The Art of Story Selling
Growing up on a farm in the city and attending private school was tough at times. Farm life is much different than city life, and you often don’t realize this until it’s validated by a city person. As kids we all played barefoot in the creeks. We used to shoot blackbirds out of grandma’s garden and get a quarter for every confirmed death. We blew up frogs with firecrackers. My brother and I once had a part-time job each summer burying the local vet’s animals that had been put down. Weird, right? But hey, it was good money, and we created our own little pet cemetery with headstones and all. Normal kid’s stuff (I think not).
Well, as you go through school, you often start getting the question. What do you want to be when you grow up? They like to tie this to your interests. For instance, little Mikey likes math and creating things. Perfect! Mikey will be an engineer. Susy likes to do pretend check-ups on her little brother and stuffed animals. She wants to grow up to be just like her mom and be a doctor! Well, you can imagine then, the career choices they would pick for my charades. The only reasonable choice for a blackbird mercenary, dog burying, frog bomber? You guessed it…a serial killer.
As it turns out, I’m not a serial killer, though I do have a fascination for all the Netflix documentaries on Bundy and Kaczynski. Today, I’m a salesperson working in the medical industry. Lucky for my teachers, and the rest of the world, that crazy stuff we did as kids just taught me to be resourceful and think differently. Sales requires you to think differently and to be authentic. While it might be a good idea for me to hide some of my past stories, they did in fact make me the way I am today. And, well, different sometimes wins the day.
Let me give you an example. My job requires a good bit of travel. There’s an old saying that “you can take the kid from the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the kid.” One day while boarding a flight this proved true when I was abruptly stopped at security. As it turned out, I had failed to remove a much-too-large pocketknife from my carry on. After a quick strip search, body scan, and knife confiscation, I raced to the plane. It was one of those moments where they were closing the door as I entered to rolling eyes. I skulked into my seat, still short of breath. As I sat down, I stared out the window, trying my hardest to avoid eye contact with annoyed passengers, and it was then I noticed something. In the not-too-distant, far corner of the runway stood a ten-point deer. It was late fall and “because of the farm in me,” I knew it was hunting season.
“You got to be kidding me?” I thought.
“I’m sitting here feeling embarrassed and ashamed for failing to take a pocketknife from my bag and this buck is right by the plane undetected. What a smart son of a bitch.”
Here was a buck that with the hop of a fence could escape all threat, and we humans board planes feeling safe because of the security in the airport? If a deer could get on the runway, then what was to stop a human from gaining access outside and posing a threat to passengers?
After 9/11, air travel forever changed. Why? Because we are reactive as a society, and we had to do something. The challenge is that most criminals think differently and look for easier paths. In fact, were they not criminals, most would probably make great professions for themselves with different choices. Selling and business is about thinking differently and finding ways when others can’t. When combined with innovation and a creative narrative, planning and preparation can change people’s lives. Doing what everyone else does without at least looking for a better way to message your idea won’t get you very far. The trick is to embrace different thoughts and ideas, visualize the outcome, and craft a message that sticks!
Throughout this book, we will continually come back to this concept. There will be lots of stories—because, well, they help connect to the message—but additionally you’ll learn a lot of innovative, creative, and proven tactics, all pirated from the best and executed to perfection!
So, stories sell. At this point in human history we all know that. Chip and Dan Heath are two leading experts in the arena of story selling and authors of Made to Stick. If you haven’t read their book, I strongly recommend you check it out! Until then, let’s begin with five tips loosely based on their work.
Develop Your Hook
This is the most important step in selling because if you can’t get people to pay attention, then what good is the rest? One of the best ways to achieve this is by doing the unexpected. Imagine if you started your next pitch by saying you “hate salespeople and never wanted to be one, until you realized it can be done successfully without doing all the things you used to hate.” At the very least, you got the attention of your audience and invited them to learn about where this is heading. The hook is your opening. Done properly, it not only grants you access to proceed but allows you to take control of the helm. The goal is to build immediate credibility and trust. More on this later.
Make It Memorable
Our memory is strongly tied to “visuals,” so the key to having your message remembered is to use something simple and visual. Strip your message down to its authentic, bare bones core. Then deliver it with a visual. What is the key differentiator? Every product and company needs a “special sauce”. How can you use a visual to demonstrate that benefit or difference? In Made to Stick, Chip Heath uses Velcro as a visual example of memory. “If you look at Velcro really close, you will see that one side is all loops, and the other side all hooks,” he writes. “The more hooks you secure, the better it sticks.” Now that’s a visual.
Trust is so essential to selling that if you never gain it, or worse yet you lose it, you’re toast. Here authenticity is often synonymous with agreeability as well. You want at least the majority of your customer base to be able to agree and relate with what you are saying. This, however, must also be genuine. Pretending you understand the customer’s world without having experienced it, or with no knowledge of it, will only cause your authenticity to come across as disingenuous. Do your research. When possible, even try to experience what the customer does. By putting yourself in his or her shoes and really feeling the emotions he or she feels in relationship to a product, service, or experience, you’ll reach an authentic place of learning.
The goal is to make sure they care and believe. First, identify the emotion that fits your product. Then decide on the vehicle for delivering that feeling. Do you want customers to feel “hope” and that they “can make a difference,” or do you want them to feel “inspired” and “motivated”? Should they feel “unique” and “special,” or “safe” and “protected”? With these descriptions alone if you were asked to guess the brand behind the feeling could you not conjure up a list of probable prospects? As soon as you hear “inspired,” brands like Apple, Ted Talks, and Tesla come to mind. This is because powerful brands understand that emotion drives connection, and connection drives brand loyalty. So, ask yourself, “if I were to separate my product from its message, could my customers identify the name of my company or product from the message alone?” If not, then you haven’t made the emotional connection required to be remembered.
Call for Action
Get your customers wanting to take the next step. Like the teaser clips at the en Want to add a caption to this image? Click the Settings icon. d of a great episode of your favorite show, how are you going to get them to take the action you want them to? And most importantly, how can you make that action EASY! One click, one signature, no money down, free installation, trial periods, on and on. There are lots of ways to make it actionable and easy, but ask yourself: if you were the customer, would you act on this?
Putting It All Together
Let’s look at the plane story above as an example. It starts with the background and anecdotal info of my upbringing on the farm. By combining authenticity, and I might even add vulnerability, the reader at the very least should be wondering where this story is leading. On an emotional level, most, if not all of us, can relate to a time when we either felt different or uncomfortable. Many have likely even experienced the airport mad dash themselves or had items thrown out that didn’t meet TSA standards. Add in the imagery of me sweating my way through security, and of the deer on the runway, and some might even be able to picture the experience. If I was trying to use this story to frame up a new way to handle TSA security, or if I was trying to use it to sell new technology to the airport to secure it from the outside, it might land well and be highly relatable. With a hook, visuals, authenticity, and an emotional connection, the stage has been set for a call to action. So, when will the airports beef up security outside the airport?