December, 2014 | Published by Anecdote - Putting Stories to Work.
Season’s greetings from the team here at Anecdote. The end of the year always prompts a little reflection, and we’re taking great pleasure in thinking back over 12 months of stimulating workshops, enjoyable get-togethers and successful story work.
A highlight was the expansion of our partner network. We now have 25 partners presenting the Storytelling for Leaders program in 17 countries, with hopefully many more to join them in 2015. Of course, while storytelling is a fundamental human activity that transcends cultures, we still face the challenge of tailoring the Storytelling for Leaders content so it is communicable to as many people as possible. To this end, we were pleased to have this content translated into Spanish and Dutch earlier this year, with a Thai version coming soon. At a time of year when we all refocus on the people who are important to us, it seems fitting that a program dedicated to engagement and inspiration is now being shared around the world.
We hope you’ve had a similarly fruitful year. We look forward to catching up with you soon to hear what you’ve been up to, and what you’re planning for the year ahead. For now, all of us at Anecdote wish you the happiest, most festive time possible.
Our Storytelling for Leaders program has taught the leaders of many organisations how to use story techniques to engage with and influence their people, ultimately inspiring them to take action. Needless to say, one of the basic elements of this is the ability to tell stories. We show people how to do this through individual expression - using their own words and anecdotes, as opposed to a rigid script, to convey a strategy or make a business point so clearly and memorably that it ‘sticks’.
However, we’ve often found that while organisations are fully prepared to invest in the training of their leaders to tell stories, they can overlook the necessity of investing in the gathering of the stories themselves. In fact, leaders in the early stages of learning storytelling often find themselves with a major obstacle to overcome: not having enough stories to tell.
In order to get the most out of working with stories, it’s crucial that companies develop the capability to collect stories and make them available to their leaders. This is the fuel for what the leaders are striving to do – sharing and embedding corporate wisdom about branding, sales, leadership, culture change and much more. Without this fuel, the storytelling engine will splutter and die.
The first step in addressing this is creating a story bank. Simply put, this is an easily accessible repository for stories, a place where they can be safely stored until they’re needed. At Anecdote, we know all about the benefits of story banks, having developed our own which we call Zahmoo . Businesses use it to warehouse their valuable stories, each one tagged so it can be searched for, commented on and reused. Apart from safekeeping useful anecdotes, it also serves as a sort of corporate memory, an archive of the knowledge gleaned from day-to-day business practices and observations.
With a story bank in place, it’s time to set up a process for finding and sharing stories. We use a technique called anecdote circles to get things started. They are a bit like focus groups. The stories that emerge from these prime the pump, then it’s a matter of putting an ongoing process in place. This could be as simple as asking the members of your sales force to submit stories about how their products have made a difference, then selecting the best story each month to share with the entire sales force.
So before your leaders embark on their storytelling journeys, make sure you’ve established a system for collecting, storing and sharing stories. This early investment will reap great rewards when your leaders have found their storytelling voices.
Improve sales performance with Storytelling for Sales
In 1988 I joined the database software company Oracle Systems. I worked in the Canberra sales team, where my job was to demonstrate the technical capabilities of the software to clients.
One day the national sales manager arrived unannounced from Sydney and told us that he wasn't happy with our progress. He gathered us in front of a window on the 12th floor of our inner-city office, pointed at a nearby building, and asked if anyone had canvassed it.
No-one had, so he picked a sales rep at random and said, ‘Go to every floor of that building and tell them about our software’. He then pointed to another building, and another, each time dispatching a sales rep if we hadn’t worked those offices. We did as the manager instructed, and in the process we made some of the biggest sales in the history of our branch.
We are all salespeople
Sales have changed a lot. Back then you were selling a product. You described its features and showed how it was superior to your competitors’ wares. But as Dan Pink argues convincingly in To Sell Is Human, now we are all salespeople because of the massive shift towards small entrepreneurial companies.
In 1999, when I was working for IBM, the focus had already switched to selling solutions to business problems. These solutions were integrated and complex. The customer was less interested in a product’s features and more interested in how it was going to impact their business.
Selling solutions is now an established major trend in sales. But it has come at a cost. Many salespeople are just not doing well selling solutions. The research firm CEB has shown that the gap between average-performing salespeople and star performers is close to 200% for solution sales, while it’s only 59% for transaction sales.
There is a valuable opportunity here for companies to help their average performers improve their skills and close this gap.
The Challenger Sale
It turns out that a particular style is highly effective when it comes to the solution sale. For their fascinating book The Challenger Sale, Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson surveyed sales managers about the practices of over 6000 sales reps. They ran a statistical factor analysis over the data and discovered five types of salesperson:
the Hard Worker
the Relationship Builder
the Lone Wolf
the Reactive Problem-solver
The data showed that most of the star performers – salespeople in the top 20% of reps as measured by performance against set goals – were Challengers (39%), with relatively few in the worst-performed category, the Relationship Builder (9%).
So what makes a Challenger? The statistical analysis identified six factors:
offers the customer unique perspectives
has strong two-way communication skills
knows the individual customer’s value drivers
can identify the economic drivers of the customer’s business
is comfortable discussing money
can pressure the customer
Dixon and Adamson summed up these factors by saying that the Challenger:
teaches the customer new things about their business, offering useful insights that the customer values
tailors the offering by addressing real economic benefits and adjusting the pitch for different audiences so that it resonates
takescontrol by pushing back on the client, pressing them a bit, and also remaining comfortable when talking about money.
I’ve seen Challengers in action. They have wide interests. They spend time reading and learning. And they tell stories. They do this in order to provide insights, illustrate value, and even push back when the customer wants to fall back to old ways.
If you can get your sales force to develop the skills of the Challenger rep, and also learn how to share relevant stories to bring what’s being offered to life, then you will close the gap between your average performers and your stars.
How to effectively use storytelling in the Challenger sale
I've done a lot of sales training in my career. I've learned SPIN selling, consultative selling and IBM’s sales method, among others. It seems to me that regardless of the specific sales process, there are four things you need to do to really help a customer get what they need.
First, you need to build rapport with your customer. Selling is about trust. Your customer needs to know who you are and why you are there. What’s your background? Why do you care about the customer’s business?
I remember meeting the newly appointed Australian CEO of a global pharmaceutical company. I had checked out her LinkedIn profile and noticed she was from South Carolina. I was too. So I said to her, ‘I hear you’re from South Carolina. I was born there’. She replied, ‘So how did you end up here?’
This was the perfect opportunity to share a short story about my family coming to Australia. She then shared a little bit about herself. Our conversation was immediately comfortable and we could get down to business.
Second, you need to establish your credibility. As the Challenger sale illustrates, it’s important to demonstrate your knowledge of a customer’s business and its economic drivers. You need to bring some insights to the table. The celebrated psychologist, Gary Klein, says “an insight is an unexpected shift to a better story.” Stories are at the heart of building credibility.
You can share a story about something that happened in a business similar to theirs and how it was tackled. If it’s unexpected and better than what they have now, you have just provided an insight.
Gartner has published an amazing array of business stories illustrating innovative ways in which IT groups have made a difference. One story is about how Swedish Rail noticed that their trains were leaving platforms with empty seats. So their IT team developed an auction system to sell off the remaining places.
Now each train leaves full and they have added millions of krona to their revenue. A little story like this is an analogy for many types of business problems and helps the customer to think differently.
Third, you need to demonstrate value. Your proposal should tell the story of why the suggested action is needed and how it will address the needs of the business. The story you tell will be most effective when you develop it with your customer, so that when they receive your materials it’s totally familiar – as much their story as yours.
Finally, you need to askfor the business. This is not a time to tell stories. Great salespeople know when to stop talking. Silence is a powerful force.
Anecdote has developed a program called Storytelling for Sales, which we have delivered to companies like IBM, Gartner and Microsoft. We believe that great salespeople are good storytellers and that this is a skill that can be taught. Please give us a call if you would like to know more.
In 2009, Kenneth Chestek, then Clinical Professor of Law at Indiana University, decided to find out how much legal professionals were influenced in their decision-making by what he called ‘story reasoning’. He was referring to how these professionals may look beyond purely logical arguments to examine the human context of a case, often to the point of empathising with people in court after relating those people’s stories to their own experiences.
Chestek wrote a series of test briefs for a hypothetical case, some focused on legal arguments and some with story reasoning woven through them. He then asked judges, law clerks, lawyers and law professors, among others, to rate the briefs according to how persuasive they were. The results revealed the foolishness of one long-standing legal tactic, that of characterising certain evidence as merely a ‘story’ in order to imply that it has no credibility.
It turned out that nearly 65% of participants found the story-centred briefs more persuasive than the legal argument briefs. It was also apparent that the longer someone worked in a legal role, the more they were swayed by stories rather than just rationality. This suggested that greater experience led participants to put more stock in emotional reasoning.
While conceding that more research on this topic was needed, Chestek was nonetheless convinced of two things: ‘Stories are natural; they are the way humans have communicated and learned for thousands of years. And, as my study suggests, stories work’.
Source: Kenneth D. Chestek, ‘Judging by the Numbers: an Empirical Study of the Power of Story’, Journal of the Association of Legal Writing Directors, vol. 7, no. 1, 2010, pp. 1–35.