Storytelling for sales: how to improve your narrative for the modern buyer

Posted January 29, 2019

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By Joe Vignolo

Senior Content Managing Editor at Outreach

This post is based on a podcast interview with Beau Brooks from Formstack
To hear this episode, and many more like it, subscribe to The Sales Engagement Podcast. If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.

They already know the specs. They’ve asked friends, read reviews, and visited the website. You’ll only bore them if you insist on repeating a litany of product features, using the same playbook that salespeople have been using for decades. Customers play a new game now with different rules - their knowledge share has skyrocketed and you can only catch their attention by offering something new.

Buyers have changed and so must salespeople. Customers now own the conversation and will gladly talk to other vendors if they don’t find you authentic or interesting. They want to be amused, excited, or inspired.

Unfortunately, just memorizing product specs, reciting them like a robot, and making the same tired old pitch won’t ignite the experiences the next generation of buyers is looking for.  

But a good story will.

Why you need an army of storytellers

Beau Brooks, VP of Sales at Formstack has an interesting tale to share. Serving clients as diverse as Netflix, the National Hockey League, Yeti, Cleveland Clinic, and Twitter, Formstack’s sales team redefines what it means to engage customers in the following ways:

  1. The team maintains an impressive and adeptly curated repository of use cases, testimonials, and customer success stories.
  2. Sales, Customer Success, and Marketing people learn the success stories by heart and also how to connect specific buyers to stories that most resonate with them most.
  3. Getting top-level executives involved, Formstack builds a culture of storytelling, with customer-facing staff encouraged to add new stories to the library using a simple, three-step narrative framework.

Formstack’s sales team simply stopped saying “Here's what our product does.” Instead, they take each customer on a narrative journey that pulls the right strings and encourages emotional investment, for example: 

“Your situation sounds similar to that experienced by Company B. Here’s how their people are using our product and here are the awesome results you could have too if you give it a try.”

Beau Brooks joined The Sales Engagement Podcast to share how his team harnesses the power of storytelling. Using his process, your sales organization can replicate their success and go from rags-to-riches too.

Build a system for stories

You don’t need to write a novel or relive a saga. Make your stories sweet and simple. Beau recommends a three-step framework that closely resembles classical storylines and scripts: beginning, conflict, ending.

Translating the storytelling framework to a sales environment, Beau’s team created the following template:

  1. Challenge. What is the problem the customer is trying to solve? What are the immediate goals they want to achieve?
  2. Execution. How do they go about solving that problem? How did the customer leverage your product? Which features and capabilities were most relevant to their situation?
  3. Value. What's the primary benefit they've gained after solving the problem? How did that translate into ROI?

Put your team through storytelling bootcamp

It’s not enough for salespeople to know a few snippets of customer stories here and there. Once they’ve piqued the prospect’s interest, they’ll get asked the killer question: 

“That’s amazing. How did they do that?”  

At least three things can happen: (A) the salesperson doesn’t know the “hows” behind the story; (B) your seller only has a vague idea of what’s being asked; or (C) the seller knows the whole story, has been trained to tell it with impact, and knows the details of four more stories that might resonate with the prospect.

Which would you rather have? The first two can easily lead to a lost opportunity. The third can lead to a closed and won deal.

It’s easy to impress prospects with a great first impression but a lot harder to build and maintain trust. That means you need to go beyond curating a shared, updated, and properly categorized library of use cases and customer success testimonials. You also need to formally train people in your sales team to become active listeners and excellent storytellers.

Be a legend

As Beau shared, building a culture of storytelling takes a lot of work. The sales transformation at Formstack did not happen overnight - it took hours of hard work and training for their salespeople to adapt to the process and make stories highly relevant to customers. But it can and has been done and is just waiting to be retold in your own voice.

So how do you describe an army of passionate storytellers with access to a rich repertoire?


Learn more about sales and the power of storytelling from The Sales Engagement Podcast.


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