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  • Writer's pictureDennis Sullivan

Storytelling: The secret to reduce customers’ objections & increase brand recall

An ancient art form to get more people to buy from you

Storytelling: The secret to reduce customers’ counterarguments & increase brand recall

If I asked you, why would someone want to buy what you have to offer, you can probably give me some very good, rational reasons.

Take one of my clients as an example. In a recent planning meeting, he said, “Selling is pretty simple. Everything really just comes down to quality, service and price. If you can make an argument for those three things you’ll do fine.”

He is right. You will do fine. Ugh! It’s one of the worst four letter words in business … fine.

Fine, just fine. The problem is that you didn’t get into business to be fine, just fine.

You want to stand out! Be recognized. You want to get others to remember you and forget about everyone else so when they think of your product or service, they think only of you! You won’t get that by just being, fine.

So how do you get from fine to WOW!

Chances are you’re already doing some of it, but you and your salespeople aren’t doing it enough. The key is not to try and win the day with arguments, rebuttals, facts and logic. The secret is the ancient art of telling stories – short anecdotes or narratives that create a bond between buyer and seller. Researchers have found that when we are told a story we process it in such a way in our brains that results in fewer counterarguments and they are far easier to remember. Why? Because we are naturally more engaged when we hear and share stories.

Here’s a quick example...

One client is experimenting with a new direct mail campaign that is generating three times the response rate of traditional campaigns in the real estate market. That’s fine.

But what if told you this story…

“The other day, our client got a call from one of his customers who was frustrated sending the same old marketing campaigns and not getting the response he hoped. He wanted to try something new. So he tried the new campaign. He spent $4,500 and got 56 leads that netted a profit of $100,000 from the deals he closed. Get this! He’s now mailing 5,000 pieces every week for the next 6 months.”

It’s not only a great story, it’s a great testimonial. The best testimonials are good stories.

What makes a good story in the selling process? Researchers David Gilliam and Karen Flaherty in their article, “Storytelling by the sales force and its effect on buyer-seller exchange,” published in Industrial Marketing Management, tried to answer this question and get a better understanding of how salespeople use stories by following the interactions of sellers and buyers in the field and at a B2B tradeshow. What they discovered was interesting. The most effective sellers were using stories to relate to buyers, but few actually were aware of it.

In fact, the best stories casually link events. Take the example above. It casually introduces the experience of a customer who was frustrated with his marketing, just like many other business owners. He had a problem and was looking for a better alternative. And just like a well-told Shakespearean play or a blockbuster movie, a good story in the sales process has a beginning, middle and end no matter how short it may be.

Gilliam and Flaherty concluded that storytelling plays a key role in the sales process – and the stories are largely appreciated by buyers, who often told their own stories when describing their need and wants even if unintentional. Salespeople, however, use stories to establish credibility, persuade, get acquainted, build rapport, break tension, and make buyers more comfortable and communicative while attempting to build relationships.

In their model for storytelling, Gilliam and Flaherty uncovered 3 motives for telling a story:

  1. Inform the buyer (i.e., introducing a new product or feature).

  2. Persuade the buyer (i.e., bolster the value proposition).

  3. Bond with the buyer (i.e., build trust with mutually shared experiences and connections).

Topics could be personal or business-related. The more relevant and timely the story was to the customer, the more effective the interaction. In those instances, buyers often reciprocated with their own story.

Storytelling really does sell. It sells brands and ideas – and has been used effectively for thousands of years. Yet, as business owners, it’s something that we are just now beginning to understand just how powerful it can be in sales and marketing.

Try it. If you were to talk about quality, service and price, what stories could you tell?

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