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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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..\


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