Sales storytelling is the art of telling effective stories during a sales pitch. The intention of this practice is to point out the benefits of a product or service as opposed to discussing the price or various features, models, or uses.
Understanding sales storytelling
People have told stories for thousands of years as a way to build connections with others and relate to them on an emotional level.
In the modern world of sales, emotion is a powerful way to conduct a sales conversation that strikes a balance between communicating product value and making a personal connection with the prospect. With people remembering stories and only a few remembering statistics after a sales presentation, it is important to lead with stories first and follow up with facts and hard data second.
Despite the benefits of this approach, many sales executives still consider the demo or sales pitch to be the most important part of the meeting. They tend to demonstrate every feature without ever slowing down, bombarding the prospect with excessive amounts of information that they could never hope to absorb. The process of revealing every single detail at the first meeting also obviates the need for another meeting that could be used to close the deal.
In the next section, we’ll take a look at how sales executives can make their products more attractive by associating them with stories.
How to tell compelling sales stories
Here are some simple tips to telling better stories that are easy to remember:
- All stories have a beginning, middle, and end. Sales storytelling is no different. Each story should have a basic theme to ensure it never strays from the core message.
- Base the story around a hero. In sales, the hero should ideally be the customer who must find a way to solve their pain points and emerge triumphantly. The idea here is to encourage the prospect to make a natural connection between the hero’s story and their own predicament.
- Ensure the prospect is engaged with the story every minute or so. This can be done by asking rhetorical questions.
- When the prospect has a lightbulb moment of clarity and can see parallels with their own story, seize the opportunity and move them closer to making a deal.
- The characters in a story should also be able to speak. Give them dialogue to boost their credibility.
- There is nothing wrong with a story that elicits certain emotions. These emotions help the prospect feel something for the product and make the meeting itself more memorable.
- Avoid stories that are cliched or where the meaning is too obvious. The prospect should be able to understand the key messages in the story themselves and be inspired to take some form of action that benefits the business.
- Focus on the value and leave out extraneous details. The prospect does not care about how many offices a business has around the world. They only care about what a sales executive or product can do for them.
Sales storytelling types
There is no single sales story that will be perfect for every situation. Ideally, the sales executive should have these six types in their repertoire:
- Problem stories – as mentioned in the previous section, this is a story where a hero overcomes their pain points and emerges victorious. The “victory” should always be explained in terms of solutions.
- Two-need stories – a simple approach where the sales executive describes a customer who experienced both a problem and a success.
- Personal stories – where the executive builds rapport by sharing a story about themselves that is relevant and to the point.
- Purpose stories – to build transparency and trust, these stories are used to explain how and why the organization was founded and came to be selling a product or service.
- Vision stories – in this case, the vision is a hypothetical situation the prospect may find themselves in if they do not take action. When used effectively, vision stores motivate the prospect to act.
- Success stories – how have previous clients who faced similar predicaments solved the problem? Success stories are relatable, relevant, and build social proof.
Problem Story (Cybersecurity):
- Context: A salesperson is selling cybersecurity solutions to a small business owner.
- Story: “Our client, a small business just like yours, faced a devastating cyberattack that nearly crippled their operations. They lost valuable data and spent weeks recovering. But with our cybersecurity system in place, they thwarted subsequent attacks and safeguarded their critical information.”
- Solution: Offer the cybersecurity solution to protect the prospect’s business from potential cyber threats.
Two-Need Story (Project Management Software):
- Context: A software sales representative is pitching a project management tool to a project manager.
- Story: “Another project manager, in a situation similar to yours, struggled with communication gaps and missed project deadlines. However, after implementing our project management tool, they not only improved team collaboration but also consistently delivered projects on time and under budget.”
- Solution: Present the project management software as a solution to streamline project management and enhance collaboration.
Personal Story (Financial Advisor):
- Context: A financial advisor is discussing retirement planning with a client.
- Story: “When I was your age, I faced the same questions about retirement. I made informed investment decisions, and today I’m enjoying a comfortable retirement. I want to help you achieve the same financial security.”
- Solution: Offer personalized retirement planning services to the client.
Purpose Story (Eco-friendly Fashion):
- Context: A clothing brand is selling sustainable fashion products to a fashion boutique.
- Story: “Our brand was founded with a mission to revolutionize the fashion industry by promoting ethical and sustainable practices. We carefully source eco-friendly materials and support fair labor. Partnering with us means promoting style with a conscience.”
- Solution: Encourage the boutique to stock sustainable fashion products from the brand.
Vision Story (Tech Startup):
- Context: A tech startup founder is seeking investment for their innovative app.
- Story: “Imagine a world where our app simplifies daily tasks for millions of people. Your investment can help us achieve this vision and make life easier for countless individuals.”
- Solution: Invite the investor to fund the development and growth of the innovative app.
Success Story (Education):
- Context: An educational consultant is offering tutoring services to a parent.
- Story: “We worked with a student facing academic struggles. After our tutoring sessions, their grades improved significantly, and they gained the confidence to excel in school. Your child can experience similar success.”
- Solution: Recommend tutoring services to help the parent’s child succeed academically.
Problem Story (Healthcare Tech):
- Context: A salesperson is pitching electronic health record (EHR) software to a medical practice.
- Story: “A clinic faced challenges with paper-based records, leading to errors and inefficiencies in patient care. Our EHR solution transformed their operations, reducing errors and enhancing the quality of patient care.”
- Solution: Offer the EHR software to streamline medical record management.
Vision Story (Travel Industry):
- Context: A travel agency is promoting exotic travel destinations.
- Story: “Picture yourself sipping cocktails on a pristine beach, surrounded by turquoise waters and palm trees. Our travel packages can turn this dream vacation into a reality.”
- Solution: Encourage customers to book travel packages to exotic destinations.
Personal Story (Financial Planner):
- Context: A financial planner is discussing retirement planning with a client.
- Story: “I’ve helped countless individuals secure their financial future. Let’s create a tailored retirement plan that ensures your golden years are truly golden.”
- Solution: Collaborate with the client to create a personalized retirement plan.
Two-Need Story (Automotive):
- Context: A car salesperson is pitching a hybrid vehicle to a potential buyer.
- Story: “A recent customer was concerned about rising fuel costs and their environmental impact. They chose a hybrid, saving on fuel expenses and reducing their carbon footprint.”
- Solution: Present the hybrid vehicle as an eco-friendly and cost-effective transportation solution.
Success Story (Tech Support Services):
- Context: A tech support company is offering services to a small business.
- Story: “A similar small business faced frequent IT issues that disrupted their operations. With our support, they achieved uninterrupted workflow and substantial cost savings.”
- Solution: Offer tech support services to address the prospect’s IT challenges.
Vision Story (Automotive – Electric Vehicles):
- Context: An electric vehicle manufacturer is presenting their vision to potential investors.
- Story: “We envision a future where electric vehicles dominate the roads, reducing emissions and creating a sustainable transportation ecosystem. Your investment can drive us closer to this vision.”
- Solution: Invite the investor to fund the development and growth of electric vehicle technology.
Problem Story (Retail):
- Context: A retail software vendor is selling inventory management software to a retail store owner.
- Story: “Our client, a retail store owner like yourself, faced inventory issues with overstocking and stockouts. Our inventory management software helped them optimize stock levels, reduce losses, and increase profits.”
- Solution: Present the inventory management software as a solution to streamline inventory control.
Personal Story (Life Coach):
- Context: A life coach is offering personal development coaching to a client.
- Story: “I once felt lost and overwhelmed in life, unsure of my path. Through personal development, I transformed my life, and now I’m passionate about helping others find their purpose and fulfillment.”
- Solution: Offer personalized coaching sessions to guide the client towards personal growth.
Purpose Story (Nonprofit – Education):
- Context: An educational nonprofit is seeking donations to support underprivileged students.
- Story: “Our organization was founded to bridge the education gap for disadvantaged children. Your donation can provide access to quality education and empower these students for a brighter future.”
- Solution: Encourage donations to support the nonprofit’s educational initiatives.
Two-Need Story (Home Improvement):
- Context: A home improvement contractor is pitching renovation services to a homeowner.
- Story: “Another homeowner faced both outdated aesthetics and functional issues in their home. Our renovation services not only enhanced the look but also improved functionality, making their home more enjoyable.”
- Solution: Propose home renovation services to address the homeowner’s needs.
Vision Story (Environmental Tech):
- Context: An environmental tech startup is seeking investors for its clean energy solution.
- Story: “Imagine a world powered by clean energy, reducing carbon emissions and combating climate change. Your investment can accelerate our journey toward a sustainable future.”
- Solution: Invite investors to fund the development and deployment of clean energy technology.
Success Story (Marketing Agency):
- Context: A marketing agency is offering digital marketing services to a business owner.
- Story: “We collaborated with a business similar to yours, and our digital marketing strategies boosted their online presence, leading to a 30% increase in sales within six months.”
- Solution: Recommend digital marketing services to achieve online growth.
Problem Story (Healthcare):
- Context: A medical equipment provider is selling advanced medical devices to a hospital.
- Story: “A hospital faced challenges with outdated medical equipment, impacting patient care. Our advanced devices improved diagnostic accuracy and patient outcomes.”
- Solution: Present the advanced medical devices to upgrade the hospital’s equipment.
Personal Story (Nutritionist):
- Context: A nutritionist is offering dietary coaching to a client.
- Story: “I once struggled with unhealthy eating habits and their effects on my health. Through nutrition and lifestyle changes, I transformed my well-being, and I’m here to guide you on a path to a healthier life.”
- Solution: Provide personalized dietary coaching to improve the client’s health.
- Sales storytelling is the art of telling effective stories during a sales pitch. The intention of this practice is to point out the benefits of a product or service as opposed to discussing the price or various features, models, or uses.
- Sales presentations must lead with stories before facts and hard data because the stories are much more memorable. Despite this fact, many sales teams do the opposite and bombard prospects with information without first connecting with them on an emotional level.
- The ability to tell a good story is integral to sales storytelling. Stories should follow a logical sequence and be based around a hero – usually the customer – that the prospect can relate to. To ensure the prospect is listening, it is important to ask them rhetorical questions periodically.
Key Highlights of Sales Storytelling:
- Purpose of Sales Storytelling: Sales storytelling is the practice of using stories during a sales pitch to emphasize the benefits of a product or service, fostering a personal connection with the prospect.
- Emotional Connection: Stories have been used for centuries to connect with people emotionally. In sales, this emotional connection helps strike a balance between conveying product value and building rapport.
- Stories Over Statistics: People tend to remember stories much better than statistics. Therefore, leading with stories before presenting facts and data is an effective approach in sales.
- Avoiding Information Overload: Sales executives should resist the temptation to overwhelm prospects with excessive information during the initial meeting, as it can obviate the need for further discussions and closure.
- Effective Sales Storytelling Tips:
- Stories should have a clear beginning, middle, and end with a core message.
- The story should revolve around a hero, ideally the customer, who overcomes challenges.
- Engage the prospect by asking rhetorical questions during the story.
- Seize the moment when the prospect identifies with the story and move closer to closing the deal.
- Characters in the story should have dialogue for credibility.
- Emotions in the story can make the meeting more memorable.
- Stories should avoid being cliched and should inspire action.
- Focus on Value: In sales storytelling, the focus should be on conveying the value of the product or service, leaving out unnecessary details that don’t directly benefit the prospect.
- Types of Sales Stories: Sales executives should have a variety of sales stories in their repertoire, including problem stories, two-need stories, personal stories, purpose stories, vision stories, and success stories, each serving a different purpose in different situations.
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