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Article: Sell me a story!

Posted by: In: Communication 05 Sep 2010 Comments: 0

By Richard White.

Case studies produced by IT companies are normally dry enough to send a prospect to sleep! Sales presentations are little better. How is it that two key tools in the sales process lack the sparkle and charisma normally associated with sales people?. How do we make them more engaging and entertaining? The answer is actually child’s play! By taking lessons from story telling and using metaphor we can bring our case studies and presentations to life.

Good stories and metaphors engage our imaginations. They create pictures in our minds and also enable us to visualise complex concepts. We relate to the characters in a story and follow with interest how they overcome their struggles. Stories and metaphors can therefore be a very powerful way of helping our prospects to appreciate the value of our products and services, understand what we are like as a company and imagine what the future will be like when they are a customer.

Stories do not have to be brilliant works of fiction and we certainly do not need to kiss the Blarney stone!. Indeed, some of the best stories are based on real life. The beauty of real life stories is that they make it easy for the listener to relate to you and will often spark off memories from their own experience.

Adding spice to your case studies

Case studies are typically written in a very logical way, specifying the problem and the solution with a lot of techno-speak thrown in for good measure! They do little to help the prospect to create pictures in their mind of what actually happened. Instead of case studies, why not write customer stories instead? Tell the reader what actually happened like you would a true-life story. When describing the customer’s situation and the problems they were facing, make it personal. Include and refer to real characters from the client company and your company. Help the reader to imagine the situation the main characters were facing and how your company came to the rescue.

XYZ Systems are good medicine for ADVA

John ran the busy accounts department within the rapidly growing pharmaceutical company ADVA. The accounting system they used once worked well but after a string of mergers and acquisitions the system was now creaking at the seams. Every night after everyone else had gone home, John and his team was still there until dark, battling against the odds to get all their work done. The morale in the accounts department was at rock bottom. They were overloaded by the constant stream of requests for information from other parts of the business. John's previous boss had already been fired and John was worried that he was next. Luckily, the new finance director, James, had previously worked for several large pharmaceutical companies and was familiar with the types of systems needed. He had used the market leading system by XYZ Systems in his previous company and the first thing he did when he joined ADVA was to call in Sandra Keys from XYZ Systems for a meeting. John and his team breathed a huge sigh of relief when………

In this first paragraph the scene is being set and two characters from the client are established – John and James and Sandra Keys from XYZ Systems. The finance system is the ‘monster’ and Sandra Keys and her colleagues will develop into the heroes that slay the monster and save John and his team from a grisly fate. Notice the use of descriptive language like 'battling against the odds' and 'string of mergers'.

Making presentations memorable for the right reasons

Sales presentations are often referred to as ‘death by PowerPoint’: emotionless monologues about the company, the products and potential solutions. Such presentations do little to engage the prospects’ imagination and help them to ‘see’ what you mean and ‘see’ how working with your company will solve their problems. Great communicators weave stories and metaphors into their presentations. Add some relevant customer stories to your presentation. Add your company’s own story such as how it got where it is today.

Joe Cummings founded XYZ Systems ten years ago on three key values:

  1. To strive for the success of their clients;
  2. To deliver renowned products and services to their clients; and
  3. To maximise the potential of staff

Even during the bleakest times of the earlier years, when money was scarce, Joe held true to the values even when it seemed like financial suicide. “We’re not like other companies” Joe would say “We are going to stand for something”.

It is an approach that clients of XYZ found refreshingly different and has meant that XYZ retained a very loyal customer base. Some of the earliest clients like Sally Biggs from ABC corporation are still singing their praises. "They may not be the cheapest option on the market" Sally loves to tell prospective clients "but I know where I stand with them. If they say they will do something then it's as good as done! That counts for a lot in today's world. Quality is cheaper in the long run!"

Joe has taken care over the years to ensure that as the company has grown to its current size, the values have not been diluted. Every product and every service has the core values at it's heart like a stick of rock from Brighton…………

This short example includes two elements of human interest, Joe and Sally. It has some dialogue from Sally and Joe and they are both communicating important messages on behalf of the presenter. Stories with dialogue can be used as a powerful way to influence your prospects with selling messages indirectly.

Use Metaphor to simplify complex concepts

Where there is something complex or difficult to understand, such as abstract concepts, metaphors can help the listener to ‘see’ what you mean. It is almost impossible for the listener to make mental pictures of abstract concepts. Metaphors, however, will enable the listener to visualise the metaphor instead. For example, it may be difficult for a prospect to picture a multi-dimensional database but they could imagine a Rubix cube – you know, the toy puzzle with the coloured sides. You could liken a multi-dimensional database to a Rubix cube of data that you can rotate, allowing you to view the data from many different perspectives. Just like a Rubix cube, you can slice the data in different ways.

In the previous example, Brighton Rock is used as a metaphor to help create a mental image for the core values.

Stories and metaphor are great way to bring your case studies and presentations to life. You do not need to be a Steven Spielberg or JK Rowling to come up with simple, meaningful stories and metaphor that help your prospects and customers to ‘see’ what you mean and relate to you and your company more easily. By adding real human interest and drama to your presentations and case studies, you will differentiate yourselves from your competitors and ensure that the audience is deeply influenced by your delivery.

Story Telling Tips

  • Use real life stories
  • Include specific characters in the story
  • Include dialogue where possible, especially where you want to make a point
  • Be able to picture the story in your mind before you tell it
  • Describe as many senses as possible. Include colours, appearance, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings

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