BY PAUL SMITH
People tend to do business with people they like and trust. That’s why building rapport with a potential buyer is crucial to sales success. And storytelling is the quickest way to build rapport. It helps people get to know you more intimately than reading your résumé. In interviews with top salespeople at over 50 major corporations, I found them using seven different kinds of stories in the rapport-building phase with a potential buyer.
If you work in sales, storytelling is a vital skill, and you need to have all seven of these in your repertoire. The first five are stories about you, the salesperson. The other two are about the company you work for.
Stories about you:
- “Why I do what I do.” To know you well enough to trust you, a buyer needs to understand not just what you do for a living, but why. What drew you to your profession or your company? The reasons say something about who you are as a person. And the passion you show will influence the buyer. After all, who doesn’t want to do business with someone who’s passionate about what they do?
- “I’ll tell you when I can’t help you.” If you’re honest enough to tell buyers when your company is not right for a particular need, they’re more likely to believe you when you tell them you are the best choice. How can you convey that to a prospect before there’s a problem? Tell them a story—about a time you told another buyer, “I’m not familiar with that,” or “That’s not something we do,” followed by “Let me see what I can find out,” or “Here’s someone I recommend.”
- “I’ll tell you when I made a mistake." Simply saying, “Yeah, I’ve made mistakes before, but I always own up to them” doesn’t do much to demonstrate your credibility and trustworthiness. Telling a story about a time you made a mistake and then told the buyer—before they heard about it from anyone else—does.
- “I’ll go to bat for you with my company." In disagreements between a customer and the company, sometimes one side has a better argument and sometimes the other side does. Buyers want a sales rep who is able to weigh both sides and is willing to lobby on their behalf when the customer is right. Rather than wait around for buyers to learn that on their own, share a story about when you’ve actually done it.
- “I’m not who you think I am." Buyers sometimes presume the worst about a seller’s character or motives. So how can you overcome unspoken biases? Storytelling! First, consider what negative preconceptions prospects are likely to have about you. Then think of a situation that demonstrates the opposite conclusion and craft a story around it.
Stories about your company:
Founding story. Nobody ever started a company for a boring reason. Whether they had a better idea for a product, got tired of working for someone else, or got fired and didn’t know what else to do, it’s bound to be an interesting story. Find out what it is and tell it to your buyer. It will help them understand, respect, and remember your company better when it’s time to make the buying decision.
- “How we’re different from our competitors.” Procurement people will tell you (like they told me) that competitors in every space are so similar that it’s difficult to tell them apart. They need a “differentiation” story— which means you need a differentiation story. What works best is a real story about how your company tacked a particular problem, compared to a similar narrative about how your competitor responds to the same issue.
About The Author
Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s a former executive and 20-year veteran of The Procter & Gamble Company. Today he’s a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of three books on harnessing the power of storytelling, including his latest, Sell with a Story: How to Capture Attention, Build Trust, and Close the Sale.