Do Stories Really Increase Sales? Yes, They Do!

storytelling for sales

Nod your head if you’ve heard this proclamation “Facts tell, stories sell.” Or maybe you’re familiar with the adaptation “storyselling”? Or you’ve been encouraged to practice “narrative-driven marketing.”I love the message in these variations: buyers are real people, who tend to lead with their emotions when embarking on a decision-making path. So we, who have wonderful products and services to offer, have to speak to them in ways that work with their real human behavior. Thus, stories.

“How do we use stories, Susan?” company owners often ask. They’re eager to include stories both in speaking and in written marketing efforts.

Stories are one of the three essential elements for sales growth. Ethan, the architect, confronted his unwillingness to automate design, and marketing on social media, by instead cultivating his wonderful current clients. He achieved a 25% increase in sales in one year.

Here’s my latest thinking on using storytelling to increase your company’s sales, no matter your industry type and whether your company is primarily business-to-business or business-to-consumer.

Five Story Elements

Every story requires five elements:

  • The hero
  • The crisis
  • The obstacles to overcoming the crisis
  • The steps taken to deal with the obstacles
  • The resolution or outcome

Remember that people are attracted to the tension and the resolution of the story. The crisis is a very low point or a very high barrier. The struggle needs to feel real and the outcome needs to prompt a great cheer or big sigh of relief. Stories should be dramatic!

Also keep in mind that stories told by businesses need to be true, but they don’t have to be delivered as a journalist would write a news story. You can change the order of events, omit many details, punch up dialogue, and focus on only one character. Perhaps the saying ought to be “facts tell, drama sells!”

Who’s the Hero?

As I increased my focus on storytelling as an essential persuasive ingredient for sales and profit growth—whether spoken, in marketing messages or in blog posts, articles or case studies—I realized that the storyteller has a choice about who is the hero. Is it the seller and his/her company, or is it the client or customer?

The choice affects the persuasive impact of the story. See what you think…

When the company is the hero (represented by a specific person), the story describes the crisis as it happened to a customer or client. The hero recognizes the obstacles facing the customer and takes action to overcome them. The outcome, which benefits the customer, is created and delivered by the hero company. The customer is the beneficiary of the hero’s power and strength. The company tells this story in the hopes that the prospective/new customer puts themselves in the shoes of the story’s customer, and thinks “Oh, I want that outcome too!”

What if, instead, the story is about the customer as hero? The customer—one just like you, the prospect, in so many ways—faced a crisis. That customer, smart, hardworking, and determined, confronts the crisis and establishes the steps needed to overcome the obstacles. Among the steps taken is to hire, engage or work with you (the company). Together, you overcome the obstacles and create the desired outcome or resolution. The customer is the hero and your company plays a crucial supporting role—the hero couldn’t have done it without you. The new prospect identifies with the hero and thinks, “I want to be the hero too! I should call you to help me.”

I’ve come to prefer that the customer or client have the hero role. What do you think?

Using Story as Analogy

I’ve long admired Doug Stevenson for his storytelling wisdom and amazing skill. Recently I watched a video of his “Hide the Pill” story. The story includes the 5 elements, but something about it struck me as different. I figured out that it is a powerful story as analogy, which is a distinct kind of story that helps the speaker or marketer make a memorable impression indirectly. We often use analogies in conversation but I don’t hear them in composed stories.

Get started by asking yourself “Our company creates X outcome, how is that like something else?”

You can use a personal experience, as Doug does in the pill story. Or create an analogy using a familiar activity, such as cooking, sports, exercise, any hobby, travel, or construction.

I think more companies should incorporate story as analogy in their marketing, both spoken and in writing.

Story as Inspiration/Motivation?

An intimate, moving story about overcoming personal, serious obstacles such as illness, injury, terrible family situations, self-inflicted wounds, and others are often told to motivate or inspire audiences.

I caution very limited use of the personal motivating or inspirational story by company owners and business leaders speaking to business or consumer audiences. These stories are, by definition, all about you. For decades I’ve said that the number one rule for speaking and marketing is “Put the Audience First.”

You want to use stories to inspire your audience to do business with your company.

The Art of Narrative-Driven Sales

Are you ready to incorporate stories into your sales and marketing efforts? That’s great. And please, do it well!

The key to successfully using stories is to do them extremely well. Nothing falls flatter than a story that goes on and on, with the listener thinking “I get it, stop already!”

If you’re curious about how your company can incorporate stories into your marketing, whether written and shared as part of your Cultivate and Nurture plan, or spoken, I would love to help you. Give me a call at 703-801-0345.
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