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Landing in a new country with no job prospects and only $200 and a suitcase, led me to answer an ad in the local newspaper. WANTED: Door to Door Salespeople, selling stationery sets for Multiple Sclerosis, so I decided to ‘give it a go’ and so began my first foray into the world of selling.

In a foreign land, in a climate my body just was not used to, better suited to the slopes of Switzerland than the tropical heat of Queensland, I began pounding the pavements of the Mt Gravatt in Brisbane, shaking the bushes and making my money to take me the rest of the way around Australia on this holiday of a lifetime.

House after house would buy these wonderful stationery sets from me and amongst those homeowners was a mixed bag of people who would invite me in for a cool drink of water, glass of lemonade or juice. One woman even made me lunch, bless her cotton socks! What was it that made them do that? Apart from the sweat pouring off me and probably feeling sorry for this young, fair-skinned, freckled-faced 18 year old kid, I was certain it was my message and the way I delivered it – something that underpins every salespersons results, even today.

Facts are what we use to tell and stories are what we use to sell. As a speaker I tell stories and as salespeople we must sell stories.

Today we are in the 21st century and we can sell anything, anywhere at any time and people will buy so long as our story provides relevance and value.

One Friday evening after 8pm, my mobile phone rang and it was a connection I had made from a cold call about 18 months earlier, yes… prospecting never stops.

My contact was now in charge of a team at a new company and wanted to book me the following month to speak at his sales kickoff conference. It led to him wanting me to work with the team for the remainder of the year. In the negotiation discussion with my contact, the Sales Director, his Managing Director joined in and asked me what I knew about his company. I told him the story about how NASA had used their product in space. He smiled proudly. What is the story behind your product?

How many of us know the real message the Tortoise and the Hare gave us, or the magic meaning behind the Emperor’s New Clothes or the simple complexity behind the randomness of Dr Seuss.

How many of us see ourselves as the hero in a movie, connect with our past in the words of a song or read an article that has us nodding in agreement.

The reality is stories – whether they be shared before bed or before the board. Stories are so important to our levels and depth of communication, our learning and our retention of a message.

The shift for salespeople in this new era of selling is to move from being a seller to being a storyteller. However, the story can no longer be just about the Features, Advantages and Benefits of what we sell.

Why? Because stories connect us with our emotions. And features, advantages and benefits, I’m sorry to say, connect us with logic.

When we hear a story as a child we feel safe and close to the person reading us the story – safe enough to fall asleep.

When we are a bit older we read stories of heroes and princesses and famous singers and we pretend we are them and physically, mentally and emotionally place ourselves front and centre into the story and we become them wearing their capes, and long dresses and singing into hairbrushes.

As we get older we hear stories from others and naturally relate those stories to our own experiences, especially when there has been a connection to a challenge faced, pain experienced or dark spot where we have failed.

 

As a potential buyer I would much rather hear the salesperson tell me a story that means something. To tell one small business owner the journey of another small business owner.

Imagine if you could put yourself in the shoes of the business owner who created a product, spent time building it, testing it, marketing it only to find no one was buying it – especially when they believed at the bottom of their gut is was what their customers needed. How, behind the closed doors of the business, a less than ideal scenario was being played out, with angst being created amongst the team because people were beginning to point fingers at other people for not being effective enough in their roles. How they weren’t servicing their existing buyers because all confidence had gone and they began second guessing themselves.

How, in actual fact, all they needed to do was to speak to some potential clients, tweak some of the sales language and trust the people they had working with them by facilitating ongoing coaching and training, and how now, as a business, they are ahead of the game and hugely successful.

This is much more of a compelling message than me giving you the features and benefits of what I do as a consultant working with salespeople, leaders and small business owners to jumpstart their sales campaigns.

It must be emotional.

The journey a story takes us on is emotional because it brings out in us those same emotions shared by the characters. We hear, see, feel and think about the content of the story and this makes us remember the story. Stories allow us to use all our senses and modalities to process the information.

According to the Clayman Institute, stories are remembered up to 22 times more than facts alone. They have a beginning, a middle and an end, and must relate to the person at the time. They must have a clear purpose. When the individual or the audience have finished listening they should know exactly why you took them on the journey. This is key. They must know what the relevance of the story was to them and their situation.

“Scratch the surface in a typical boardroom and we’re all just cavemen with briefcases, hungry for a wise person to tell us stories.” — Alan Kay

Our buyers will process information in exactly the same way as us. If we simply plied them with the statistics, specifications and facts about our idea, product or service it would mean nothing – they would simply say ‘let me think about it’. Yet this is what most salespeople do and wonder why they get so many objections and stalls.

When I was at Xerox, we needed to know the speeds and feeds of not just everyone of our photocopies, but our competitors too. I don’t recall a customer ever asking me for that information nor do I remember ever getting a deal based on those details, although I probably thought at the time, reeling off this information was the reason for winning the deal. How wrong was I?

Remembering, quite vividly, one of my first clients and his emotional reaction to my initial visit was a great reference point for me. I had not long been out of sales training, and as a sales trainee had been given some of the accounts that did not have Xerox equipment (just to make it that little bit harder, of course).

The General Manager of The Commonwealth Serum Laboratory was my point of contact and I had secured an appointment and was feeling very happy with myself.
On my first visit and threaded through the initial chit chat, I shared with him my story about being new to sales, how I had been given all the ‘Non-Xerox’ accounts and how I was excited about the challenge. We continued with the sales call when he put his hand up and stopped me. He asked me to quote on one copier. Now, being so fresh and green, I didn’t go back to the office. I thought he meant he wanted it straight away, so I sat in his foyer, hand wrote a proposal for one copier and walked back to his office, knocked on the door and asked to come in, proposal in hand. To say he was slightly surprised was an understatement, however he invited me in, still in the gruff manner with which he had initially greeted me.

Halfway through my proposal delivery he stopped me again, put his hand up and proceeded to tell me in no uncertain terms to ‘go back to Xerox and tell Manager X and manager Y that it was about bloody time they put someone on my account with a bit of enthusiasm’. I turned that account around to 100% Xerox that day with a deal for 35 copiers.

The point to this story is – did he remember the speed of the copier or how many sheets of paper it held in its document feeder or why it was better than the competition? No, I made him feel something that was important to him. I made him feel I was the real deal and he could trust me, as green as I was.

There is power in being authentic and real and being able to sit in a story. So often salespeople will rely on their logical approach, their levels of perfection and quote details of the product, in order to stay safe and colour in between the lines.

A colleague of mine in his new appointment as global president for a security software company years later, rode along with his salespeople and as they were leaving the car, he would ask them to leave all brochures behind. This meant that they couldn’t rely on content that revolved around product, it meant they couldn’t lean on the brochure but had to converse instead, and that meant being real and telling stories.

This isn’t rocket science nor is it science at all. It is art and it is human nature. Different technologies have always come and gone but what doesn’t change is connection to the human spirit regardless of the business environment.

Leaders, don’t fob this fact off.

Be Bold and Brilliant!

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Image courtesy of Tim Lowly

Here are some of my recent articles you may have missed:

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Bernadette McClelland is a keynote speaker, sales leadership consultant, and a sales support team member for companies, in growth-mode, that need to quickly build a bridge between business goals and sales results.

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