Want your customers to listen? Tell stories and show pictures.

By Rachel Cavallo on Feb 6, 2013

3 Minute Estimated Read Time

Aesop’s Fables are believed to date as far back as 5th or 6th century BC.  The oldest fairy tales were believed to have been told and retold for generations before they were ever written down.  Meanwhile, my clients struggle daily with trying to get their customers to remember their sales pitch 10 minutes after they pull out of the parking lot.  My hunch…they are talking “at their customers” rather than connecting with them through powerful stories and imagery.


In The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation, we learn that a study of company communications found that those comfortable buzz words we all know and love do nothing to make us memorable but do everything to make us sound like our peers.  The top overused words they report?  “Leader”, “leading”, “best”, “top”, and “unique”.  Oh, and for those of us who focus on selling solutions… yep, “solution” is up there, too.


In a world where “business speak” has infiltrated our vocabulary (May I utilize this world-class tool to cooperatively leverage our synergy?), and our selling time per customer has been, uh… optimized, it’s natural that we want to charge into our customers’ offices with succinct verbiage that we think best describes what we are selling.  One problem?  We live our products.  Our customers don’t.   A shortened spiel may not do the trick.  The other problem?  That sales call is the most important time in our day… it’s probably not the most important item on our customer’s agenda… or if it is, they are likely talking to our competitors, as well.  Therefore, we have to grab our customers and take them somewhere where they can comfortably get to know what we are selling… without the kidnapping charges.


So what to do?  Let’s take them to an alternate reality that we create with storytelling.  We craved story time as kids.  Pleassssseeeee… just one more story before bed, Mom.  It’s how the best teachers taught us history and English.  Dead Poet’s Society, anyone?  Why does it work?  It works because it gives us a chance to visualize and put ourselves in the story.  We connect with characters, and we care how they fare in the end.  When we care, we listen, and when we really listen, we not only learn, but we actually retain that knowledge for more than 60 seconds.  Several months ago, I was asked to introduce a rather complex concept to a training class.  I had limited time to both teach the concept and “sell” them on the reasons for using it.  During this presentation, I used a story about my husband.  I told the premise of the story early in my presentation, and I delved into the details as what I was teaching became more complex.  Fast forward to my neighborhood Super Bowl party this past weekend.  A friend began to introduce me to a friend of his who immediately said… “Hey, you taught my training class a few months ago.”  He proceeded to ask if my husband was at the party because he wanted to meet him.  As I introduced the two of them, this man retold the story I told in class with astonishing detail…. Oh and he remembered the underlying concepts, too!  Success!


Shortly after I learned of my storytelling success, I turned my attention to the Super Bowl and quickly became enthralled with… the commercials...  My favorite?  The Ram commercial about the farmer.  As the granddaughter and great granddaughter of farmers, I can tell you they nailed it… Paul Harvey’s words and imagery were dead on, and my heart was full just about the time they showed that Dodge Ram pickup truck in the last scene.  You know what they weren’t showing?  Powerpoint slides with lots of boxes, arrows, and 8-point font that I had to absorb while listening to the monologue.  The imagery matched the spoken words, and it was a complement to it… not a distraction.


It’s so easy to “write” our presentations using PowerPoint as if we were composing on it, not using it to create visual aides to support an already well-crafted story.  When we do this, though, our slides become complex and boring, and we lose our ability to create powerful imagery that will stick with our customers.  Think about it this way… Have you ever seen a piece of art that was so powerful it is forever etched in your mind?  For me, it was seeing the statue of The David in Florence.  Though it was a three-dimensional sculpture and not necessarily a portable image, that creation of vision has withstood the test of time.  You know what you won’t see in a famous museum?  PowerPoint slides with boxes and arrows…. Or really anything with a bunch of words.


The next time you go on a sales call, think about the stories you can tell… how real people have succeeded with your product or how you helped a customer avoid a major pitfall.  Also, think about your images.  Can you use pictures or can you just use a simple model?  Need the detailed slides for a leave behind?  That’s fine… put them at the end or hand them out last.  Use your sales time for story time and picture sharing, and you have the opportunity to create memories that may just survive the drive home.


Image Source:  www.aesopfables.com"The Frogs Asking for the King".

Rachel Cavallo

Written by Rachel Cavallo

If there’s anyone who understands how sales people tick, it’s Rachel Cavallo. Rachel specializes in strategies that drive sales forces to adopt real change… the kind of change that produces results. She has managed many sales force transformations, helping sales leaders realign organizations and define new selling models, as well as designed and delivered sales training, coaching, and change management programs. At Symmetrics Group, Rachel is loved for her creativity and big picture thinking – she has a knack for crystallizing complex concepts into a single picture with high impact messages.

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