The Power of Narrative and Storytelling in Sales

Storytelling and sales have always gone hand in hand. Science and art agree on this point: employing narrative is more persuasive and engaging than a mere listing of objective statements. But how does it work? And how do we tell a tale that speaks to our clients?

Neuroscience and Storytelling
When you tell someone a fact or a statistic, it activates two regions of your brain that are tied to language processing and comprehension. When you tell someone a story, it lights up seven areas – not only the two involved with language processing and comprehension, but the five linked to our senses (movement is also involved, interestingly enough).

Therefore, when you use a story, your audience is literally more engaged on a neuroscientific level. Furthermore, when you give a fact wrapped in a story, your listeners are six to seven times more likely to remember the fact.

Additionally, Paul Zak, the director of the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies, found that stories which use the traditional dramatic arc (exposition – rising action – climax – falling action – denouement) released chemicals in the brain – including oxytocin (called “The Trust Hormone)”.

How to Use Storytelling in Sales
An engaged prospect who is more trusting sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? It makes you want to start coming up with stories. But what if you don’t have a good imagination? That’s the beauty of it – you don’t need to be a creative genius. The stories are already in and around you.

The story must be relevant.
The baseline for an effective sales story: it needs to be relevant to the buyer you’re talking to at that moment. You can have the most amazing stories ever, but if their situation doesn’t apply to the client’s, you’re wasting everybody’s time. That means you’ll need to have a book of stories to draw on and select from, just as you have a range of offerings to choose from when figuring out how to solve a customer’s needs.

Look for source material in the experiences of the team and the company’s case studies.
Even the most fanciful fiction draws upon some source material. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is credited with creating the fantasy genre, but scholars and other literary detectives have found inspiration and material from Tolkien’s real life within the saga (such as the Swiss valley of Lauterbrunnen, which Tolkien visited and hiked in 1911, being the inspiration for Rivendell).In your case as a sales professional, the raw material can come from experiences you’ve had with clients and those of your colleagues, or even memorable things you’ve experienced yourself as a customer. You can also mine your employer’s case studies when crafting stories, as that content literally provides both story and outline.

Your stories need structure.
We could literally write an entire blog post just about different story structures and how they map to sales tales. But we’ll keep it simple here with a three-part structure:

  • Inciting incident
    What was the precipitating event for the customer to come to you? Typically, it’s the problem they were trying to solve or a goal they were hoping to accomplish (like going from a single retail location to franchising)
  • The battle
    What strategy did you devise to address the customer’s problem or help them meet that goal? How was it carried out? What challenges did you overcome? All of these are questions that can help inform and shape the middle part of the story.
  • Resolution and Epilogue
    What were the results of how you helped the customer? How are they doing now? The first is the immediate consequences of your assistance (resolution) and the second establishes the long-term effects of your aid (epilogue).

Stories are an excellent way to connect with buyers, build relationships, and make them more engaged. But you’ll need to be sure the stories apply to their individual situation and that they draw upon experiences that you or your company have been involved with.