The Power of Storytelling in Sales

Partial excerpt from article by By Brad Shorr – Director of Marketing @ StraightNorth

Stories are an incredibly powerful way to get your message across. Most people would rather go to a movie than attend a lecture. Most people would rather hear about your trip to Easter Island than have you refer them to a series of Wikipedia articles.

Stories can be used in business all the time -- in presentations, case studies, press releases, direct marketing, testimonials, advertising copy, sales brochures, Web copy, and even instruction manuals. However, there are good storytellers and not so good storytellers. Here are a few ideas you can use to make your storytelling come alive.

Start with a character your audience can relate to. Many companies craft highly detailed personas of their typical or ideal customer. This is a valuable exercise for a lot of reasons, storytelling included. Make your ideal customer the hero of your story. You want readers to think, "That could be me!" right off the bat. Who is going to walk away from a story they are starring in?

Set the stage. One quality of a bad story or storyteller is the feeling that you being subjected to pointless rambling. Remember the adage, tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. Sound advice! Example of setting the stage –“Here's how we came to the Rose family's rescue on the day of their daughter's surprise 16th birthday party.”

Establish conflict. Unless you're a French or Italian film director, you can't have a story without conflict. In the example above, the conflict is man against the clock. Conflict can be against some form of external pressure or it can be internal - man against himself. For business purposes, the conflict tends to be external, some force preventing a person or business from achieving its objectives or threatening its survival. I think the starting point for any story is to define exactly what the conflict is. Unless you do that, you can't keep your story on point.

Foreshadow. Remember talking about foreshadowing in high school English class? Foreshadowing is a simple technique of hinting at what is to come, thus building suspense.

Daughter Jane would be home in an hour, and Sally Rose breathed a sigh of relief. She had done everything humanly possible to prepare the perfect party. But Sally was about to learn that "everything humanly possible" isn't always enough.

Foreshadowing, used sparingly, keeps the audience on track, keeps the story moving in a clear direction. In selling situations this technique is ideal for establishing value – it is often referred to as teasing it forward, as in, “I think you’re really going to like how this program works…” or “You won’t believe how customers react to these more responsive telephone systems…”

Use dialog. Stories are about people, and people talk. This can enable us to vary tone and “voice” during presentations as well.

For business purposes, adding dialog/quotes is a must for press releases and direct marketing, and always livens up ad copy, presentations, and certain types of sales collateral. One thing to be careful of is over-doing it. "Sally said" is much better than "Sally whispered nervously." Too much flair often detracts from the business focus.

Keep it interactive.Use receptivity tests or rhetorical questions to keep the audience engaged. Observe their body language and react accordingly. Exhibit your own emotions or “reactions” via appropriate facial expression.


How to master the art of storytelling