You may not get a kingdom, but a good story may deliver other riches
In the past few years, there has been a strong swing to the idea of storytelling as a communications tool to connect customers with a brand, introduce new brands or emphasize some part of a company’s vision, mission or product. As a born storyteller myself, I love crafting a good yarn. But unlike campfire tales, business storytelling MUST be an effective tool for your business. To quote the famous line in Glengarry Glen Ross, even with storytelling, “ABC: Always Be Closing.”
“Storytelling” sounds like a fun or soft skill. In reality, business storytelling is a proven tool that uses the same data and inputs as your sales materials – useful, as often storytelling supports the sales team – in a more inclusive, emotional way. Business storytelling brings community and empathy to the sales process, inviting readers or audiences to participate and mentally add their own experiences to drive connection.
Just this week, I’ve worked with two clients who are looking to grow their businesses but didn’t see effective storytelling for what it is: a marketing tool that drives sales.
As a professional communicator and storyteller, I read a LOT of business “stories,” some done well, and in other cases the writer – including my clients mentioned above – getting too deep in the story, and not deep enough into the business case they’re trying to make.
A good story-as-sales-tool still lays out, in an engaging way, examples of why you’re the right business partner, and reasons to believe, and it works! So telling that story means you:
- Demonstrate early in the story the problem you’ll solve, to capture attention and focus
- Show how you’ve made a difference to a similar client (using data and outcomes if you have it) to demonstrate your mastery of storytelling as a sales tool, and
- Close with a reason to believe, shaping your story to include audiences you’ll reach, new markets targeted, employees you’ll affect, and the metrics you’ll use, which will prove your storytelling is effective
As with a true storybook, the structure, or narrative arc, is similar:
- A hero (that’s your client or company)
- A villain or threat (changing market dynamics, poor morale or growth)
- A quest (how do we change things? What data or actions do we need to result in different outcomes?)
- A victory (through your combined efforts, you grew bottom-line revenue by X dollars; you reduced employee churn by X percent, you gained X new clients)
- Lore (The changes you made are reinforced continually to stay the course in this new storyline)
If you’re new to storytelling, or haven’t gotten comfortable yet, I’ll share a story with you:
This week (what is it with this week?), a friend who is applying for a plum job told me she will be asked to take a timed writing test, though she doesn’t know the subject. These conditions already made her nervous, so I said, “You know your industry and your facts. Go back to seventh grade and jot down an outline. Then you’ll know where to place the challenge and solution, where your facts and supporting data go, and where to put your reasons to believe. Close with the ask and a way to convert.”
This process should take my talented friend about five minutes, but saves her a lot of time rewriting or restructuring her test. Why? because she’s already laid down her key story pieces; now she connects the dots and she’s done.
This kind of structure to keep your storytelling concise, lets you share links or facts to support the story, and provides audiences with the reasons they should engage with you. As marketing communicators, that’s our job – generate the interest and engagement to turn a potential customer into a warm lead, and then hand them off to the sales team.
Some Storytelling Tips:
- Always keep in mind what you’re trying to accomplish with your story. Just like the person who stands in front of a client and meanders through a presentation, poor storytelling will cost you a readers’ interest and attention. Not only may they miss a key selling point, if they aren’t engaged you’re less likely to land the business.
- Ensure your story’s tone and language fit your company, though storytelling allows you to be a bit more informal and warm because you’re looking to engage on a human level.
- Align with your readers using language like “we, our, us”, rather than a second- or third-party voice, neither of which invite a reader to join you in the narrative.
- Remember your story arc – use an outline if you are unsure of how to frame the problem, solution and outcome.
- Data has a place in business storytelling. Your story still must make a business case. Be sure your data comes from a trusted source, and cite those sources.
- While bullets are awkward in a real story, they’re helpful in a business story for the skimmers in the group.
- Make clear how prospects can move to the next step in the sales process with a call to action. Again, attributed data or testimonials here can help: “We’ve solved problems like yours for hundreds of companies – let us show you how!” with the means to contact you or be entered into your CRM database for follow up.
Have you found storytelling useful and effective? Did I leave out something you’ve found useful? Let me know!
Image by Idea Champions
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