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How to Leverage Storytelling for Sales

open book.png November 15, 2016 / Ben Beck

Good salespeople listen and identify a prospective customer’s needs. Excellent salespeople take those needs and compose a story. Storytelling in sales connects the two parties, creates a relationship, establishes empathy, and builds a level of rapport that could not be built without a story being told.

Paul Zak, a Neuroeconomist known for his research in storytelling physiology, has found that even the most basic of stories can elicit an empathetic response through the release of chemicals in the brain. This article provides you with 4 key elements of leveraging storytelling to improve relationships and sell more.


Tip 1 – Build your story around the dramatic arc

Your story can take many formats or have numerous topics. To build rapport and establish empathy you can tell a personal story about how you overcame a limitation in your life. Or, if you’re in a late stage of your sales cycle you can utilize a case study story, explaining how a customer used your solution to improve an element of their life.

One ingredient that belongs to every successful story is the dramatic arc. The dramatic arc of storytelling helps a storyteller convey their message. The exposition introduces important background information. The rising action shows how a series of events led to the moment of greatest interest – the climax. The climax is the hinge upon which the fate of the protagonist (yourself, your client, etc.) turned. The falling action is comprised of the unraveling of conflict between the protagonist and antagonist. Lastly, the denouement is the resolution, revelation or catastrophe that occurred to end the story.

In Zak’s research about storytelling physiology, he identified this dramatic arc as being important to ensuring your prospective customer has an actual physiological response which will, in turn, enable you to better connect with them.

Related: Why Storytelling is the Heart of Content Marketing

Tip 2 – Mesh facts with narrative

Another ingredient to a winning story is to combine compelling and relevant facts with the narrative. Cognitive Neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga has found that the function of passing data back and forth between the right and left hemispheres of the brain is important to storytelling. It helps your prospective customer frame the narrative in their own experiences and dramatically improves rapport and empathetic connection.


Tip 3 – Keep the story relevant

Sam Richter of the Social Selling Institute explains that “it’s not just storytelling; it’s relevance… If someone told me a story and it had nothing to do with what I care about, it’s a waste of time. But if it’s a shared connection, or something I’m looking to achieve with my company, then that’s the key to it.”


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Tip 4 – Enter the heart

While balancing facts with narrative is important, it’s equally important that your narrative be one that solicits emotions. Your story must enter the heart of the prospective buyer, to capture some of the valuable real estate in their brain. This often requires that you expose your own heart, and be surprisingly honest about yourself, your company or your product.

Film producer Peter Guber illustrates the importance of entering the heart: “By willingly exposing anxieties, fears, and shortcomings, the storyteller allows the audience to identify with her and therefore brings listeners to a place of understanding and catharsis, and ultimately spurs action.”


What’s next?

So, now that you’re armed with these tips on leveraging storytelling in your sales process, how are you going to get started? Unless you are a natural storyteller (most of us aren’t) then you’ll need to practice. Before your next sales call or meeting, think about who you’re going to be meeting with and find a relevant story you can use. Write it down. Read through it. Have a friend/colleague read through it. Rewrite it. Then commit it to memory.

Eventually, you’ll be such a good storyteller that you won’t need to work through the written process and will be able to spout off relevant stories as needed. Until then, practice makes perfect!

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Ben Beck
November 15, 2016

by Ben Beck