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How to incorporate story into your sales – Selling with Story part 1

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —July 23, 2015
Filed in Business storytelling, Communication, Culture, Selling

Today’s post is part one 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.

Spiral staircase

Part 1 of the podcast episode – ‘Selling with Story’ starts with Lianne’s introduction, and after I get to tell you a bit about my own story, we then get into talking about the first of four parts of how to incorporate story into your sales.

The podcast begins…

Lianne:

Hello and welcome to Story Powered. I’m Lianne Picot, your host. Thank you so much for listening. So glad you could be here with us today. I’ve been really looking forward to this show. Firstly, because I get to talk to Shawn Callahan who is a story telling guru from Anecdote in Australia and we are talking about sales.

Sales is one of the biggest questions or areas that I get asked about both in my story coaching business and also in regards to the radio show. I’ve had a few requests and asked about how do you use stories in sales and so I’m really delighted to have Shawn here today to help us answer that question. And what it means is, I’m going to actually not do the story of the week this week because I want to dedicate the entire show to that conversation because it is a big issue for a lot of us.

A lot of us really do struggle, we can tell the stories but then how do we finish it off and get that deal? Or how do we utilise stories in order to move people closer to saying yes? So Shawn and I are going to have some conversations about that.

So I wanted to tell you a little bit about Shawn. Shawn is one of the world’s leading business story telling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he’s not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and inspire. Shawn works with global 1000 companies including, Shell, IBM, SAP, Bear, Microsoft and Danone, and he’s also the founder of Anecdote. And so thank you so much Shawn for coming to Story Powered, welcome.

Shawn:

It’s a pleasure to be here Lianne, thanks for inviting me.

Lianne:                 

Well we had the pleasure of talking to Mark Shank previously from your company.

Shawn:                                

Yes.

The beginnings of Anecdote

Lianne:

Tell us a little bit more about you and about Anecdote. You founded Anecdote and why did you do that, and so what’s your story?

Shawn:

Well, the beginnings of Anecdote really came out of my work at IBM. I worked in IBM in the late nineties through to the early 2000s and I was part of a centre that looked at complexities and how you managed complexities. It was called the Cynefin Centre for Organisational Complexities. That’s a mouthful isn’t it?

And what we did, is we went out, it’s like corporate anthropology, we’d go out and we’d collect stories to make sense of messy, complex problems, usually around culture change and then we would get people in organisations to sort of try to work out the patterns in all those stories. Then they would design initiatives to either reinforce the patterns that they wanted, or disrupt the patterns that they didn’t.  Behavioural patterns more often than not.

And, anyway, at about 2004, I jumped out to start Anecdote and we started off doing that sort of work around corporate anthropology but our customers kept on asking us, can you help us with our story telling? And in the first instance, we actually said no. We said, no we’re not interested in that, it’s dangerous, you can be manipulated by stories, etc, etc.  But they were persistent and so we sort of said, “Okay, we will do it, as long as we focus on the small stories, the real life experiences that people have and we’re not going to be doing crafted stories”. You know, things that an advertising agency might do or that a Hollywood film might do and so we ended up starting the business sort of on that basis and it sort of grew from there.

Lianne:                 

Nice. And now, at IBM as well, you’ve had a long sales experience as well, right?

The changing role of sales

Shawn:                

Yeah. In fact, we were talking before about how much sales has changed and I remember back in the eighties, I worked for Oracle so I had a couple of stints with big IT companies and my first one was with Oracle back in the eighties.

I remember one day when we were all working there, I was working in the technical sales area and a sales manager just arrived from Sydney. We didn’t really know who this guy was but he told us he was the new boss essentially. He gathered us all next to the window looking out the eighth floor, of one of the large buildings in Canberra in Australia, and he just got us to look over the city and he would ask us who was in each of the buildings.

He’d sort of say, “Okay that building there, who’s in that” and we’d all look at each other going, “Oh, we don’t really know”. And then he would point to one of us and he’d say, “Okay, go to that building and go to every floor and find out who it is and sell the products”.

And it was classic. I mean we ended up actually selling heaps of our products as a result of that but it was very much those cowboy days of sales I think it was, whereas now of course, we’re all in sales –  everyone. I think there was Daniel Pink you know was making it the point that no matter what you’re doing, you’re part of this sales process. You’re trying to influence and persuade in some way so it certainly has changed since then. The role of story telling too I think is one where people are just starting to understand that story telling plays a vital role in how someone is able to protect themselves, make a connection with their prospects but also bring a sale to conclusion.

Lianne:                 

Yeah, absolutely.

Shawn:                                

That’s the bit that we’ve been very interested in for some time now.

Lianne:                 

Right, and so what do you think has made that change? Because like you say, I like how you put it, the cowboy sales ’cause and funnily enough even when social media started that’s how people were selling and I still see it now, the push push push. But what do you think is the change and what created the ground for us to move from that kind of model to using story?

Shawn:                

Well I think it’s changed really with the Internet. There’s a change in the power dynamics. In the past, all the knowledge was with the salesperson and so they had to educate the prospects. But not anymore. The prospects in most cases are often more knowledgeable than the salesperson. In fact, the type of interaction that you have to have is quite different.

There’s a lovely and very interesting book called, “The Challenger Sale” and it’s all about how a salesperson not only has to make a connection and build rapport and do all the things that you have to do as a good salesperson, but you also have to bring some sort of insight, something new to the prospect. It turns out that a salesperson who can push back and really challenge their prospect with something new and interesting, actually has a much greater chance of making, especially complex sales. And the difference between the productivity of a top challenger sale that is directed this way something like a 200% difference.

Lianne:                 

Wow.

Shawn:                                

It’s just like, in a totally different realm if you like, in terms of sales capability. Now part of that insight though is helping them see a new story, right?

Lianne:

Yeah.

Insight is when you unexpectedly come to a new story

Shawn:                

So there’s a lovely quote by Gary Cline, a great decision making researcher, and he said, “Insight is when you unexpectedly come to a new story”.

Lianne:                 

Wow, I like it.

Shawn:                

Yeah and so that’s what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to help them get to that new story.

Lianne:                 

Now, it’s funny that you talk about that because, and again, I know you work with big companies, but in the big companies and in the entrepreneurial world and there’s a big push in the entrepreneurial world around being an expert.

So, I’m intrigued by the idea that we used to be and it never really, I think expertise is fine but claiming to be an expert, I’ve always found it, it’s been challenging for me that people utilise that and I think you’ve just hit on it. It’s because people are much more savvy in their shopping, whether it’s a service or a product, these days and so to try and continually take the role of expert in a sales conversation, that’s kind of, that’s kind of tough?

Shawn:                

Yes, you’re trying to build credibility throughout the whole process of interacting with your prospects and part of that, and your credibility is based on the trust that they have with you, in the sense that you’re reliable, you do what you actually say, you’re credible in the sense that you know what you’re talking about and if you walk in a door and say, “Look, I’m an expert in X,Y and Z, you’re guaranteed to make the prospect run a mile.              

Because, that’s the classic push approach, telling people that they are. But if you actually are in front of the prospect and say, “Well you know, we had a really interesting result just a couple of months ago”, and you start to tell that story of what you did and the outcome you helped create or your company created, the prospect then is inferring you’re an expert.

Lianne:                 

Based on your experience, right?

Shawn:

They’re working it out for themselves.

Lianne:                 

Yeah, and it’s based on experience rather than telling which you’re showing through story.

Shawn:                   

Indeed, that’s right.

Lianne:                 

Oh that’s cool.

Shawn:                

What I find and we’ve been doing some work with SAP around case studies. So they have lots and lots of case studies but the case studies are written in such a way with the classic, what’s the business problem, what’s the solution we came up with and what is the outcome?

You’ll see this in all these big companies, these types of case studies but unfortunately, it’s really hard to tell that as an old story.  And also, it’s very abstracted, it’s very high level.  It talks about what a company did for another company. But the sort of story that humans like, we want to know what a person did for another person, right? And so it’s about how do you help people translate some of those case studies into success stories?

Lianne:                 

Yeah, that makes sense.

Shawn:                

Something that’s more on a human scale that people can understand. Now, it’s tricky to do because you’ve got all these issues of, “I need permission” and the sort of considerable process if you like around that sort of activity. But it’s about trying for the salesperson to actually find some of those details so they can tell it as an oral story rather than pushing a piece of paper across the table that has the case study.

Why is story useful in sales conversations?

Lianne:                 

Absolutely. Now it’s good to hear that even companies like SAP are moving that way too. So tell us the bottom line – we used to have push in terms of sales, now we’ve, like you said, we’ve moved to a different place, the Internet, we’ve got, I mean, I always tell people that if somebody’s calling you, they’re probably two-thirds of the way down the sales pipeline because they’ve already looked at your website, they’ve already read your stuff, they’ve already checked you out. So tell us, why is story so in this new terrain and part of it is about social media and the Internet, but part of it is also about us as humans like you say? Why is story useful in sales conversations?

Shawn:                

Well, I think the big reason is that people buy on emotion, they don’t buy on rational logic. And for a salesperson, they nearly always have some sort of sales process that they follow. A basic sales process looks something like, firstly establish rapport, then build credibility, demonstrate value and then finally you ask for the sale. And in each step of that process, there’s really good ways in which you can use stories to push through that from one end to the other.

So, for example you take something like establish rapport. When you walk into your first meeting with a senior executive, if you think that you just have to get all the facts out and be, here is all the information that you need to make a decision, you often have this really cold feeling between yourself and the prospect. However that can be changed enormously just with a simple story. I mean I’ll give you an example.

I went to see the CEO of a big pharmaceutical company and as always for the meetings you do some preparations, so I went onto LinkedIn and I noticed that she was originally from South Carolina. Now, I was born in South Carolina even though you can’t tell from the accent but I was definitely born in South Carolina. My father was a US marine, he ended up in Australia and that’s how I got here.

So when I walked in the door, the first thing I said was, “Oh so I hear you’re from South Carolina. I was born in South Carolina”, and the first thing she said to me was, “That’s amazing, how did you end up here?” And of course, I told her a story. And next thing you know, we were connected in a totally different way in relation to this business conversation we were about to have.

Don’t mention the ‘S’ word – the No.1 rookie error

Lianne:                 

Yeah, I love that. And you know that, it’s funny because I do that all the time too and sometimes I’ve noticed people looking at me and they say, “Okay, let’s get to the business, let’s get to the real stuff”. And I think, “Yeah, you’re a bit too soon because the real stuff is right here”. Cause what you want to talk about right now is temporary and for right now, but that connection that you would’ve established, I mean you’re going to remember each other and you’re even able to tell the story now, right?

Shawn:                

Indeed, indeed, exactly. And I guess, it’s interesting how when I was running one of our programs teaching a whole group of sales people, one of the questions I often get, someone put their hand up and say, “Yeah, but what if they’re real hard ass, you know, they’re a numbers guy and they hate sales people and I’ve got to come in there and”. I said, “It doesn’t matter because they’re not actually sitting there saying, as soon as you start saying, that person is telling a story, what are they doing telling a story?” They only say that if you make the 101 rookie error of story telling, which is to say, “Hey, I’ve got a story I’d like to share with you”.             

Have you ever seen anyone do that? Yeah, that’s the big mistake. I call it don’t mention the ‘S’ word. You know, you should never talk about the word story when you’re doing story telling and unfortunately when people fall in love with story telling sometimes, they start doing that. And it’s a rookie error.

Lianne:                 

It is.

Shawn:                

You’re right. That’s the first step. But when you’re starting to build the proposal if you like, one of the things I like to do is to build the proposal or get to work on the proposal with the client. You’re essentially helping them work out what the story is in their head about why this thing needs to be done, right?

Now we use a very basic story structure here, we’d sort of say, “Look, in the past it was like this and now something happened and as a result of that, that’s why we’re doing this so in the future we can have this outcome”, right? And that basic story time allows both the salesperson and the prospect to come up with a compelling story as to why this thing needs to happen. And that, once they can work that out, you’ll find that the sales process moves a lot faster.

Lianne:                 

Perfect, that’s great. Now, we’ve got about 30 seconds until break Shawn so I think what we’re going to do is just move into break but I want to let everybody know. We’ve started talking about the four parts of incorporating story into your sales and the first part was build rapport and Shawn’s given us an example. We’ll come back to the other three after the break.

For part 2, of ‘Selling with Story’ click here. In this post, Lianne and I explore the second 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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