Storytelling is one of our oldest forms of communication and is an excellent persuasive tool. Stories do the job better than facts – you only have to look to the tabloid news cycle to see that.
It’s also clear that, however fictional, stories can profoundly impact actions in reality, as the ‘Jaws effect’ proves.
Despite their power, many brands aren’t utilizing storytelling techniques in their sales strategy. It’s great to present your customers with facts and figures for your brand’s success.
But an excellent sales pitch will use finely-tuned narrative techniques to wash these down. These days, a customer can find out almost everything about your company with a Google search.
What Google can’t replicate, however, is the people, beliefs, and values that make your brand the best choice. It’s not enough to regurgitate dry facts when a customer makes contact.
We’re going to explore how storytelling techniques can imbue your sales strategy with that crucial human touch. Always consider the needs of your brand and customers.
1. Stories are memorable
This is, perhaps, the most important argument for using storytelling techniques in sales. All the world’s ales expertise won’t make a difference unless you have a way to stick in your customers’ minds.
Today’s business environment is highly competitive. Chances are you’ll be up against at least several (potentially dozens or hundreds depending on your field) of other brands.
Every one of these brands will have statistics they can spin in a way that looks impressive. Most potential customers will have already researched these.
The reason they’re talking to you? So they can find out what the people at your company can offer them.
Research time-honored storytelling methods and use them as the foundation of your sales narrative. Use a simple story structure that puts a neat image into your customer’s mind: this happened so we did this, causing this.
Most importantly, you want to close the story off in a neat way that emphasizes customer satisfaction. Ambiguous endings might be fun in movies, but offering reassurance should be the top priority in sales.
2. Storytelling demonstrates empathy
There’s a reason why storytelling is a common empathy exercise. Sharing experiences, discussing pivotal life moments, or relaying what you did over the weekend helped us understand each other.
Building a narrative structure under the thoughts and feelings, you want to share lets you do so coherently.
By applying elements of storytelling to your sales strategy, you can personalize the approach to your customer. You want them to view your brand in the context of their business requirements.
Think about what their needs are, and validate those needs through a well-crafted narrative. Don’t be afraid to use humor, or appeal to the customer’s emotions, to show that you understand them.
By using one of humanity’s oldest empathy-building techniques, you let the customer know that they can trust you. You’re laying the foundations for a mutually beneficial client-business relationship.
3. Stories center the customer
Every story needs a hero, right? While it might seem obvious to make your brand the be-cloaked savior of the day, this isn’t the best way to build empathy with your customer.
People often say that ‘everyone is the hero of their own story.’ Make the customer the main character of your sales narrative to show that you prioritize their needs and perspective above all.
Your brand takes the all-important second place. You’re supporting, backing up, supplying the tools, and occasionally stepping in to save the day.
Center the customer to show that you think of them as someone with agency, someone who makes informed choices, and whose opinions matter.
Instead of thinking job-interview-style and ‘describing a time when’, try molding the story to focus on the customer’s benefits. Show them how your support can help them achieve more.
Emphasize your availability to the customer, and follow through on these promises.
Strong, consistent customer relationships are the key to avoiding customer churn, so be a friend to your customer from the very start.
4. Stories express brand personality
When you frame your sales pitch as a narrative, your brand becomes a character. Seize the opportunity to let your customer know exactly what type of character that is.
What sort of story do you want to tell? Relate your tales of business triumph in a way that emphasizes the traits your customer values most.
This might be dynamism, flexibility, or creativity. It’s up to you to find out exactly what your customer is looking for.
Potential customers will already have an idea of your brand from their research. Consider your company’s public face: this is what initially drew the customer to you.
Emphasize the things that make your brand unique. Retain a cohesive brand identity throughout your relationship with the customer.
Right from the start of the customer’s journey with you, let them know who you are as a brand. Do your public relations and email marketing strategy reflect this identity – and, more importantly, what the customer thinks you can be?
5. Stories have emotional appeal
We’ve all seen it – the sugar-sweet commercials that make use of cute children, animals, or old people to pull on the heartstrings. Plenty of research has found that a customer’s emotional response to a given ad has more impact on their future buying decisions than the ad’s actual content.
But just how do brands play on customer emotions and stir up empathy? We know by now, of course – through storytelling.
A child cuddling a cat is a very nice image on its own, but how much more persuasively powerful does it become with narrative buildup?
What if we first see the poor stray cat huddling for warmth in a snowstorm and hiding from animal control? Emotionally, much more is at stake.
We go from worry and pity about the cat’s fate, to the warm relief of everything working out – and even better than before.
A story-based sales pitch plays off tension and conflict in the same way. Without a narrative to your pitch, you’re missing the opportunity to tap into your customer’s emotions.
These emotions are key to customers’ buying decisions. Use the basic storytelling structure to describe a conflict that could arise, such as a supplier or courier letting you down.
Then, have everything resolved tidily in a way that benefits the customer – and touches on your brand’s USP.
6. Stories inspire action
As we’ve touched on, it’s not enough to inspire only the warm and fuzzy emotions in your customer. A good story has tension, and for tension, there has to be something at stake.
This isn’t to say you should terrify your customers into choosing you. The last thing you want to do is begin the client relationship on a foundation of fear and mistrust.
You simply need to acknowledge the possibility that things can go wrong.
Many brands fail to do this, out of the understandable fear that they will look incompetent. However, what this ends up doing is glossing over the realities of doing business.
Your customers are experienced, intelligent people, and they know that blunders happen. They’ll appreciate your honesty and appreciate it even more if you can demonstrate that your brand is capable and competent. You can use a well-woven narrative to show that your brand has a plan.
Above all, the possibility of mishaps evokes those decision-making emotions in your customer. We’ve all heard of ‘fight or flight’ – that anxiety will drive a person into action.
When you evoke conflict and tension in your sales technique, you raise tricky questions for your customer. You encourage them to consider which actions they should take, and make a decision. With the conclusion to your sales story, you present them with an explicit resolving action.
7. Stories express creativity
You can give your sales reps lists of facts and figures to reel off. But stories will do much more for them and your customers.
Make use of your team’s unique talents. Confront your customers with the unexpected, to inspire those tricky emotions, and stick in their minds.
Go for evocative, vibrant language and imagery when selling to your customers. Make your stories immersive by making the context relevant to your customer.
One of the many benefits of narrative-based sales is that an immersive story activates more of the brain’s different areas. Use creative storytelling to make your brand memorable when selling.
The opportunity for creativity will invigorate your sales team. Encourage collaboration between colleagues during training and coaching.
Boredom and repetition in the workplace are anathemas to good service. Your sales technique should be something both your customers and staff can get excited about.
8. Stories have entertainment value
Let’s face it – nobody likes being sold to. Research has shown that most customers view salespeople as a ‘necessary evil.’
Sales and advertising are something to be tolerated and avoided where possible. That’s why everyone goes to get snacks during commercial breaks, right?
This could be changing, however. Take the 2019 Superbowl – its TV audience of 98 million was considered a poor showing. But the half-time ads – available and viral online before the event – scored over 100 million viewers.
The vaunted half-time slot has always been where brands pour the most time and resources. The result? Ads with the scope to present fleshed-out narratives and characters. From Danny Trejo as Marcia Brady to the tragic loss of Mr. Peanut, these ads hook viewers with well-made storytelling.
You can do the same with direct-to-customer sales. If your customer’s shopping around, hearing pitches from dozens of brands can become a slog.
Stand out from the others by giving them some much-needed respite. Give your customers something to laugh at, something to think about, something they can remember and share with others.
Consider also creating content for your website and social media that emphasizes your brand story. Videos can be a great medium for this.
An “About Us” page that tells the story of how your brand came to be is also a good idea. It will be of interest to your customers and demonstrate your transparency.
Sharing your brand story shows that yours is a developed brand, with the knowledge and passion of real people behind it.
9. Living happily ever after
As we’ve seen, there are many ways you can make storytelling work for your brand. While this article has focused on initial sales techniques, the ongoing customer relationship should be founded on the same principles.
Great service drove your customers to choose you; continued great service will keep them on your side. Make customers feel like main characters by centering client communications in your business practice.