Storytelling: The Ability to Create and Share a Vision
The sixth attribute and sales-related skill set is storytelling.
Storytelling follows and builds on business acumen and the ability to diagnose. Storytelling, or building a vision of a better future, is not possible without the business acumen that enables an understanding of business principles. And while it is possible to create a vision, the vision will not meet the client’s needs if the salesperson lacks the ability to first diagnose.
What is Storytelling?
Storytelling is the ability to share a vision. It is the ability to create a narrative, a sequence of events told to convey some message or meaning. Storytelling uses words and images to transport the listener from one place or time to another place or time, including some time in the future.
Storytelling in Sales
Storytelling, as it pertains to sales, is not about fiction. If a salesperson tells a story that isn’t true, it isn’t storytelling, it is simply lying. That isn’t the kind of storytelling that I am writing about here, and it isn’t the same kind of storytelling that professional salespeople use.
Great salespeople are great storytellers.
They have the ability to capture the situation they find themselves in with their clients, and to capture the events, the scenes, and the characters in words and images (and sometimes numbers!). They have the ability to roll all of these elements up into a plot that builds an arc, a problem or challenge that must be overcome.
Even though the end of the story has not yet occurred, great salespeople have the ability to outline the events that will occur. They have the ability to transport the listeners through time to the future. They have the ability to describe what that future will look like when they arrive.
This is not about nonsense and fairy tales. It is about creating a vision of a better outcome. It is about creating a vision of improved performance. It is about a shared vision of how things can look in the future and what will be necessary in order to bring that vision to life.
Great salespeople know that no story is compelling without obstacles and challenges to be overcome. Instead of painting a happy and unrealistic picture, great salespeople know that describing the challenges that they and their client will face together and outlining how difficult they will be to overcome is part of the story that has to be told. In sales, we call this managing expectations; no one should be surprised to see the dragon when it arrives on the scene—and it will arrive on the scene. Instead, great salespeople tell the story of how they will together overcome the obstacles and challenges.
In the stories told by great salespeople, there is no Deus ex machina. There is no magic whereby an unsolvable problem or challenge is suddenly solved. Their stories include a logic and plausible solution that inherently makes sense.
Great salespeople don’t write these stories alone. They are only coauthors with their clients who help them create and tell the story.
When Storytelling is Missing
When salespeople cannot tell stories, they lack the ability to capture and create a vision that transports their prospects through time to a better future. They lack the ability to capture the challenges and to develop a compelling vision of what the future might look like and how they can help their prospects get there.
When storytelling is missing, the salesperson does not include their prospects in the writing of the story. Instead, they tell the story they believe the prospect wishes to hear. Too often, they paint a perfect picture. They tell stories where there are no obstacles, no challenges blocking them from the future. The story is so fantastic it cannot be believed. And if it is believed, the first challenge comes as a surprise to the prospect—and sometimes to the storyteller as well.
Sometimes, the salesperson tells no story at all. They simply explain their product or services features and benefits, believing that the product knowledge tells the whole story. But it doesn’t. It isn’t compelling enough.
Without the ability to create a vision of a compelling future, the salesperson’s message is hollow.
Storytelling is the ability to create a compelling vision of the future. Great salespeople include in their stories the challenges and the obstacles that will need to be overcome in order to create that future. They write the future positive outcomes with their clients as both characters and as coauthors.
1. Do I have the ability to tell compelling stories that paint a picture of a better future?
2. Do I include my clients in the writing of these stories?
3. Do I honestly describe the challenges and obstacles that will need to be overcome to reach a better future, a positive future?
4. Do I describe how difficult it will be to overcome these obstacles and what will be necessary from my client to overcome these challenges?