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How to build credibility and trust – Selling with Story part 2

Today’s post is part two of a transcript from my recent interview on the Voice America Business Channel show ‘Story Powered’ hosted by Lianne Picot. The topic of the program is ‘Selling with Story’ where we talk about how you can use stories in order to move people closer to saying yes to the sale.

High speed train - Selling with Story

In Selling with Story part 1 we talked about building rapport. In part 2 of the podcast episode – ‘Selling with Story’, Lianne and I talk about the second of four parts on how to incorporate story into your sales.

The podcast continues…

Lianne:                 

Welcome back to Story Powered, with me, your host, Lianne Picot. I’m chatting today with Shawn Callahan from Anecdote and we are talking sales.

One of the biggest questions I get in story land is around how do I use story in sales and so Shawn is here today, he’s a long time salesperson as well as the founder of Anecdote many years ago, and he’s been using story and working with leaders in great big companies on organisational change around the world.

So, we’re working through the four parts to embedding story into your sales conversations and the first one was build rapport.  So Shawn, so what’s the second step and can you give us an example of that please?

Creating a repertoire of success stories to tell

Shawn:                

Yeah, I mean, once you’ve established rapport, the next step is really building credibility and that’s all about trust. It’s also about understanding expertise and this is where you need to be able to have a repertoire of success stories to tell. So you need them in your back pocket so that as the conversation is happening, you can actually recount success stories.

I mean, I’ll give one from Anecdote. We were working with Argyle up in China, and Argyle wanted us to help their leaders with story telling capabilities and the global head of operations came along to the program. She came to us at the beginning of the program, in fact Mark was running this program so she came up to Mark and she said, “I’m sorry, but I have to leave at 4 o’clock. I know we finish at 5 but I have to leave at 4 because I’ve got to have this meeting with the Chinese government”.

She’s been having these meetings every quarter with the Chinese government because they moved one of their factories and they needed to get compensation from the government, but that compensation really wasn’t forthcoming.

Anyway she sits there and she’s going through the program and she learnt about a particular story structure, and she realises that that story structure would be perfect for the meeting that she’s having with the Chinese officials and, to cut a long story short, she goes to the meeting and  uses the story structure. At the time, nothing really happened, so people are nodding, but an hour later the Chinese officials ring her and they say, “We’re going to make the first payment on the money that we owe you next week”.

So when we tell that story of communication and see just how some of these structures hit people emotionally, that inspires action.

Lianne:                 

Absolutely, that’s a great example.

Shawn:                

So you have to have these success stories.  The other thing too is if you take a challenge of sale approach where you’re bringing insight, you have to be able to give some example of that insight in action. Usually in another organisation or another part of their organisation that helps them think differently about the issue that they’re facing.

So that’s what you’re doing to build credibility. A prospect needs to be sitting down with a salesperson and at the end of the meeting, they should be thinking, “That was an hour well spent”.

Lianne:                 

Yeah.

Shawn:                

You know, I learnt things, I was challenged, I have an insight. I would’ve had that person in my office doing this even if we weren’t running this big process to put in this new system or whatever it might be.

Lianne:                 

Wow that is a very different way to look at sales than most people who are actually dreading sitting down for a whole hour being sold to, right? So that’s fascinating.

Shawn:                                

That’s right, exactly.

Telling your story so that people can visualise it

Lianne:                 

It’s a great way of thinking about it. Now one of the things that I talk to with my clients as well around that, because the establishing credibility, I mean it is one of the easiest things to do when you’ve worked with people and to utilise those stories because it actually, it kind of goes back to what we were saying earlier. It demonstrates that you first of all, understand what their needs are and that you’ve dealt with them before and that you’ve successfully helped somebody through the process, right?

Shawn:                

That’s right, exactly. And really to make it a good story, you need to tell it in such a way that people can visualise it.

Lianne:                 

Yes, right.

Shawn:                                

Because I find often, people will tell it at too high a level.

Lianne:                 

Right.

Shawn:                

And as a result, they don’t get that visual connection and therefore the real emotion that comes from the visual element of it.

Lianne:                 

Why do we do that? You’re absolutely right and I’ve seen people when they start with story as well, they’re really struggling to get down to that human level. I mean, not down but you know, to that place where you’re actually connecting in a very human way. What do you think it is that keeps people at a higher level?

Shawn:                

I’m coaching a very senior executive at the moment and he’s going through struggle just as we speak and I think what it is, is the way in which visitors normally run, everyone thinks that high level and the human element is not overly there.

So they feel that it’s different, that it requires a level of confidence to do something which looks a bit and feels a little bit different, so I think that that’s what holds people back. But once they see the results of this, all of a sudden they become zealots of the process.

Lianne:                 

It’s true.

Shawn:                

Right. So it’s really interesting, they push back for a while then they give it a go and they go, “Oh, wow, all of a sudden people are engaged and people remember”, and all the other great things that happen when stories are told.

Can failure stories build credibility?

Lianne:                 

Absolutely. Now one of my big things around that, because I used to work when I was in the non-profit sector, one of the things I specialised in was going and helping, and I still do it actually, is work to find client stories in order to help the organisation know how they’ve helped. So I feel really strongly about this one, is that you have to find these stories if you want to know how you’re doing.

And in a way, we are accountable to the people we’re serving so these are really important stories to be finding and so I always talk about them, not so much as they’re nice to have, the success, and you know, it’s good to have the failure stories too.

I mean, I don’t know whether you’ve ever worked with people on helping them frame a failure story in order to seal the deal in a sales conversation. Have you used that at all?

Shawn:                

Oh, I have to say, failure stories could be one of the most important ones for building credibility, you know?

Lianne:                 

Yeah.

Shawn:                

So I have it, we had a classic failure in Anecdote. I was doing a strategy story for a company. They told me that they were so busy that I couldn’t get all of the executives together in a workshop to develop a story and I stupidly said yes to this. And then when I went to present the story back to the organisation, there was a boardroom table, all the executives were sitting around, the CEO was at the head of the table, and as I was telling the story, I was like two sentences in and the CEO interrupts and says, “Excuse me Shawn, really I think stories are just lies”.  Right?  And the whole executive went from smiling faces, all excited by this thing, to frowning faces and the next day I was fired.

Lianne:                 

Yep, because you didn’t build them.

Shawn:                                

I tell that story, sorry what was that Lianne?

Lianne:                 

I was just going to say because you didn’t get the buy-in, you didn’t get the buy-in first.

Shawn:                

Well, that’s it, I tell that story whenever they say they’re too busy and I can’t do the workshops.

Lianne:                 

Yeah, it’s great.

Shawn:                

And how many people do you think go ahead and say, “no, no no, we still just want to do it individually”. No one, because no one wants that embarrassment. So they’re phenomenally powerful stories.

Lianne:                 

Yeah, that’s great and I love that too in terms of, it’s good learning for you but again it requires confidence to sit with that, deal with our egos and then expose ourselves. Because there is this weird world out there that somehow we’ve gone to this weird extreme of perfection is all that we must present to the world, and it’s so opposite to being human. So that’s the other part that the failure stories, I mean, they need to be strategically crafted.

Shawn:                                

Yes.

Lianne:                 

Right for the sales conversation.

Shawn:                                

That’s right.

Lianne:                 

You know what I mean? Like when you say, “yeah, I really screwed up last time”.

Shawn:                

That’s right. It comes down to this basic premise of business storytelling and that is, you’ve got to know what your point is.

Lianne:                 

Yeah.

What is the point of telling your story?

Shawn:                

You don’t just fly these stories out left right and centre without knowing why you’re doing it. So if you understand what your point is and what you’re trying to achieve with your stories, well, you’re in a good position.

Lianne:                 

Yeah, absolutely. Now the other thing that I just wanted to hit on, because we’re still on demonstrating or establishing credibility which is really a crucial one because nobody is going to get past this point if you don’t land this.

The other thing I have seen people do and it’s cringe-worthy is when they tell other people’s stories, and think that it makes them look like an expert because they know the other person’s story.

So it may be, whether it’s a boss or it may be a big business person and again, sometimes that can be done well but if it’s how you use the tone, or it’s how you utilise the story. Sometimes it’s kind of like, yeah I know this person and this is what happened to them.

Do you know what I mean?  It’s kind of a weird thing.

Shawn:                

Oh yeah.  Like for example the China story I told you it happened to Mark Schenk, but it didn’t happen to me.  But I can tell that story because it happened to our company and I tell people well, you know, Mark was there, and you don’t make it out to be your own story, you don’t make out that I presented the workshop. As long as people are aware of those things, it helps bring credibility and authenticity.

Lianne:                 

Absolutely.

Shawn:                

You know, because some of the great stories are things that have happened to other people. You’re not going to have your own stories as your baseline set of stories to tell.

Lianne:                 

Yeah, so it’s about extricating the value from it, rather than elevating your own ego.

Shawn:                                

Yeah.

Lianne:                 

Right?

Shawn:                

And that brings up that issue. There is an issue that is a danger here, right, for story tellers and salespeople who get into story telling. Actually, a lot of sales people in general love the sound of their own voice. They think they need to talk all the time, right?

Lianne:                 

Yeah.

Are you in story listening mode or story telling mode

Shawn:                

And so we’re actually saying that there’s three types of story work. There is storytelling, there’s story listening and there’s story triggering, right? So a good salesperson should actually be in the story listening mode more than the story telling mode.

What I mean by that is, you want to illicit stories from your prospects and you want to ask story eliciting questions so you want to sort of say, instead of asking questions to get an opinion, like, “What are the key things that you’re concerned about at the moment?” And they list three or four things. Instead of saying, “Over the last six months, has anything happened that has really caused you concern?” Right?

And then the second instance, they tell you a story and in that story you find all the richness and the messiness, and all of a sudden you’re making connections that you wouldn’t make if you’d just been given three dot points.

Lianne:                 

That’s right.

Shawn:                

And so that, I think is a real concern or a sort of a ‘got you’ if you like of salespeople.

Lianne:                 

Yeah.

Shawn:                                

They just love.

Lianne:                 

Thank you for that, that’s, oh sorry we had a little thing there, but thank you for that, it’s a really great point and for me. When I work with clients that’s kind of the piece and when I’m in sales conversations, asking great questions is the first thing, and then you have your success stories or your failures or all of your stories, that’s when you’ve asked somebody to share a story of their experience. That’s when you can pull out your back pocket story and know which one is appropriate.

Shawn:                

Yeah.

Lianne:                 

Especially if you’re like, sitting down in a sales conversation, it’s one of the best techniques you can use with story, is to enable the prospect to help you figure out which story you need to tell.

Shawn:                                

That’s right. That’s right. Exactly.

Lianne:                 

Love it.

How do you go above and beyond to trigger a story?

Shawn:                

So I think the third element, the triggering stories, that’s like doing something that’s remarkable so the prospect tells stories about you.

Lianne:                 

Nice.

Shawn:                

And they’re probably the most important things because when you think about it, what do you take more notice of? The actions of someone or what they say?

Well you take notice of the action so if you do something remarkable in the sense that people will remark on it, that is how you stand out as a salesperson? How do you go above and beyond? They’re the sort of things that will trigger stories and will actually make a big difference in the sales process.

Lianne:

Nice and I think that probably leads us to the third element in the story sales structure which is…

For part 3 of, ‘Selling with Story’ click here. Lianne and I explore the third part of incorporating story into your sales.

You can listen to the full podcast below:

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

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