Lots of people I talk to are not comfortable promoting themselves. The mere thought of doing sales work fills them with dread.
‘Quelle horreur’ they exclaim.
That, of course, assumes they’re French. If not French, they’ll say something else, like nefret etmek (Turkish version). Forgive my lame attempt at humor, but the point is that a vast number of people think that ‘selling sucks.’
I’ve been in sales for most of my adult life. Does that mean I love typical sales strategies? No way. Many of them make me want to puke. When I was in the belly to belly sales game, I felt uncomfortable with many of the taught techniques.
After a few years – and with a mentor’s help – I developed what I now call my Conversational Sales Method. The contrast between the old and the new way was stark. Night and day.
I am not a born salesperson. I struggled with it for many years.
Indeed, the boss fired me from my first sales job, and I was mediocre at best in my second (I lasted six months). I kept saying to myself, ‘I’m not cut out for sales work.’
There are different ways to overcome the problem, and if we’re running a business overcome it, we must. Eventually, I overcame most of my hangups about doing sales work when I discovered the previously mentioned conversational selling method.
Today I am happy to promote myself and get my messages out there, but many people struggle to shine their light.
That’s why I want to discuss this topic of ‘storytelling for sales.’ If you’re not using stories in your marketing, it probably costs you a bunch of money in the form of lost sales.
But it is also a perfect way for non-sales types to promote themselves.
Problem Solved – Don’t Sell, Tell Stories Instead.
Why do we love stories? Stories let us live vicariously through the storyteller’s eyes; they take us on a journey of discovery and adventure.
Stories are recognizable patterns, and in those patterns, we find meaning. They give us clarity when we had none before. We use stories to make sense of our world and to share that understanding with others.
One of the things I learned early on was to tell stories to bring the product to life. Back then, I was selling life insurance. A dry topic, and unless I used stories to illustrate the points I was making, people would tune out.
So, I’d share happy customer stories, including stories of widows and widowers who kept their families intact after a spouse had died. Stories are enormously powerful if told well. And it has always been like this.
From time immemorial, people have been captivated by stories. Why? Because stories inspire, challenge, provoke, and give comfort. Starting as infants, we become immersed in stories. But as we mature and become adults, stories still infuse our thinking.
Stories appear in different forms and inhabit different areas of our lives:
- Work-based stories
- The story of brands
- Family stories
- Nation-building stories
- Morality Stories
- To name a few
People have been telling stories since Adam was a boy. Or was it earlier? Well, Neanderthals told the first stories.
Anyway, you can read more about the history of stories and related topics by reviewing my blog post, How To Influence and Persuade With Powerful Story Telling.
“We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.” — Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human
A Simple Business Storytelling Structure You Can Use Right Now
First up, a change in orientation is required. It’s time to turn the traditional ‘look at me, I’m the best’ model on its head.
From this point forward, you’ll be using simple stories to engage, provoke, and seduce people to do business with you. Instead of putting you and your business at the center of your business story, it’s better to put your customer first.
Build narratives around your customers and their journey. And here is excellent news: if you do it right, you will sell truckloads of products and services.
Ready for the journey ahead? Great, dive in.
Start With the End In Mind
What problems do you solve, and how will you share the good news? Start by calling out the issues.
If you have a website, list the problems on your home page. Also make a song and dance about your Big Promise, condensed into a single statement. On social media, you will do it with focused posts.
If you’re attracting the right people (i.e., the people who are trying to solve the problems you can solve), your content will hit the spot for the reader. Done correctly, they will think you are talking directly to them.
Relating it to the world of movies (of which there are many parallels to the real-world experience), we see that many movies feature the main character as the hero or protagonist.
Supporting characters might include:
- The sidekick
- The villain
- The love interest
I’ve written previously about the Die Hard movies featuring Bruce Willis as John McLane, the protagonist.
McLane was a good guy placed in a stressful situation that he didn’t ask for or want. In an instant, his life changed for the worse. He now had a big problem. So begins his quest to extract himself from a dire situation to return to the world he left behind – his ordinary world.
After many heart-stopping moments, John finally figured out how to get out of that grim situation and escape the clutches of the dastardly Hans Gruber.
We call this the ‘reaching the Summit’ stage. John encountered many problems and used his wit and resourcefulness to figure out different ways to overcome all of them. Phew! That’s what needs to happen in your business. Your customers: as Hero’s they solved their problem by purchasing your product – and reached the summit.
How Your Stories Serve Your Marketing Goals
Who is your customer’s villain? The villain or antagonist is a metaphor for a challenge like coping with pain, lack of sales, or a leaky roof. Other examples could include company red ink, poor time management, lost opportunity, or poor cash flow.
Money management problems, lack of energy, being overweight, or financing problems could also be appropriate depending on the business.
When you are crystal clear about the obstacles faced by your prospective customers, take them on a journey of discovery. We call it the Call to Adventure. They’ll check out competitor offerings, and do their research. But until they find you, they haven’t solved their problem.
So, who is your hero? Think of your ideal client – can you craft a story around this person?
Other than defining their core problems also look for the transformation or the result. How will your product or service solve the problem and give them a better tomorrow? Understand this. A change in results can only happen after a change in thinking. Often the shift occurs when someone enters their life and offers to help.
In the context of your business, you and your team represent the helping hand they need.
Transformation is about internal and external change. For instance, if you’re a marketing coach, you can’t help people get more sales without shifting their view of the way business needs to be done.
When it happens, they can look forward to increased sales on the one hand and more self-confidence on the other. They have reached their personal and business summit.
Sometimes the shift can happen very fast. This is what I call the epiphany moment. Maybe they read something you posted on Facebook or in a blog post. Instantly they have an ah-ha moment.
The one area of their life that was giving them grief suddenly offers a pathway forward. And then it happens – BOOM! They completed an inquiry form, called you, or sent you a message.
When you think about your marketing story, start by defining your hero—who is your favorite client? Then consider which problem you help him solve or how you can transform his life. What’s the internal and external transformation?
- If you’re a life coach you might help clients remove self-limiting blockages, gain more confidence, and find their true purpose.
- As an accountant, you help clients improve their cash flow, sort out their finances, reduce tax, and give them peace of mind.
- As a mortgage broker, you help them finance their dream home, or refinance their house so they can start a business and change the direction of their life.
- As a marketing consultant, you help business owners boost their sales by rejigging their ad campaigns or exploiting the hidden marketing assets within their business. This will likely produce more free-flowing cash which they can invest in income-producing assets to secure their retirement.
The Link Between Storytelling and Making Sales
Although I’ve been referencing movies, we don’t have time for multiple movie scenes in the real world of business. A film will often start by previewing the coming battle, but you have less time to grab the reader’s attention for your marketing pitch.
We cut to the chase and highlight the hero’s problem and her desire for a better tomorrow. The best way to do this from a marketing perspective is to write a punchy headline that calls out the pain AND the solution, at the same time.
You can then leverage the headline – or at least the ideas behind it – into themes for your overarching messaging strategy. Examples are:
We’ll Help You Boost Your Profits By Up To 53 Percent Without Increasing Your Overhead or Working Harder.
5 Step Plan to Get a Promotion Without Working Like a Demon or Creating Enemies.
Demolish Stress, Manage Fear, and Gain a New Outlook on Life.
‘My Friends Said I Never Smiled – Now I’m the One Who’s Smiling’
Your New Roof: Installed On Time, Without Fuss and No Mess.
Your Role: Tour Guide and Trusted Confidant
To reiterate, you are not the hero in the story. This is so last century because the reader sees you as pushy and overbearing.
Instead, see yourself as a tour guide and leader. As you guide people through your story, take the initiative and give them direction. Like dogs and other pack animals, people want leadership. Can you do it without them thinking that you’re entirely self-serving? Do they get a sense that you have their best interests at heart? If yes, you’re on the way to winning them to your cause.
So start with the problem then educate them on how you’re going to solve it. Get your readers to picture the relief they’ll feel when the problem is solved. They’ve reached the other side and their relief is palpable, not to mention the exhilaration that flows from solving their problem and creating a better tomorrow.
How will you educate them? Describe the process: how you do business; how you deliver; realistic outcomes they can expect; the feelings of relief (and euphoria) they will feel at the end of the journey.
Whether you offer a coaching program, deliver a course, or provide a service like web design, copywriting or even accounting, your role as a guide is to provide a clear plan so your client overcomes obstacles and reaches their Summit.
Storytelling Is Not an Adjunct to Your Content: It IS Your Content
Your content informs your audience about your marketing story. A given. As stated, it is better to assume the role of guide (or even that of a trusted confidant), than it is to morph into a marketing attack dog.
Therefore, educate people about how you can help them reach their goals, and make their dreams come true. Another way to look at it is to see yourself as the person who helps people have better tomorrows. Paint pictures, highlight problems, educate about solutions and tell them what to do (take the next step).
- Home Page. Call out the problem and give a brief overview of how you will solve it. And if you’ve got a hot offer, yes, promote it.
- About Page. Spell out the process and include exciting profiles of key people in your business.
- Case Histories Page. Mini Case histories give you another opportunity to tell more stories. Think about developing well-written success stories of customers who have bought your product or service.
- Blog Page. Your blog gives you more scope to further educate people about the value you provide from the customer’s perspective. Give special emphasis to your customer’s transformational journey.
- Facebook Page. Whether you use your personal profile or business page, the content strategy is similar. Feature content that puts your customer front and center in their quest to solve their problem and reach a better place.
- LinkedIn Page. Rejig your Bio, so it’s in sync with your new-found focus on the customer journey. Likewise for your LinkedIn posts and articles.
- Email. Reinforce everything you’re doing on social media and your website with the latest news and stories, thereby reinforcing your overarching narrative.
See yourself more as a guide than a bad-assed marketer. Your role is to guide people through the buying process. What do your customers want? Name it. But realise that they will often hit a wall; they encounter a problem and need to solve it before getting what they want.
What is their problem? Anything that prevents them from reaching their personal Summit (their desired destination or goal). That’s why they need you – to help them solve their problems to get what they want.
To summarize, your job is to be a guide. You help prospects identify problems, give them a plan to solve them (your product or service), and close the deal (we call this the Call to Action or Close)
You tell stories to capture attention, stimulate interest and inspire them to take the next step (make an inquiry, book an appointment, or buy)
If your customer is ready to buy, ask for the sale. If not, give them something valuable so they can continue the process and further build the relationship (examples: free report, cheat sheet, free consultation or strategy call etc.).
Making the Shift: From Telling Stories to ‘Forcing’ Action
Well, not forcing – everyone is a free agent. But you are required to take a leadership role by telling prospects what to do next. Until that happens all of the good work you’ve done (to paint a picture of your hero’s transformation), will be lost.
This is known as the Call to Action stage; asking people to take the next step. The next step will vary according to your business and at what point in the buying process your prospect is in. The Call to Action, therefore, can come in many forms:
- Buy Your Product or Service.
- Request Your Lead Magnet.
- Enroll in a Free Course or Educational Series.
- Book an Appointment.
So, at the end of your story, it’s time for a clear call to action. Is your reader ready to buy? Your call to action can be to buy or to contact you for a quote.
If she is not ready to buy, your call to action might be to download a report or an ebook. My favorite option to start a relationship with readers is to invite them to join an educational email series, so you can show them your credentials as a trusted guide.
In his book “Building a StoryBrand,” Donald Miller summarizes stories eloquently:
Here is nearly every story you see or hear in a nutshell: A CHARACTER who wants something encounters a PROBLEM before they can get it. At the peak of their despair, a GUIDE steps into their lives, gives them a PLAN, and CALLS THEM TO ACTION. That action helps them avoid FAILURE and ends in a SUCCESS.
That’s it. Your customer is the hero who ‘solves’ his problem with help from you as a guide and trusted advisor.