Why use stories in complex B2B sales
Amazing things happen when we start to hear a story. We listen, we pay attention, and we visualize.
This is so important because in sales we need to influence, persuade and motivate people all day. And we usually go about this the wrong way!
We use facts, data and our opinion. This puts prospects on the defensive and only serves to entrench their current viewpoint.
But stories are the most powerful communication tool!
Good stories move people and inspire them to take action. Stories are engaging. Way more than spewing facts and data.
Stories work in many situations
There are plenty of examples of the power of stories. These are 2 that stand out for me;
In 1988, George Bush won the US presidential election. He beat Michael Dukakis by telling the story of Willie Horton often.
In 2009 journalist Robert Walker created the Significant Objects Project. He used the power of stories to sell $197 worth of junk items for almost $8,000. That’s a markup of more than 6300%!
My own personal experience illustrates the power of stories.
I have been a member of Toastmasters for over 10 years. I have heard well over 300 speeches in that time. How many can I remember? What types of speeches stand out? It’s ALWAYS the speeches that tell a story that are the most memorable and impactful. Without exception.
Ditch the PowerPoint
You may not be trying to win an election, sell trinkets or give a speech. So here is an example of my own personal experience that shows why you should use stories in complex B2B sales.
In 2004 I went to a meeting at Toyota. We worked hard to get the meeting. Toyota was on our top 5 list of prospects. I was a Product Manager at the time and I went along with Jason, the sales rep, to support him. We settled down for the meeting and the small talk ended. Jason started to pull out his laptop to give a presentation. I perceived a negative reaction in the room. I was getting a vibe of “not another vendor presentation!”. Jason was too busy getting the laptop and projector setup so he didn’t notice. I made a quick decision and said “why don’t we just tell you what we have been doing at Ford for the past 18 months. Would that be useful?”.
The reaction from the Toyota team was one of overjoy. We went on to close that sale. I believe if Jason would have given the presentation it would have bored them. It would have also slowed down the sale. Maybe it would have killed the opportunity altogether.
The funny thing is that the PowerPoint that Jason was about to foist on them was something that I created! I loved that 35 slide presentation. A lot of time and energy went into creating it. But this was an epiphany moment for me. I saw how using stories in complex B2B sales is way more engaging than a long presentation.
Why use stories in complex B2B sales?
When I talk with salespeople or sales leaders about using stories, I often get some pushback. Aren’t stories for kids? It sounds gimmicky. My answer is almost always something like “How well are your current methods working? How easy is it for your salespeople to get appointments with C-level decision makers?”
That response usually helps diminish their objections. Because complex B2B sales is HARD. Every aspect of it is hard. Getting meetings. Closing deals. Especially when you sell innovative solutions that customers have no budget for. You have to get them to go from no budget to sold!
So, this is a major reason to try stories. Because whatever you are doing now is not effective and as repeatable as you would like.
Here are some of the specific benefits of using stories in complex B2B sales;
Mike Adams, in “Seven Stories Every Salesperson Must Tell”, provides 4 good reasons why stories are such a powerful tool in sales;
1. Story structure is natural
As Mike Adams says, “facts, figures and assertions are not our mind’s natural language”. A PowerPoint presentation requires the viewer to exert a lot of effort to pay close attention. New flash! Most presentations are boring. In particular, presentations don't flow in a form that is natural. But story structure is something we learn from a young age. Effective stories follow a sequence that we understand. That is why “a two-minute story can do more persuasion than a 60-minute presentation”.
2. Stories avoid push back
When salespeople give information, prospects will have a natural tendency to push back. No matter how good a job you have done in building trust and rapport. Prospects may challenge you or they will keep it to themselves. But they are not believing what you are telling them. But, if you package the same information up in a compelling story then prospects will be more apt to believe it.
There is a tendency in sales to talk at prospects. We present, we spew facts, and we give our opinion. This puts the prospect on the defensive and they push back on everything we tell them. But stories are a way to engage with prospects.
3. Stories are memorable
We have all experienced reading a book or watching a movie that has a great story. We remember characters, scenes and even some dialogue verbatim even years later. The same applies to stories in sales. After my meeting at Toyota back in 2004, they didn’t order the product by name. They couldn’t remember the name of our product even though we mentioned it dozens of times. They asked for “the exact thing we did at Ford”.
4. Stories get prospects to talk and open up
When a salesperson shares a story, the prospect will likely reciprocate and tell their story. This helps build trust and rapport. It also gives the salesperson valuable insights. Such as how the buyer thinks, what is the situation at the company, and what is important to the buyer. A PowerPoint presentation that talks at the prospect will not surface all this valuable insight.
In “Stories that Stick”, Kindra Hall provides 2 other reasons to use stories;
5. Storytelling gets attention
When a sales person gives a presentation it is their words, their opinion and their ideas. This will get push back from the prospect. But if the salesperson tells a compelling story, "the listener is taking the words and adding their own images and emotions to them”. This is narrative transportation. The prospect identifies and empathizes with the characters or the situation in the story. The salesperson is telling the story but it becomes the prospect’s story. They fill in the story with their own experiences and visualizations. It’s like magic!
6. Storytelling influences
With great stories Kindra Hall points out that our “resistance dissipates” and we “don’t feel sold or convinced”. Again, facts, data and opinion from a salesperson result in push back from the prospect. Good sales stories have a business point but they leave the judgement to the prospect. So, prospects who get a traditional sales pitch feel like “I am not sure I believe all the claims the salesperson is making”. Prospects who hear a compelling story feel like “Wow. This story about Acme Corp. sounds just like the challenges we are struggling with.”
Summary – why you need to use stories in complex B2B sales
Here is a critical point. If you sell something unbudgeted, influencing the prospect is not enough. You need to inspire them. Otherwise they will default to the status quo or do nothing. A presentation, brochure and white paper are NOT going to move the prospect to take the next step. But a powerful story can.
Next time, you are talking to a prospect don’t spew facts, data and your opinion. Use a story.
A great story is worth a thousand facts
About the Author: Bryan Socransky is the CEO of Disruptive Consulting Group. Bryan's experience spans over 25 years in enterprise software and B2B SaaS. He helps companies who sell unbudgeted solutions generate faster pipeline and get more customers. By disrupting the status quo in favor of their innovative products and services.