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Talk Your Way To Success

Use situational sales success stories to seal the deal

Long before Twitter, Facebook and even Gutenberg’s printing press, humans informed and entertained each other with stories. It probably started with Australopithecus Africanus some 3 million years ago making wild hand gestures, then to the first cave drawings 32,000 years ago with some braggart talking up his (more than likely exaggerated) huge Aurochs kill (look it up) to show all his friends.

My point: storytelling as a communication art form has stood the test of time. Why? It’s compelling. Just try to only listen to half of Jim Croce’s “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” Gordon Lightfoot’s “Edmund Fitzgerald,” or Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.” You can’t do it. You want to hear how the story turns out.  

In our Peak Performance Model, there are threshold competencies and peak performance abilities. You either operate individually (singular) or within the organization (systemic).

Threshold competencies get you in the door. In sales, threshold competencies are those like offering knowledge, basic objection handling and being able to navigate basic sequences to the sale. Peak Performance faculties enable you to execute at a superior level. Singular enables one level of result; systemic provides maximum leverage.

Situational Sales Success (S3) Stories are an elevated skill set that can yield tremendous acceleration in your sales efforts. If you want to get good fast, become a great situational sales success storyteller. S3 Stories really have three subtle but distinct objectives — inform, educate or persuade.

The Power of S3 Stories

An S3 Story should provide a non-threatening way to obtain the information. In sales situations, your prospective buyer is often on hyper-alert. They don’t want to feel silly or uninformed, so if the conversation is focused on them, personal defenses are often heightened. However, if you attempt to make your point via storytelling and you’re talking about someone else, then it’s much easier for your buyer to relax and not feel intimidated.

Your story should allow the buyer to put himself in the place of the main character. As we’ve talked for years, selling is all about what’s in it for them. This is why the best S3 stories are ones in which the main character is someone other than you, the salesperson. If you use yourself, it could appear to be bragging or one-upsmanship. Additionally, it can seem contrived and unbelievable if it’s you, the salesperson, in every situation. Allow your buyers to put themselves in the place of the main character. Facilitate that by making that main character someone other than you.

You should entertain while you inform, educate and persuade. Perhaps it stems from childhood, but people, even adults, want to be entertained. Oh yes, there are those stalwarts who say they are only interested in a spreadsheet, a Gantt Chart or the scientific findings, but trust me — even these hard-nosed data types enjoy a good story now and again.

The story should provide a social proof component. As one of my professional heroes Dr. Robert Cialdini says, “We follow the lead of similar others.” That’s right — when we hear “all the kids are doing it,” it has a profound effect on us. Using Situational Sales Success Stories leverages this idea of social proof and makes what you’re talking about even more compelling for your prospective buyer.

It should break through the surrounding noise.  In the book “Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut,” author David Shenk says the average American in 1971 encountered 560 daily advertising messages. By 1997, that number had increased to over 3,000 per day. And now the Newspaper Association of America published a column on its website that proclaimed that today the average American is exposed to that many messages before breakfast.

Is the latter hyperbole? I hope so! But the point is there is a lot of noise out there, and for you to cut through it, you must have a compelling story to tell.

Elements of a Great S3 Story

The story should make a point. Whether it’s how someone was able to overcome the barrier of not knowing how to ride, to not being able to afford a motorcycle, to seeing their way through the unknown of what’s going to happen with the economy, you tell situational success stories to fit a particular situation. That’s the point … and your stories should have one too.

It should have vivid details. Describe the day, recount the particular way the other person thought about the idea. Relate a detail of the offer or the current situation at the time. For example, when selling a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, I might say, “She was the epitome of a corporate executive: well-dressed, articulate, comporting herself as if about to chair a board of directors meeting, and she was eyeing up a radical custom-painted candy apple red Super Glide with one of the most sinister skull paint jobs I’ve ever seen.”

You should incorporate a repeatable phrase. I love using language to perpetuate motorcycle culture. For me, the people and the culture are as fun as the bikes or the riding, so I really like to incorporate bike-speak into my conversations (we’ve written about this before — some psychologists refer to this as “subversive prestige,” using the language of a rough and tumble group makes it seem like you’re like them. E.g. suburban kids speaking like they’re members of the Latin Kings). Phrases like, “Chrome don’t get you home” or “bustin’ bugs” can color your situational sales success stores and make them memorable.

Beginnings are crucial. I’m not saying you should begin with the clichéd, “it was a dark and stormy night …” but you should have an interesting way of getting started. If the customer says something like, “Yeah, I just don’t know what’s going to happen with my job and the economy,” you might begin your situational sales success story with, “That’s exactly what Peter Greensmith said, standing on this showroom, not more than two months ago.” And bingo, I’m listening.

The story should have something unexpected in it.  People love a twist. Think about the plot turns in books, movies and songs. If you knew exactly how things were going to turn out, what would be the reason to stay tuned in? Using our Peter Greensmith example above: “His company was struggling, his property value had decreased, some family members had lost their jobs and all rational indicators told him not make any big decisions. Then, he lost his childhood friend to cancer. He told me he looked in the mirror that dark day after the funeral and said, ‘Life is short.’  He purchased a brand-new bad motor scooter and through riding met the VP of a thriving company who offered him a job and now they both do motorcycle-related cancer fundraising events. It doesn’t work out that way all the time, but man you have to love how Peter’s story turned out.”  

Your  unexpected result certainly and most often shouldn’t be as emotionally heavy as above. Rather, it can be funny, surprising, unexpected, sort of like “customers say the darndest things.”  

Want more tips on the dos and don’ts of S3 stories? Stay tuned for the next installment, where I’ll polish your story-telling skills. In the meantime, get out on the sales floor and start telling stories!

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