selling strategies

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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Granny Shots and Selling Great Ideas

I am a sucker for minority reports. I love anything that questions the conventional wisdom. As soon as everybody starts to think the same way or have the same perspective, I begin to wonder if we’ve got it all wrong.

rickbarryIt’s for this reason that when I heard that one of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell, was going to be doing a podcast called Revisionist History in which he was going to reinterpret something from the past, I knew I would be in. It’s a 10 part podcast, and my favorite episode has been #3 – The Big Man Can’t Shoot.

The Big Man Can’t Shoot is about taking granny shots – underhanded free throws. They look silly but they are far more effective than overhand shooting from the line. With two notable exceptions – Rick Barry and Wilt Chamberlain (especially in his 100 point game) – nobody shoots this way. Even though it’s better.

In the podcast, Gladwell talks to a sociologist named Mark Granovetter about the Threshold Model of Collective Behavior. The basic idea is that we are all influenced by the behavior of others, but we have different thresholds at which we’re willing to change our behavior. Some people won’t try something new until everyone else is doing it. Other people are early adopters who’s threshold for change is very low. Most of us probably fall somewhere in the middle.


It’s high thresholds that keep good ideas from catching on. 


In sales, we’re trying to get people to change their behavior, to try something new, to adopt a new idea. It might be a new brand or a new strategy or a new system. For us to be effective, we need to figure out the threshold for change that our buyers have.

Some buyers have a low threshold. They want to be innovative. Appeal to how you can put them on the cutting edge, far outpacing their competitors.

Some buyers have a high threshold. They’re going to need to see case studies, proven results, and examples. For these risk averse buyers, you’re going to need to mitigate the fear of change.


To determine a buyer’s threshold, you’ll need to be direct. Here are some questions you can ask to help determine your buyer’s threshold for trying a new idea:

Tell me about a time that you tried something new. How did it go?

Generally speaking, do you (or the company) tend to be open to trying new things?

What holds you back from making a big change in your strategy?


Your idea, your product, your solution is a great one. It’s what everybody should be doing. It works. Just like a granny shot. But it’s not going to catch on until you figure out the thresholds of your buyers and customize your approach to meet them where they are.


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4 Dots You Must Connect for Your Clients: Selling Strategies

Salespeople live, eat, breathe, and sleep their products and solutions. We think about them all the time. In advertising sales, I feel like I’m never off duty. I’m looking at billboards, watching commercials, examining digital ads, and watching for new local businesses everywhere I go. It’s the water I swim in.

connect-the-dots (2)When as a salesperson you get so immersed in what they do, it’s easy to assume that your prospects and clients have given the same amount of thought to your services as you have.

You took good notes in your CNA with the client. You’ve been researching and strategizing how you can help. When you meet with the client again, it’s easy to jump right in and assume that the client remembers everything they said to you.

But they probably don’t. They probably haven’t been spending every waking moment in the past week thinking about how you can help them. They have so much already on their mind.

To be effective, salespeople need to use their sales presentations to connect the dots between the stated desires and needs of the client and the proposal they are making. To do so, you’re likely going to have to talk less about products and features and more about four important factors – solutions, value, ROI, and motivation. These are the dots a salesperson must connect.


The Solution Dots

One of my managers is fond of saying that when someone is shopping for a drill, they don’t need a drill; they need a hole. To be able to connect the solution dots, you must have uncovered the pain points and needs of the client in your CNA. In your presentation, focus on the aspects of your offering that addresses those. For instance, I recently met with a client and started by saying, “Last time we talked, you said you were having trouble in two areas – identifying potential clients with this particular profile and getting potential clients to take this particular action on your website. I’ve put together a plan to do those two things. Here’s how …” I went on to talk about the parts of my solution that would do the two things he’s struggling with. I left a lot of bells and whistles unmentioned, simply because they weren’t relevant to the needs of this client. My priority was to connect the solution dots for him.


The Value Dots

The products and services I sell are not usually the cheapest in the market. Bargain shoppers can often think that they are getting a better deal somewhere else. Because of this, I’ve got to make sure I connect the dots related to the value of my offering. Many times, I’ll just admit this upfront. I’ll say something like, “I know we might not be the cheapest proposal, but I think we’re the best.” Then I might tell a personal anecdote about how I’ve bought something more expensive because it was better. If they’ve got a Mac computer on their desk, I might point to it as an example. Most of us will spend more money if we’re convinced that the value justifies it. My responsibility as a salesperson is to connect these dots for the client.


The ROI Dots

No client has an unlimited budget. To spend with you, they’re going to need to see how their investment will pay off. If you’ve asked good questions about profitability and margin in your CNA, you should be able to connect these dots for the client. How many new customers are needed to pay for their campaign? How will making this change reduce their costs? How are you going to provide the lift the client is looking for? These are all the kinds of questions you need to be prepared to address. To do so, I’ve started using a one-sheet Return On Investment calculator that shows the client in black-and-white numbers how buying from me will help them. But be careful – there is nothing worse than promising the moon and not being able to deliver. Make sure you’re conservative in your estimates so that you manage the client’s expectations.


The Motivation Dots

People have their own reasons for buying. You’ve got to have a sense of what is motivating them if you’re going to be able to advocate well for your solution. Recently, I was meeting with a client who is tasked with increasing sales for the brands she manages for a particular retailer. I took in a proposal to her that would benefit two of her brands. In the course of our conversation, she mentioned that one of those brands was much more heavily stocked at a retailer she doesn’t work with. It’s a part of her company, but not part of her primary concern. She doesn’t care about increasing those sales nearly as much. Immediately, I pivoted to the other brand and adjusted the proposal to emphasize the other brand and added a specific way we could address sales at the retailer she’s tasked with managing. As soon as her motivation became clear, I had to connect the dots between what I was proposing and those motivations … or risk losing the sale.


Just because it’s all crystal clear to you, don’t assume it is for your client. Connect the dots for them, and you’ll see your closure rate increase.


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Next week, we’ll be talking about the psychology of sales – how to maintain a good attitude in an up-and-down job..\


Be Memorable – Tell Good Stories: Selling Strategies

When I was in college, one of my buddies bought a “Mega Memory” course from a late night infomercial. After we stopped laughing at him, a few of us were curious enough to try it out. For a couple of weeks after that we gathered in my dorm room to listen to the tapes. We dreamed of never having to study again. It didn’t quite work out like we had hoped.

storytelling-infographic (2)But … there was one technique that has stuck with me. Basically, the idea is that if you have a list to remember, you need to connect each part of that list with something you can’t forget in a very memorable way.

The course taught us to, for instance, “peg things to your body list.” So, if you had to remember a grocery list of eggs, milk, and bread, you’d imagine something outlandish with eggs and your toes. Then, you’d imagine something crazy or painful about milk and your calves. Then, you’d think of something connecting bread and your knees. When you get to the grocery store, you can just start moving up the parts of your body, which you’re not going to forget, to remember what you need to buy.

The key was to create a story for each item – the more emotional, painful, or fun, the better. Stories make things memorable.

Hubspot recently shared a great article about the neuroscience of storytelling. It dovetails nicely with the sales mantra that “facts tell but stories sell.” Hearing a story actually stimulates more parts of the brain than hearing facts and figures. That’s why we remember stories better.

Here are some stories that every salesperson needs in their arsenal:


Personal Anecdote

When I first began selling digital advertising solutions, my manager at the time used to tell our team over and over again about how his wife would shop for shoes online and then he would be served tons of shoe ads when he was online at his house. He told the story so often that I could tell it too. But you know what he did? He demonstrated the effectiveness of our product by telling a personal anecdote that all of us could relate to.

Think about a way that your product or service has helped you or a family member or a friend. Have a personal anecdote that a prospect or client can identify with. Include it in your presentation naturally and in a way that invites them to admit that what you’re offering works. Follow your story up with a question that begs an affirmative answer like, “That’s happened to all of us, hasn’t it?”


Success Story

Many – but not all – of your buyers will be concerned that what you’re offering has been effective for someone else. Can you tell a success story that is industry-specific and replicable?

Here’s an even better idea – use your iPhone to record your client telling the story themselves. When you’re doing your presentation, whip your phone out and play it for them, or embed it in your PowerPoint, or email it to them later. This allows you to double-dip, getting a reference and a success story all at once.

If you’re new to your sales position, it’s completely acceptable to borrow a success story from a team member. Just be honest about it. Say something like, “One of my teammates was working with a client, and they were able to …” The point is to tell the story in such a way as to demonstrate how you can meet your client’s needs the same way another client’s needs were met.


An Illustration that Makes the Complex Simple

There is probably some aspect of your offering that can be a little difficult to understand. Instead of hammering your prospect with facts and figures, come up with a story that illustrates your point.

Let me give you an example. In advertising sales, we talk a lot about reach and frequency. It’s important for a high number of people to see an advertisement a certain number of times. But a discussion of reach and frequency can easily turn into a bunch of numbers that make people’s eyes glaze over. Instead of going through the numbers, I’ve started saying something like this:

What we want to do is make you a regular with a particular audience. For instance, if I take my wife out to a new restaurant every week, there’s no guarantee about what we’re going to get. The service might be good or not. The food might be good or not. We just don’t know what to expect; we’ve all been there, right? That’s a much different experience than what we have every Saturday morning. For the past two years, my wife and I have been having breakfast at Susan’s Restaurant. We’re at the point now where we don’t have to look at the menu. The waitresses know us and our kids. We’re regulars. We want to make you a regular with this audience.


Pop Culture Reference

Sometimes, movies or TV shows or some other aspect of pop culture do your job for you. If you see a scene that makes your point, use it. In season 2 of Better Call Saul, Jimmy shoots a TV commercial for a lawsuit he’s pursuing. He uses great creative and a targeted strategy. It’s a perfect illustration of what I try to do for my clients. I can lead with, “Do you watch Better Call Saul? Do you remember the scene …” Don’t force it, but if you find one that works, use it. People remember the stories that entertain them.


Salespeople need a few good stories that will help make our presentations more effective. If you work with a sales team, brainstorm good stories together. People aren’t likely to remember the facts and figures we drop on them. We’ve got to tell stories to be memorable.


Here’s the full infographic Hubspot shared:



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Come back tomorrow for an article about the dots we absolutely have to connect for our clients..\


Hooking a Prospect with a Great Idea: Idea Selling Strategies

Hooks in the water.

That’s a phrase I use a lot to describe sales. It’s important to put as many hooks in the water as possible so that you have as many opportunities to make a sales as you can get.

hooksLet me push the analogy one more step. I like to have a hook for prospects and clients.

Many times I’ve walked into someone’s office or business and said something like, “Hi, I’m Robb, and I’d love to chat with the person who handles your advertising and marketing.” And many times, I’ve been met with blank stares and uninterested people. Most business owners feel like marketing is an often-unnecessary evil, and they have very little desire to chat about it with a total stranger. This approach, though common, fails a lot of the time because it does nothing to hook the prospect.

I’m positive that the same can be said for just about any other salesperson, regardless of industry, service, or product.

But there have been a few times that I’ve had a great idea. And I’ve prospected for that idea. And I believed in it. And I wanted the prospect to believe in it too. And I couldn’t wait to talk to them about it. “Hi, I’m Robb. And I’m working on this great idea that I think would be perfect for you. I came in today because I’m so excited to share it with you.” Most people can’t help but be interested in learning more. They’re hooked.

Idea selling is simply a way to bait your hook.

Idea selling is using a creative concept as the lead by which you get a prospect interested in talking to you more. Idea selling shows that you’ve already taken an interest in your prospect’s business, that you’re smart enough to be thinking about their needs (and solutions to those needs) before you ever walk in the door. Idea selling is a way to open the door and start a conversation.

But here’s what idea selling is not – it’s not selling a cookie-cutter package. When I come up with an idea that I want to sell, I make sure to not figure out every single aspect of it. I come up with a concept, a sketch of an idea, and then I work with the client to fill in all the details in a way that meets their specific needs. Idea selling is not a take-it-or-leave-it proposition; it’s an invitation to a conversation in which we’re going to customize something perfect for the client.

Maybe you’re thinking, “But I’m not a very creative person. I can’t come up with great ideas.” That may or may not be the case. Either way, here are some prompts I use to come up with ideas:



Some of the best ideas are seasonally appropriate ideas. What’s something that makes sense for summer? How can you creatively customize the solution you’re selling for fall? What holidays are coming up that would be a natural hook for you to utilize with prospects?

In advertising sales, I also think about specialty designations for each month. February is Children’s Dental Health Month. May is National Bike Month. August is Back-to-School. November is Adoption Month. I’ve come up with great sell-able ideas based on each of these. Every month has several designations. Just google it.

But … keep this in mind. When it comes to idea selling for time sensitive ideas, you’ve got to be thinking in advance. Give yourself a lot of lead time. Don’t start prospecting for a Valentine’s Day idea on February 1. You probably won’t have enough time to it sold. You’re likely going to hear, “We like the idea, but our budget is already set.” I once sold a Thanksgiving-themed idea in July. It was perfect timing.


Causes That You Care About

The world is not the way it is supposed to be. So many people are doing such good things to make things a little better. What are the things you care about? Is it poverty? Awareness of a disease? Environmental issues? Veterans’ care? If you can come up with some ideas that address causes you care about, you’ll have the motivation and passion to sell those ideas.

Here are a couple of tips: once you have an idea for a particular cause, look up every organization that is currently working to address that issue, both locally and nationally. See if they have a sponsors page that lists companies that support them. Prospect off those sponsorship pages. Go to places where you know they already care about the issue.

Also, if you can, develop a partnership with a local non-profit. If you can say that you’re already working with a local non-profit, your idea has instant credibility. And, that non-profit might also be able to provide you with some great leads to prospect.


Clever Creative

In advertising sales, it makes a difference if you can can come up with a commercial idea for a business category ahead of time. Describe the idea to a prospect so that they can picture it. Maybe even storyboard it for them. If they can see it, they may be more likely to buy it.

This works with other industries as well. Let me give you an example. I’ve had many, many pest control salespeople come to the door of my home. They have a line they all use about working at another house in our neighborhood and ask if I’d be interested in their service. Boring. I always say no. But what if that door-to-door salesperson had an iPad with them with pictures of bed bugs or termites or all the horrifying bugs I can’t see in my house. What if she said something creative about how I’m living with these bugs and showed me their pictures? It hasn’t happened yet, but I bet I’d be much more inclined to listen to her!


I try to spend one afternoon a month just thinking about creative ideas to sell. I normally get a cup of coffee and hole myself up in a place where I can think and brainstorm without distractions. Try it and see if might work for you.


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Come back tomorrow for an article about the importance of using stories when you sell.


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