The word ‘story’ means many things to many people. The most useful way of thinking about ‘story’ in sales messaging is to compare it to its opposite, which is data. The differences can be subtle. Data is, “the queen and king died.” Story is, “The queen died and the king died of a broken heart.”
Let’s start with an example that lives in the world of sales messaging.
Data – Corporate Visions was founded in 1986. We have 25 employees. Over 10,000 students have taken Power Messaging. Here is our list of clients. We believe that what sets us apart are our values. We believe in being ‘in service’ to our customers.
Story – Rather than hit you with a list of figures about our company, probably the easiest way to explain who we are, would be to share something that happened a couple of years ago at a company Christmas party. The party was at the home of our founders, Chuck and Karen. They own a beautiful home on Lake Tahoe. One of our employees brought a date to the party. Unfortunately, his date accidentally spilled red wine on Chuck and Karen’s beautiful white carpet. Not surprisingly, she was terribly upset and embarrassed about it and started crying and sought out Chuck to apologize to him. When Chuck learned why she was so upset, he took his own glass of wine and poured it over the top of her spill. He smiled and said to her, “There. Now it’s my stain, not yours. Please, go back to enjoying the party.” That instinctive reaction from Chuck is wired into his and Karen’s personality. And it’s their values that are in the DNA of the company and everything we do.
So, what are the differences between these two examples?
Data takes less time to deliver than a story. The data explanation consisted of 41 words, while the story explanation used 178 words. When you’re using story to communicate your message, you’ll find things that you used to zip through take longer to communicate. You need to be aware of that issue as you transition to more storytelling. Don’t let this increased length bother you. Story will shorten your overall sales cycle, which is the most important thing.
Story has emotion; data doesn’t. Part of what makes a story so effective in messaging is the emotion it evokes in the audience. When you use a story, it’s important to remember the emotional landing point you are shooting for. Otherwise, you can get lost in the weeds of telling the story and forget your point.
Story is more memorable than data. If you were asked to recall this data and this story tomorrow, which would be easier to remember? It’s the story that’s easier to remember. It has to do with the way your brain is wired. Everyone remembers story better than data.
Showing versus Telling
Professional writers of books and movies understand the power of ‘showing versus telling.’ Showing involves the reader/viewer/listener in the actions of the story, so that they come to the conclusion you want. Telling is simply handing out the facts. Here’s how science fiction writer, Robert J. Sawyer describes this:
What’s the difference between the two? Well, “telling” is the reliance on simple exposition: Mary was an old woman. “Showing,” on the other hand, is the use of evocative description: Mary moved slowly across the room, her hunched form supported by a polished wooden cane gripped in a gnarled, swollen-jointed hand that was covered by translucent, liver-spotted skin.
In the exposition/data example, you get the facts: Mary is an old woman. In the showing/story example, you know that Mary is an old woman, even though it’s never explicitly stated.
In sales messaging, you want to use story in the same way. Rather than say, “We are a market leader.” Instead, share a story about a way you helped a client that clearly establishes that you are the market leader without you having to say it. Rather than say, “We are customer-focused.” Share a story that leads your prospect to that conclusion, without you ever having to use those words.
Two final tips: First, not everything needs to be wrapped in story. Inconsequential points, assuming they absolutely have to be mentioned to a client – like, we are already on your approved vendor list – don’t need to be messaged through story. Second, practice delivering your message out loud using the stories you come up with. This will let you know how it affects the timing and flow of your presentation.
Remember, stories take longer than data, but stories are far more memorable and they create the emotion you want in your customer. In final analysis, it doesn’t matter how good your message is if your client can’t remember it when they go to make their buying decision.
By Erik Peterson, Consultant, Corporate Visions Inc.