling from slick news presenter Kate Silverton.  It’s well worth a coffee break with pen and paper by your side.

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