Did You Know?
Business leaders and managers often express their frustration when their directives, presentations, or other messages don’t seem to be heard or understood — or heeded!
Many report having to reiterate the same policies and procedures, only to have them fall on deaf ears again and again.
If this sounds familiar, there is a simple solution for today's leaders!
As presented in this newsletter's main article, storytelling has proved to be the key leadership technique for increasing understanding, buy-in, and compliance.
For example, in a recent Forbes article, author and consultant Steve Denning suggests, “Rather than merely advocating and counter-advocating propositional arguments, which lead to more arguments, leaders establish credibility and authenticity through telling their stories…
"When they [leaders] believe deeply in them, their stories resonate, generating creativity, interaction and transformation.”
“Stories can change the way we think, act, and feel,” says the editorial team at mindtools.com.
“They can form the foundations of an entire workplace culture, and they have the power to break down barriers and turn bad situations around. Stories can capture our imaginations, illustrate our ideas, arouse our passions, and inspire us in a way that cold, hard facts often can't.”
Research by Paul Smith, a consumer research executive, indicates the following as being among the most common reasons for the use of stories by business leaders:
- Inspiring the organization
- Setting a vision
- Training or teaching important lessons
- Defining culture and values
- Garnering organizational buy-in
- Leading change
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Stories can be an incredibly powerful way to get a message across and to more fully-engage an audience during the selling process or in various components of sales management.
Let's face it, most people would rather listen to a good story than a good sales pitch or a lecture!
In a Harvard Business Review article, Nick Morgan, author of Power Cues and President of Public Words, a communication consulting firm, wrote, "In our information-saturated age, business leaders won’t be heard unless they’re telling compelling stories.
“Facts and figures and all the rational things that we think are important in the business world actually don’t stick in our minds at all, but stories create sticky memories by attaching emotions to things that happen."
Research from neuro-economics pioneer Paul Zak also showed that good stories appeal to people's logic and emotions, and tend to inspire action. In addition, his studies concluded that stories are highly engaging and can elicit powerful empathic responses by triggering the release of Oxytocin — often referred to as the trust hormone.
These are certainly important factors given what we know about modern-day decision-making.
But watch out!
While good stories can strengthen your value proposition or help you gain acceptance for your ideas and proposals, poorly-crafted stories can have the opposite effect. There are specific guidelines for creating and telling the best stories, and preparation is definitely required.
Let's begin with timing. There are two ideal times to share a short story during the course of doing business.
First, when presenting your value proposition a well-crafted story can significantly strengthen your message by either clarifying the key benefits of your position or by serving as a testimonial example of how "others" have found value in it.
Similarly, as a form of "social proof" a good story is also an ideal way to effectively handle an objection or a reluctance to accept or "buy-in" to your proposals, because the right story explains how "others" have discovered or experienced the associated value.
Now that we've determined the best times for telling stories, here are ten important guidelines that will help to optimize the impact (and success!) of those stories.
- The story can NOT be about you! Instead, start with a character to whom your audience can relate. For example, when selling, tell your buyer a story about one of your other customers who is in a similar industry or who has a similar job title and who was in a similar situation. Use the person's name (first name only if you'd like to provide anonymity) because the best stories are about people. If anonymity is not an issue, you might even ask your buyer if he or she knows So-and-so? If so, it will make your story more meaningful.
- Set the stage. Sometimes a buyer or team member can be predisposed to think you are about to ramble on and on until they agree to buy-in to what you're saying. To avoid this pitfall, set the stage at the outset by explaining why you're telling the story; explain that it's about a similar set of circumstances and that you believe it will potentially simplify the situation for your audience or help in some way.
- Establish conflict. In the selling example above, the conflict is that the main character in the story had the same needs or the same objectives as the buyer. Conflict can be internal or external, though in most business cases it tends to be external, such as overcoming obstacles to achieve objectives, finding a faster way to complete a process, or an easier way to satisfy customers. Whether external or internal (i.e., fear, anxiety, concern, etc.), you must clearly define the conflict so your audience can relate. This clear focus will also help to keep your story on point.
- Foreshadow. In a previous newsletter we defined the down-side of making a premature presentation. Foreshadowing is a simple way to avoid this type of error when telling a story, and to build both interest and value at the same time! It is the technique of hinting at what is to come, thus building a little suspense and, if done right, a higher level of audience engagement!
For example, "You won't believe what So-and-so said after putting this idea into practice...!" or, “I think you’re really going to be surprised to hear how this actually works...”
- Use dialog to liven-up the story. Stories are about people, and people talk — so use a "quote" or two. This can also enable you to vary tone, cadence and "voice" during sales calls, discussion or presentations.
- Use metrics to give the story added credibility. It is much more powerful to say, "So-and-so was able to reduce the overall cost by 30% while increasing cycle time by 50%" as opposed to using the cliché, "...saved time and money."
- Keep it interactive by asking questions. Use receptivity tests or rhetorical questions to keep the audience engaged. Observe their body language and react accordingly.
- Exhibit your own emotions via appropriate facial expression as well. Remember that your body language has a significant impact on how others interpret your message.
- Keep it simple. For the purposes outlined above, the ideal story should take only one or two minutes to tell.
- Practice. A few minutes of preparation to ensure your story follows the guidelines is the first step. But it is also important to self-evaluate after telling a story to determine if it had the intended effect, and to make ongoing improvements as necessary.
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A Few Quick Seconds…
Here are a couple of related articles from past issues you might have missed, and which generated especially positive feedback:
The 5 "I's" in Team?
We're all familiar with the phrase, "There's no "I" in Team," but many sales and business leaders have begun to see the deep connection between employee engagement and the customer experience, productivity and profit.
So in the process of leveraging these connections, we might realize that as opposed to no "I's" there are actually five of them in TEAM...
Read full article
Money, Ego & Fear
Most sales managers agree that motivating the sales team is an important part of their job. There are a number of ways in which people might go about this task, but money, ego and fear are considered the primary motivational tools...
Is there a best choice? If so, what might it be?
Read full article...
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