Storytelling – an Art and Science

By Michael Griego

We used to call it “rapport building” – that application of a salesperson’s natural gift for gab at the beginning of sales calls with prospects or customers. Or so we thought. What else could it be but the natural ability of a talkative salesperson to set up business part of sales conversation with some chit-chat that would relax the target prospect and create a friendly, comfortable environment?

It is an art, actually.

Walk into the prospect’s office or business and strike up a conversation about the weather, the traffic, sports, pictures on the wall or desk, a trophy, a plaque – anything that gave you a chance to engage the customer in some friendly preliminary conversation. After you warmed them up, then you proceeded to move into the sales call more effectively because you’d built up some level of rapport.

Because after all, people buy from people they like and trust. Right?

Well, maybe.

Nowadays people will buy from a website they like and trust. Particularly for commodity items, salespeople are less relevant. But for more complex enterprise sales environments, the world is changing up. Research shows that people care less about the salesperson and more about the buying experience; that is, what the salesperson or vendor team brings to the sales table, i.e., insight, perspective, navigational assistance, education, ease of engagement, advocacy, etc. (Sales Executive Council)

In fact, all these things build trust. Throw in a reasonable degree of likeability and the salesperson should be sitting pretty.

But How Do You Do That?
It’s actually an art and a science. No longer can a salesperson in today’s sophisticated enterprise sales situation get away with just a gift of gab. You’ve got to do better than that to capture the attention, let alone trust, of the modern savvy prospect/customer/buyer/influencer/decision-maker.

What we find is that many of today’s top-performing salespeople are understated and non-extraverted. It’s always been that way too. It’s not a gregarious personality thing. They win because they’re sharp and deliberate in all their activities and processes. From start to finish. They know exactly what they’re doing at all points of a known sales process and take the customer on a buying experience ride that is not accidental or random.

And along the way, they tell stories.

Storytelling? Yes.
Great salespeople, like great friends and great communicators, tell great stories. They are armed with stories for all occasions and situations. They can go short or long with them, weaving a relevant scenario in 30-60 seconds or wax eloquently for 2-5 minutes on an engaging narrative that brings color, insight, and connection to the moment.

There is structure to every good story, like a Hollywood script or any children’s storybook:

• The Setting – a situational set-up, “Once upon a time, in a land faraway….” The opening sets the scene, “I was working with a similar sized company…”
• The Conflict – a description of the problem, “What they were facing was….”
• The Climax – this is where the situation reaches a peak and a turning point, when the problem gets resolved, “With our ____ solution we were able to help….”
• The Resolution – in literature it’s called the denouement (pronounced ‘dey-noo-mahn’); it’s the resulting outcome and tying up of all the plot lines – “and they lived happily ever after.”

Solution Selling author, Michael Bosworth, points out in his latest book, What Great Salespeople Do, that good story telling actually stimulates the creative, right side of the brain and defuses the analytical left side of the brain.

Great salespeople do just that.

And they can apply a simple story telling framework to customer testimonial stories, personal history stories, company origin stories, product development stories, or any scenario that allows them a chance to productively engage the prospect/customer in any conversation.

No, rapport building is not just a light, natural gift. It can be taught as a developed skill. And it’s as natural as telling a child a bedtime story.

Michael Griego

Michael Griego