Sales as a Story

By Warren Shiver on May 13, 2015

2 Minute Estimated Read Time

“Poets, priests, and politicians have words to thank for their positions” – The Police

There is a recent trend (fad?) in sales training around storytelling – it’s the “whiteboard selling” of this decade. Certainly storytelling is nothing new, as it’s probably one of the oldest forms of communication. As found on Wikipedia: “Storytelling is the conveying of events in words, and images, often by improvisation or embellishment. Stories or narratives have been shared in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation, and instilling moral values. Crucial elements of stories and storytelling include plotcharacters and narrative point of view.”

Does this sound familiar as it relates to sales and business in general? Some obvious examples:

  • Corporate Origin Stories – I just returned from Workday’s sales club in Hawaii (thank you to my wife, Paige!) and at the business meeting, they presented a motion story that included the founding of the company at a meeting between the two co-founders at a diner in Truckee, California. Check out for a summary and for ours.
  • Initial Value Propositions – the promise and expectations that are set at the beginning of a sales cycle. Why should the company change or act? What’s in it for them? The best sales professionals leverage stories to shape the vision of what could be and the value for the company and individuals of making a change. Great examples can be found in business-to-consumer advertising: think Apple’s “1984” commercial or the classic “You’re not you when you’re hungry” Snickers commercials
  • Case Studies – essentially short stories that summarize how individuals or companies confronted a situation, made a chance, and describe the value they received. Except for the “innovators” and maybe the “early adopters,” most of us want to see proof points before making a change. The enterprise software companies have excelled at building communities who share their experiences (such as SAP’s Sapphire or Workday’s Rising)
  • References – “Storytelling predates writing, with the earliest forms of storytelling usually oral combined with gestures and expressions.”[1] In our business, we have sourced 93% of our business in the past five years through references. Thanks to social media tools such as LinkedIn, leveraging “who you know” is a powerful way to build connections and business.

Essentially sales is a story – some are long, others short and typically the length of the sales cycle correlates with the size of the investment. Emotions, protagonists, politics, competitors are all interwoven into a set of narratives. For some interesting stories of sales/business, check out our Top Performer profiles.

Here are a couple of good references on storytelling:

  • The Story Factor by Annette Simmons – outlines six types of stories that should be mastered: 1) “Who I Am” Stories, 2) “Why I Am Here” Stories, 3) “The Vision” Story, 4) “Teaching” Stories, 5) “Values-in-Action” Stories, 6) “I Know What You Are Thinking” Stories.
  • Whiteboard Selling: Empowering Sales Through Visuals by Corey Summers and David Jenkins – great summary of using a “whiteboard” to communicate your messages and stories instead of PowerPoint

What stories do you tell about yourself? Your company? Your customers?


Topics: sales training

Warren Shiver

Written by Warren Shiver

Warren Shiver is the founder and managing partner of Symmetrics Group, a management consultancy focused on end to end improvement in sales force effectiveness. Through Warren’s leadership, Symmetrics Group has helped numerous organizations build high-performing sales teams focused on the right go-to-market strategy, disciplined sales process and well-designed enabling tools. Clients and consultants appreciate Warren’s uncompromising focus on quality and measureable impact and how he embodies the firm’s core values.

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