How to Sell with Stories

You may have heard marketing experts advise you to use stories to sell your product or service. But what exactly does that mean? Why does it work? And how can you use it to market and monetize your expertise?

Clients are more resistant to traditional selling methods

  1. Customers easily tune out/switch off. Your customers are no stranger to bold claims. They’ve heard it all before. They’ve been told countless times that product X or service Y will work wonders. It’s not that they no longer believe. It’s more that they’re not listening in the first place.
  2. Customers forget easily. A customer may not remember the features and benefits of your product but they do remember a story you tell them.
  3. Stories spread more easily. Stories go viral – for better or worse – because they’re memorable and elicit conversation. It’s easier for you and your clients to remember and share a story than the features and benefits of your offer.

Use stories in your marketing material

  1. So what do we mean by stories? Do we mean, “Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins back girl”? Or, “troll under bridge eats goats, heroic goat outwits troll, bridge is safe once again”? Well, actually, that’s not far off. Selling with stories simply means using storytelling methods to get the value of your product or service across. What do we mean by storytelling methods? Well, most stories have a hero (i.e. you/your product); an enemy (i.e. the problems you’re solving for your customer); good triumphing over evil (i.e. your solutions solve the problems); and a happily ever-after (i.e. the results you get for your customer).
  2. Sprinkle your marketing with stories. So, instead of telling your client why your service is great, tell a story of how Bob was struggling to get more customers to his restaurant (Problem #1). The food was good but service was lousy (Problem #2). He needed to turn things around or face closing his doors by the end of the year (Problem #3). You (the Hero) worked with Bob to properly train his staff (Solution #1) and implement a comprehensive social media strategy to build word-of-mouth (Solution #2). The result was that Bob’s staff became more professional and valued (Result #1); customer satisfaction and reviews online improved (Result #2) and business improved by 30% in the first-quarter. Bob’s restaurant remains open a year on with 75% occupancy most days and full occupancy Fridays and Saturdays (Result #3).
  3. Why use stories? Stories are a proven, effective message delivery mechanism.
    – A good story captures the attention of its listeners: once a story begins, your prospect will generally want to know how it ends.
    – Stories let you take dry, boring concepts and – through dramatic technique and story-craft – make them engaging and applicable.
    – When your customers hear a good story (in this case, yours), it stays with them. Because they remember it, they are more likely and able to share it with others, spreading your message.
    – Your story builds trust and rapport. Your customers relate to your humanness, your struggle, your vulnerability. Stories make you more believable. This believability translates to more customers taking action.
    – A story can change your customers’ self-image and minds for the better, i.e. a story of someone succeeding makes success seem possible for us.
  4. Types of stories you can use. Stories are about transformation. Your goal is to move the listener from Point A (the “nightmare”) to Point B (the “dream”). It’s widely recognised there are seven basic plots in storytelling (with plot types often overlapping). You can use each one, with the exception of “Tragedy”.
    Overcoming the Monster, e.g. Star Wars, James Bond films, superhero filmsYou help your clients solve a problem that is standing in the way of their success/happiness.
    Rags to Riches, e.g. Aladdin, Cinderella, The Pursuit of Happyness. You help your clients go from having little to having more of a desirable thing.
    The Quest, e.g. Lord of the Rings, Indiana JonesYou guide your clients through a journey to attain something or get somewhere important, avoiding hazards along the way.
    – Voyage and Return, e.g. The Wizard of Oz, Chronicles of NarniaYou help your clients find their way out from a challenging place and return richer for the experience
    Comedy, e.g. anything that doesn’t have Adam Sandler in it. A likeable character (you) triumphing over adversity with humor and good cheer, resulting in a successful conclusion.
    – Tragedy, e.g. Macbeth, Breaking Bad. In literature, a tragedy is defined as a hero’s fall from grace and whose death is a happy ending. You would not use this in your storytelling! 
    – Rebirth, e.g. A Christmas Carol, Despicable Me. You help your clients change their ways, making them a better person.
  5.  Where can you use stories?
    Your website About page. Tell your visitors why you started your business, your personal struggle and your eventual success;
    Client testimonials. Ask your past clients to share their successes. Where were they before they used your product or hired you and where they are now.
    Your company profile page. What is your company mission? What is the “enemy” you’re fighting? Why is the fight important to your organisation?
    – Your marketing material. Make a story your centrepiece, like our above example with Bob. Can you turn your customers into stories? Interview them. Put their stories on your website. Share them with your target audience.
    – Sales presentations. If you are presenting to a client, ditch the slides and tell a story that resonates with them. The story should identify problems and frustrations they relate to; echo their thoughts and feelings and be relatable. Tell them about your role in the story, what you were able to do and the results you achieved.

Takeaway points

  1. Stories can make your marketing efforts come alive and well crafted stories boost credibility.
  2. Stories are more engaging, more memorable and because they’re more relatable they can boost response rates and calls-to-action.
  3. Stories are extremely powerful in a world of social media marketing.

Action steps

  1. Identify the stories you can tell in your business. They can be stories about you, about your product/service or about your clients (with their permission, of course). Refer to the plot types above to come up with engaging stories you can share.
  2. Write your personal story. Why did you start this business? What obstacles did you overcome? What was your low-point? How did you become successful, i.e. was there a turning point when everything into place? How did crack the strategy for success etc.
  3. Write your business story. What is your mission? Why is it important to you? Who have you helped? What results have you helped clients achieve? (If you do not yet have customers, work on your personal story and use that in your marketing. As you get clients, share their success stories) in video (recommended) interviews. With your clients; permission, share their stories with your target audience.

Photo credit: Het Nieuwe Instituut via Foter.com / CC BY

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