Storytelling in Business—Drive More Engagement With Prospects

The everyday sales pitch is boring.

Running through features, hitting on target metrics, going through product slide after product slide after produ…

Truth be told, the everyday sales pitch sucks. And your buyers think so too.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can deliver a powerful, effective message while driving engagement, stirring emotions, and generating real buying intent.

And it’s all thanks to storytelling in business.

In this guide, I’ll show you how to incorporate compelling stories during your sales pitch using a simple five-point framework. I’ll also cover why business storytelling drives serious selling success, pro tips for how to tell a good story, and three goals every sales story should have.

Now, let’s dive into this potent sales technique

Why Storytelling in Business Just Plain Works

If there’s one thing that unites all humans, it’s that no one likes change. It can be scary. And adapting to it takes work. So, why should you go through the necessary changes to bring storytelling into your processes?

As it turns out, there are four reasons in particular why a business story just plain works.

A) Engaging on a Fundamental Level

First and foremost, a compelling story is engaging. And not just “meh” engaging. But engaging on a fundamental, biological level.

See, we’ve been hard-wired for thousands, even tens of thousands of years to pass on important information via storytelling. In fact, some of the earliest evidence of stories come from cave drawings in France that go back as far as 30,000 years.

Studies have shown that how character-driven a story is can predict how much people are willing to donate to charitable causes. A message wrapped in a well-constructed story is more likely to be understood (and even recalled weeks later). And even our conception of ourselves, our own identity, is built on a storytelling foundation.

Humans are storytellers and story-listeners. And when you incorporate that nature into your selling process, you’re tapping into that biological underpinning.

B) Taps Into Emotions

Logic is an important aspect of any sale. If you can’t make the numbers, the buyer isn’t going to bother giving you a try. Hey, it’s just business.

But sales is about emotion too. Sometimes it’s even more important than logic.

Emotion is the driving factor behind decision-making. It’s the excitement, the trust, the gravitational pull that causes buyers to say, “Yes! I want this.” And logic, while important, is more about justifying that purchase decision.

When you’re telling your great story to prospects, you’re helping them feel the same ups and downs as your “characters” or past buyers. And as a result, you’re priming their emotions to make a purchase decision.

“Fundamentally, we make decisions emotionally, and if all we're doing is spouting features and benefits, we're really engaging the logical part of the brain. The logical part of the brain does not make decisions. But analyses and captures information to weigh pros and cons, but decisions are made emotionally. And what stories do is they tap into the emotional center of the listener, and that's where the decisions are made.” – Interview with Adrian Davis, President & CEO of Whetstone Inc.

C) Lets the Buyer Feel Like the Hero

In the same vein as the last point, when your buyer feels the emotions of your narrative’s hero, they start feeling like the hero themselves. And that is key to driving real action.

Unfortunately, a lot of sales reps don’t get this point until far later in their careers. They try to make themselves look like the hero—the rep who knows it all, who has all the expert knowledge, and who has helped countless others.

But the truth is, the buyer does not care about you.

On a human-to-human level, of course they do. But when they’re faced with serious change (switching vendors, putting their reputation on the line, etc.), they need to feel the jubilation that comes from being the reason for a massive business success.

And it’s up to you to help them feel that way.

“I think most of us want to come in as salespeople, and I sell all the time, so I'm no different, and we want to be the hero. Well, I’ve got bad news, we're not the hero, we need to make our customer the hero.” – Interview with Ken Rutsky, Consultant, Speaker, Mentor, & Author

D) A Subtle Way to Boast Success

Last but not least, a story is a way to hint (just hint) at your own success. Without straying too far from the real hero of the story—the buyer—telling a story about a past client lets you say, “Hey, I’ve helped plenty of people like you. See?”

As we all know, social proof is the undisputed king of tools for building trust. But if you bombard prospects with testimonials and case studies right off the bat, they’re only going to head for the hills. They’re just not at that stage of the buyer’s journey yet.

But when you tell a story that really connects with your prospects, you’re helping them understand the problem, explore the solution, and see that you are ultimately the gatekeeper to their success.

This lets the prospect know that you have a deep understanding of your target audience. That you've seen relatable experiences and you answer their questions in an authentic way.

Pretty cool, right?

The Sales Rep’s Storytelling Framework

Now that you understand why storytelling in business-to-business sales is so important, it’s time to dive into the how.

Lets get into some storytelling skills for the business world.

Now, there are plenty of different ways to approach great storytelling. But what I’ve found works the best is following a simple five-step process I like to call The Sales Rep’s Storytelling Framework.

It looks a little something like this:

  1. Illustrate the Current Reality
  2. Dive Into the Unresolved Pain
  3. Encountering the Success Blockers
  4. Illuminate the Future Reality
  5. Build the Reality Bridge

1. Illustrate the Current Reality

The very first step to telling an effective sales story is to start with a previous customer you helped overcome a problem—a problem that’s strikingly similar to what your current prospect is going through.

Maybe it’s that their business’ growth has stalled in recent months. Or their team isn’t working nearly as efficiently as they should. Or it could be that they’ve hit a success roadblock that they just can’t seem to overcome.

Whatever the problem is, it should be a problem that resonates with your prospect. And it should be a problem that they themselves are encountering in their current reality.

Some points to drive home here are that:

  • The current reality, well… it sucks. And frankly, it might always suck. Unless something’s done about the situation of course.
  • It might not be the hero’s fault. Things change in business. And most things are out of people’s control. They’re a victim of circumstance.

This stage is laying the groundwork for the amazing solution to come later. So the bleaker you make this part of the story, the better.

How to Tell a Good Story Pro Tip: Do your research. The more intimately familiar you are with your prospect (problem they’re facing, pain points, goals, etc.), the more this introduction to the story is going to resonate with your prospect. And consequently, the more effective the story will be. 

“If you want to close deals, if you want to win business, make it about them. It's not about you. It doesn't matter how great your product is. What is it going to do for them? Do your research on them, give them as many good examples of how it's helped similar people, but make it 100% about them.” – Interview with Daniel Disney, Author, Speaker, & Founder/Owner of The Daily Sales

2. Dig Into the Unresolved Pain

Once you’ve introduced the hero and the broad strokes of the problem, it’s time to really drive the pain home. In copywriting terms, this is what’s known as “agitating” the pain. And it’s an essential step to get your prospect to really connect with the story on an emotional level.

Your goal here is to make your prospect really feel what the hero is going through. And you do that by adding more detail, fleshing out the thoughts and emotions of the hero, and upping the tension.

Some questions you may want to cover are:

  • What are the consequences of this pain? – Think along the lines of missed revenue goals, delayed product launch, costly inefficiencies, etc.
  • Who do they look stupid in front of because of the pain or problem? – Their boss? Their colleagues? Their family members and friends?
  • Who is judging them? – Saying they could do the job better? Thinking the hero should never have had the position in the first place?
  • What is on the line? – A raise or bonus? A job? An entire department?

How to Tell a Good Story Pro Tip: Come at the problem from all the angles here. Money is a motivating factor, sure. But it’s not the only thing people consider when making a choice. Don’t be afraid to dive into the social consequences too. 

“The number one fear that will stop most people from doing most things isn't failure, it's embarrassment.” – Interview with Michael Reddington, Certified Forensic Interviewer & President of InQuasive, Inc

3. Encountering the Success Blockers

At this stage of the story, the unrelenting pain points should force the hero into action. But before they settle on a solution (your solution), they encounter two roadblocks to success:

  1. The Status Quo
  2. They’re Lost
Blocker #1: The Status Quo

As we all know, the status quo is the existing state of affairs—it’s where we’re at now. It’s where everything stays the same and nothing changes, for the worse or the better.

And as a sales rep, you should know that the status quo is generally the enemy. It’s what keeps buyers from finding new (and more effective) solutions to their problems. And it’s what needs to be dealt with before they adopt your solution.

In our story, the status quo is built including four elements:

  • Selection Overwhelm – Selection overwhelm is when a buyer knows that they have a problem, but they don’t take action because they see so many potential solutions in the marketplace. This is where product differentiation comes in, a topic I’ve talked about plenty before. And at this stage in the story, it’s a great spot to reiterate just what makes your solution so superior to the competition.
  • Confirmation Bias – Confirmation bias is one of the tougher aspects of the status quo to overcome. Essentially, this bias is our mind’s tendency to stick by our previous decision and defend it wholeheartedly. The reason we have this bias is because it protects our self-image. If we admit that the previous solution we chose isn’t up to snuff, it’s a blow to our ego. And rather than finding a new, better solution, we stand by our old one. It’s your job to prove that this is a mistake.
  • Blowback Risk – The blowback risk is the very real risk that your potential buyer will look stupid if your proposed solution does not work out. Your reputation and brand in your industry will make a massive dent in this fear when you demonstrate your expertise and develop a network of satisfied customers.
  • Initial Cost of Change – Finally, the initial cost of change is that first chunk of energy that the buyer needs to spend to start using your solution. Fighting for the budget, implementing your product, and any other number of time-consuming tasks may all need to be taken care of before the buyer starts seeing benefits. The easier you can make it for the buyer, then, the more likely they’ll be to sign on.

“Buyers are looking to make a choice or an improvement in their environment. And a ‘do nothing deal’ happens when they decide to stick with their status quo.” – Interview with Tom Pisello, Chief Evangelist for Sales Enablement at Mediafly

Blocker #2: They’re Lost

That status quo is without a doubt the biggest barrier to buying. And when you deal with it effectively (or rather show how you dealt with it with past customers), there’s only one blocker left: the buyer is lost.

They don’t have all the answers. At least not yet, anyway.

And in the complicated world of B2B buying, knowing which solution is right for their problem (and how to implement it effectively) is confusing.

That’s why they’re looking for help. They’re looking for a guide, a mentor of sorts, that can simplify the process for them and tell them exactly what they need to know to make the right decision.

Sound familiar? Yep, that’s you!

But don’t jump into the story just yet. Instead, we’re first going to move on to the next step to really build the excitement.

4. Illuminate the Future Reality

Now that we’ve explained the current reality for the hero, dug deep into their pain points, and effectively described their success blockers, it’s time to paint a picture of their reality after implementing the solution.

The goal of this step is to generate enthusiasm in the buyer and to put them in the shoes of the hero.

How did the hero’s life improve after adopting the solution? Were they able to achieve or even outperform their professional goals? Did their stress levels drop? Did the higher-ups recognize all the hard work the hero went through to achieve these results?

Now’s the time to show just what’s possible when your buyer breaks through their wall of status quo and finds the right guide to get them the results they’re after.

How to Tell a Good Story Pro Tip: Get visceral with the future. Details are key here to driving real connection here. The more detailed and relevant you can make this for the buyer, the better they’ll be able to imagine themselves in the shoes of the hero. And that’s exactly what we’re after here. 

“The average human being struggles to envision the future. They can see the present, they can see the past, but they really struggle to see the future. And what a before and after picture allows someone to do is think of the present photo, and that after photo as the future. That's why I think that salespeople have an opportunity, and I would dare say maybe even a responsibility, to preview the future for their customers that their customers aren't going to be able to envision on their own.” – Interview with Joey Coleman, Author, Speaker, & Chief Experience Composer at Design Symphony

5. Build the Reality Bridge

Finally, it’s time to tie everything together. It’s time to explain that you are the guide/mentor that took the hero from their current reality to their better future reality.

It was you that let them bridge the gap across their success blockers.

It was you that helped them see why your product stood out from the competition. Why adopting a new solution is a good investment. Why they don’t have to be concerned about blowback. And why implementing your solution doesn’t have to be stressful and time-consuming.

It was you that helped them achieve those jaw-dropping performance results, reduce their stress, and show the C-suite why the buyer is the best person for the job.

And yes, of course, you can do the same thing for the prospect too. You can make them the hero in their own story. All they have to do is say, “yes.”

If you’ve done everything right up until this point, you’ll now be talking to an engaged, excited, and ready-to-start prospect who’s just dying to work with you.

And it’s all because you told an excellent story.

“How you know that you actually won the prospect over is when they lean forward and say, “Can you tell me more about how you worked with Fred? What exactly did you guys do?” – Interview with Adrian Davis, President & CEO of Whetstone Inc.

How to Tell a Good Story: 3 Goals

Now that you understand how to tell a good story during your sales pitch, let’s go over three guiding principles you should never forget.

These are the ultimate goals you should be shooting for with your storytelling.

When you hit the three goals below, you’re using storytelling in business to its maximum effect.

Goal #1: Connect to the Buyer

Above all else is connection.

You want the buyer to feel like they are the heroes of the story. They are the ones that can achieve all the success you touched on. And in order to do that, you need to drive buy-in.

So, how do you get your prospect into the shoes of the hero?

First is research. Match your story to the real problems, pain points, and other details to those of the prospect.

Second, try dropping in key phrases that “transport” the prospect into the story. Phrases like:

  • “Does this sound familiar?”
  • “How would you have solved this?”
  • “Could you see yourself there too?”

Beyond just putting the buyer into the role of the hero, they also keep your audience engaged and part of the story.

Goal #2: Requalify the Prospect

Your story is also a great way to actually requalify the prospect to see if they’re a good fit for your solution.

Ask the buyer outright, “do you have these issues?” or “how would you have solved this?”

If their response is no, that’s fine. Just pivot to a different story and test that.

But if you aren’t making any headway and continue to get negative responses, it’s a good sign that this lead isn’t right for your business. And from there, you can take the appropriate actions to refer the lead to someone else.

Goal #3: Close, Close, Close

Finally, the goal of the story is to (duh) close, close, close!

If the buyer has been nodding their head throughout the story, you know it’s time to pounce. After you share that you’re the mentor that they’re looking for to achieve similar outcomes, ask, “Would it make sense for me to help you navigate this too?”

Making this ask is a powerful way to close the emotional side of the sale right then and there.

“If you can understand what your customer’s “good” looks like in six months time, guess what, you're selling to his perception or her perception of value. And that's what a customer buys. Customers don't buy technology, they buy outcomes, I believe.” – Interview with Julian Reading, Sales Enablement Expert

Wrapping Up

Storytelling in business is a powerful tool for any sales rep looking to boost their selling effectiveness. That’s because it’s fundamentally human, taps into a prospect’s emotions, lets them feel like the hero, and subtly sells your success.

But to get the most benefits possible, you need to know how to tell a story. And with The Sales Rep’s Storytelling Framework, effective storytelling in sales is easy. Just:

  1. Illustrate the Current Reality
  2. Dive Into the Unresolved Pain
  3. Encountering the Success Blockers
  4. Illuminate the Future Reality
  5. Build the Reality Bridge

With this framework, you can add some life to your sales pitch. No more driving buyers to sleep by endlessly slogging through features and metrics. Instead, prospects will be more engaged, more receptive to your solution, and (of course) more likely to buy from you.

So, who’s ready to tell a story?

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