I’m in the process of buying a new car. So last weekend I organised test-drives of three cars from three different car dealers.
My first two test-drives followed a similar pattern. The salesperson showed me the car, I jumped into the driver’s seat, and we took a 15-minute spin up a freeway and back again. During the drive, the salesperson shared some facts and figures about the car. After we returned, they asked me what I thought of the car. In both cases I thought, ‘It’s OK’.
My third experience was completely different. The salesperson’s name was Viet Le. He started by lifting the bonnet of the car and showing me what would happen if I was in a head-on crash, how the engine would slide under the seats rather than slamming into the occupants. Definitely something I could imagine. He had my attention.
‘Would you like a test-drive?’ Viet then asked. ‘And would you mind if I show you a few things before we head off?’ Why not, I thought. And so Viet started his virtuoso story-triggering sales performance.
What is story-triggering?
Perhaps I should stop for a moment and tell you what I mean by story-triggering. It’s simple really. Story-triggering happens when someone does something remarkable enough that the people who see or experience it tell a story about it. They remark on it. I maintain that story-triggering along with storytelling and story-listening form the holy trinity of story work.
Viet’s first demonstration was just a warm-up. After jumping into the driver’s seat, he accelerated to 50 km/hr and kept up that speed through a roundabout, to show how the low weight distribution of the car held it solidly to the road, without any pitching.
Then Viet pulled into a carpark and said, ‘Sometimes when you back up in a carpark, you can hit bollards or pylons which are just out of your sight. But watch what happens in this car’. Viet quickly backed up towards a bollard. The car started to beep and then, without Viet applying the brake, the vehicle came to a grinding halt a good metre from the bollard. I was impressed.
‘Now watch this.’ Viet lined up another car and flattened the accelerator. Our vehicle only slowly sped up because it recognised that there was a car in front of us. Viet kept heading towards the car, a BMW actually, and as with the bollard, an alarm eventually sounded and our car automatically stopped.
My demonstration was now done, and I couldn’t wait to tell someone about what had happened. Viet had triggered a bunch of stories that I was eager to recount. And I knew that each time I shared them, my connection to this car would only strengthen.
When we were back in the showroom, I told Viet’s manager that he had done a great job in demonstrating the vehicle. The manager said he wasn’t surprised: Viet was his top salesperson.
Why it was so effective
There are a couple of reasons why Viet’s demos were particularly effective. First, he created conditions that could put my life at risk, triggering stories linked to primal fears of survival. Death, or avoiding death, is a topic we are compelled to care about, so we are drawn to these types of stories.
Second, Viet made me feel it. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen and so I was surprised. Something unanticipated happened, which is the foundation of any story. And even when Viet did explain at a high level what would happen, I hadn’t experienced it yet.
Viet was also great at quickly forming a rapport and trust. I like to think of trust as a combination of showing credibility (you know your stuff), reliability (you do what you say you will do) and intimacy (you are telling me the truth as well as some secrets). When I asked Viet about the car’s performance, he confided, ‘Of the cars you’ve tested, this is the worst performer. The other cars have more punch’. With that, my trust of Viet grew.
So when selling, think about the stories you are triggering for your prospects. Create situations that are remarkable and reinforce the feelings and thoughts you want people to take away about you, your company and your product.
Storytelling for Sales is a comprehensive six-month program that will help sellers become star performers. Find out more
About Shawn Callahan
Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of 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: