sales manager

Sales and Stories and Bears! Oh My!

I am a big believer in the philosophy that “facts tell, but stories sell.”

I’ve written about it before, but I’m ready to add a very important caveat. We can’t just tell any story, we’ve got to make sure that we’re telling the right story.

Facts tell, but the right stories sell.

The illustrations, images, and metaphors we use need to be fitting to the presentation being made, thought through and well-crafted, and – most critically – appropriate to the audience.


Let me give you an illustration.

grizzly bear, Ursus arctos horribilis, Robin SilverThis week Betsy DeVos had her hearings before a Senate confirmation committee to become Secretary of Education. She was asked by Senator Chris Murphy about her stance on guns in schools. Given the increased number of school shootings we’ve seen over the past couple of decades, this is not in anyway the type of gotcha question that is the bane of our political existence. It was a good and heartfelt question.

In response, Betsy DeVos reiterated her support for local decision-making when it comes to such issues. She illustrated her point by talking about a school in Wyoming needing a shotgun to ward off grizzly bear attacks.

Screeching brake noises. What?!?

The story didn’t sell.

You see, Senator Chris Murphy is from Connecticut. Connecticut, as you know, is home to Sandy Hook, where the worst school shooting in American history happened just four years ago. The stories about gun violence in schools that he is used to hearing are the ones told to him by grieving parents.

Betsy DeVos didn’t know her audience. She didn’t tell the right story. And as a result fewer and fewer people are buying her as Secretary of Education.


But this article isn’t about Betsy DeVos. It’s about how telling the wrong story can derail the sales process. I’m sure it’s happened to all of us at some point or another.

I remember once being on a sales call with my manager. We were talking to the owner of a local chain of pizza restaurants. We were trying to convince him to do some advertising with us, and he was throwing up every roadblock he could think of. It was a spirited and lively conversation.

In the course of the conversation, my manager kept coming back to the same illustration, over and over again. He kept describing the difference between a BMW and a Hyundai. Both can get you where you need to go, he would say, but one gets you there a whole lot better than the other. It was clear – BMWs are good and Hyundais are bad. It’s a decent illustration, one that my manager really liked because I heard him use it often.

However, we were talking to a good ole boy who drove a pickup truck. His pizza places are known for their $5 hot and now offer. Honestly, he’s not the BMW of pizza restaurants in our area. He’s the Hyundai of pizza.

We couldn’t convince him to buy from us. As I reflected on that meeting later, I wondered if the story we relied on actually made it harder for us to make the sale.


Here’s something I’ve learned about telling stories in the sales process: you can’t just wing it. You can’t always fall back to the same old illustrations you’ve used a thousand times. The zip and passion and energy won’t be there. The clear connecting of dots for your client will get fuzzy. And you’ll end up telling a story that makes selling harder for you because it doesn’t fit your audience.

So, before your meeting, think about who you’re meeting with. Think about their personality, their motivations, their experiences. Think about which stories are the best to tell and which are best to leave out.

And when you’re ready, go tell a great story.

Because facts tell, but the right stories sell.



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5 Things I Wish My Sales Manager Would Remember

I’ve have been the manager. And I have been the managed. Frankly, neither is easy. In sales, as in almost all professions, there can be a natural tension between management and employees. As leaders, sales managers need to take the initiative in building strong, successful teams. With all that is on their plates, I think sales managers often forget some basic things. Here are 5 things I wish they’d remember:MA_00000006_fwj0rh


Remember to Sell Me, Not Tell Me

Most sales manager were once salespeople. Usually, they were good ones, which is why they got promoted. But I’ve seen so many sales managers forget the basics that got them to the job that they’re in. Would any good salesperson expect a client to do something simply because the salesperson said so? Of course not. And yet, many sales managers expect their teams to complete tasks or be enthusiastic about an initiative simply because the manager said so. Sell me on it. If you get me to buy in to your idea, then I can’t be stopped. Use your excellent salesmanship, not your position, to get me on board.


Remember what Number Matters Most to Me

I get that the company has numbers to hit. I actually enjoy knowing where we stand as a team. However, just knowing those numbers might not be enough to motivate me. I get that they keep you up at night, but you’ve got to remember that the number that keeps me up at night is the one on my paycheck. If you want to motivate me by giving me team or company numbers, don’t forget to connect the dots back to how my contribution will mean success for both of us.


Remember that I Can’t Have All the Answers

When I first started in sales, I had a manager who would ask me questions I could not answer. He would want to know the details of why certain clients or prospects were doing what they were doing. It was information I simply didn’t have and couldn’t legitimately get. He was frustrated. I was frustrated. There has got to be a better way for managers to engage their team members than to make them feel dumb and ill-informed. Sales managers need to think about how they ask questions and when they ask questions to maximize their information gathering while also minimizing the sales team’s angst.


Remember that I Really Want Everyone to Play by the Same Rules

Seniority matters. Special circumstances happen. And some things can’t be public knowledge. So, the way a sales team operates will not always be fair and equitable. There will be times that someone needs extra space and grace. I’m fine with that. That’s not a problem. In fact, that makes me more loyal to my sales manager because I know if something happens with me, I’m likely to get treated well. The problem is when all the members of a sales team don’t play by the rules. When attendance and activity policies, for instance, aren’t equally enforced, it won’t take long for members of the team to notice and begin to wonder why someone else can get away with something that they can’t. It’s never good when members of a sales team are wondering those kinds of things.


Remember that You Do Impact Morale

I once had a manager tell me that morale among the sales team was not his responsibility. I could not disagree more. What a sales manager does – changing the comp plans, adding additional busy work, showing favoritism, being overbearing – can have a negative impact on team morale. A sales manager who doesn’t appreciate his or her impact on the mood in the office runs the risk of losing their team altogether.


No matter which side of the desk you sit on, the sales process can be improved when there are clear expectations, strong communication, and a ton of trust between a sales manager and his or her team. A strong team needs a strong leader, I wish sales managers would remember that.


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