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3 Reasons Storytelling Is A Master Tool For Salespeople

June 2, 2017

Storytelling as a sales tool

Compared to other forms of communication used in sales, storytelling has a number of unique abilities. It can help capture your buyer’s attention and build your mutual relationship. It connects with the decision-making areas in your buyer’s brain and makes you and your product easier to remember. It can literally increase the value of your product by moving it to another context.

Here are three compelling reasons why storytelling is a master sales tool:

Stories help build strong relationships.

Storytelling almost magically builds trust, which is the foundation of good relationships. A 1999 New York Times/CBS survey asked, “Of people in general, how many do you think are trustworthy?” The average answer was 30%. Then it asked, “Of people you know, how many do you think are trustworthy?” The average answer shot up to 70%!1 What does that suggest? It suggests that people who don’t know you default to not trusting you. But people who do know you default to trusting you unless you’ve given them a reason not to.

Telling a story can move you from the 30% to the 70%, because it provides a personal, intimate, and perhaps vulnerable glimpse into your world. Reading the facts on your resume doesn’t really let someone get to know you, and spending enough time together could take months or years. A story is the shortest distance between being a stranger and a friend.

How important is it to move from the 30% to the 70%? Apparently quite a bit. Mike Parrott, vice president and general merchandise manager at Costco Wholesale, has been on the buyer’s side of the desk for 15 years. He says, “If all other things are equal, buyers will buy from a salesperson they like best and trust the most. It breaks the ties. And there are a lot of ties in this business.”

Storytelling speaks to the part of the brain where decisions are actually made.

Much of the cognitive science in the past two decades tells us that human beings often make subconscious, emotional, and sometimes irrational decisions in one place in the brain, and then justify those decisions rationally and logically in another place. So if you’re trying to influence buyers’ decisions, using facts and rational arguments alone isn’t enough. You need to influence them emotionally, and stories are your best vehicle to do that.

As NYU social psychologist Jonathan Haidt observes, “The human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor.”2

Stories make it easier for the buyer to remember you, your ideas, and your product.

Many studies show that facts are easier to remember if they’re embedded in a story than if they’re delivered in any other form.3 But you don’t even have to believe these studies. You can prove this to yourself right now with a little test German storytelling coach Andrea Heckelmann uses with her clients.4 Try to remember this series of facts: Two legs sit on three legs, eating one leg. Then along comes four legs and steals one leg from two legs. Two legs then hits four legs with three legs and gets his one leg back.

Now try to remember the same series of facts shared as a story with characters, goals, and obstacles: A young boy (two legs) sits on a stool (three legs), eating a chicken bone (one leg). Then along comes a dog (four legs) that steals the chicken bone (one leg) from the boy (two legs). The boy (two legs) then hits the dog (four legs) with the stool (three legs) and gets his chicken bone (one leg) back.

Chances are you can now recite the list of facts perfectly and after reading through the story only one time. The story creates a meaningful scene in your mind that the simple list of facts doesn’t. That scene is easier for your mind to remember than the list of facts. Stories create scenes. Facts don’t.

Adapted, with permission of the publisher, from Sell with a Story: How to Capture Attention, Build Trust, and Close the Sale by Paul Smith. Copyright 2016, Paul Smith. Published by AMACOM.

1. Annette Simmons, Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins: How to Use Your Own Stories to Communicate with Power and Impact, Second Edition (New York: AMACOM Books, 2015), p. 59.
2. Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (New York: Pantheon, 2012), p. 328.
3. For example, J.M. Mandler, Stories, Scripts, and Scenes: Aspects of Schema Theory (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1984); J.M. Mandler and N.S. Johnson, “Remembrance of Things Parsed: Story Structure and Recall,” Cognitive Psychology 9 (1977): pp. 111-151; G.H. Bower and M.C. Clark, “Narrative Stories as Mediators for Serial Learning,” Psychonomic Science 14 (1969): 181-182.
4. Andrea first became aware of this story through German communications trainer Vera F. Birkenbihl.
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About The Author

Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s a former executive and 20-year veteran of The Procter & Gamble Company. Today he’s a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of three books on harnessing the power of storytelling, including his latest, Sell with a Story: How to Capture Attention, Build Trust, and Close the Sale.

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