Do Stories Really Sell?

blahblah - salesthrowdown

First of all, let me say that I am not qualified to answer that question. 

From everything I’ve read and heard about, storytelling is a huge part of selling and marketing success. It’s been talked about forever, and it works in tons of ways for thousands of businesses. It builds trust, rapport, bonds, and relationships.

I do believe stories sell. I mean, what are blogs other than stories with an agenda? 

But that doesn’t mean it always works for everybody…

strange and unusual - salesthrowdown

In one of the last two episodes discussing storytelling, Clint hit on something that I think is a super important part of this conversation. It seems so obvious, but I think it’s probably much harder to achieve than you’d think.

Stories only work well when you make it about the prospect, not yourself. 

Want to know how I know that it’s more difficult than it sounds? 

I haven’t heard many salespeople do it that well. 


Most of them seem to talk just to talk. They make small talk, ask me how my day is, blah blah blah. Some of them will ask me if I’m a big David Bowie fan since I’m often wearing a David Bowie shirt. (And I know they’re trying to get a little more personal than just asking about the weather, but would I be wearing the shirt if I wasn’t a fan?) And so many of them will start talking about something that has nothing to do with the business at hand. Some personal life story or some crazy thing they just heard about. 


That stuff probably works for a lot of people. DavidBowieOhFFS - salesthrowdown


But my task-oriented, let’s get down to business side kinda hates it. 


If I’m ready to buy something, (or if I know I’m going to say no), that small talk, gladhanding, let me tell you my life story part of the conversation is honestly an annoyance to me. 


But there have been exceptions.


Once in a blue moon, a rockstar salesperson strolls into my life. We gel perfectly, they tell me stories. I tell them stories. And before I know it, I’ve bought something that I hadn’t even planned on. And even if I didn’t, I walk away feeling good about the interaction.


Since I’m not a very outgoing person, that means they did an incredible job at nailing my personality and picking up on what would work with me. 


I mean, maybe they were just lucky. But I doubt it.


The point is, you have to know who these tactics will work with and who they won’t. 


And for the love of all that is holy, don’t just talk to talk. Listen to your prospect, ask questions because you care about the answers, pay attention to their cues, and use storytelling in a relevant and appropriate way.


Another issue discussed in these last two episodes focused a lot on John and how he struggles with the storytelling technique during sales conversations. 


Since he is both my boss and my life partner, I’m sure you can imagine how many of his sales calls I’ve heard.


And I never would have known that it’s something he struggles with. 


Now, he tends to be overly self-critical and demanding of himself in the best of times. He’s basically a real-life Chidi.

chidi struggling - salesthrowdown

Thank you, The Good Place, just for existing.


But I’ve also always known him to be very social and easy-going with people. 


While I’m standing in a corner trying to disappear at a party, he’s out in the middle of it talking to every single person there. When I’m ready to go like 15 minutes after arriving, it takes him an hour just to get out the door. In pre-pandemic times, he networked like a god, thriving in these incredibly social situations surrounded by complete strangers. Just the thought of networking sends me into panic mode.


So, after 17+ years together, it was a bit of a shock that something like small talk and storytelling is something that he struggles with, at least with prospects.


And that just goes to show you how much practice, repetition, and belief in the process works. But it does. While I might be a little biased, I think he does an amazing job with rapport building in sales conversations. 


It all goes back to DISC and knowing your strengths and challenges. He may not be a natural people-focused storyteller, but he has found and is continuing to find ways to make it work in his conversations.


And if he can do it, anybody can. Maybe even me.

Apologies from a Bad Prospect


This week, Sales Throwdown is talking about when to call it over with prospects that have never given you a definite yes or timeline of when they may buy from you. The ones that just say “maybe later” or “let me think about it.” Or “my partner deals with all of that.”


AKA me. 


Remember how I’m a 50/50 split between S and C? Well, when it comes to being sold to, I’m 100% S. 

I despise conflict in these situations. (Okay, all situations.) Outright saying no feels so icky to me that I just can’t bring myself to do it. And it’s an issue that I’m aware of, and it has made things a little awkward a time or two. But I never really thought about the impact of it on the salesperson having to deal with me.

Until this episode

Hearing Nannette talk about her evolution from thinking that she was doing great, everybody loved her, and they were all going to buy from her to realizing that people just don’t like telling her no… 

And that it’s made her be very clear in her interactions with salespeople about telling them no when she’s not interested…

I wanted to crawl under the table. 

Let me officially apologize to every single salesperson that attempted to have a conversation with me and I weaseled out of it with my noncommittal, weasely ways. 

Honestly, I thought I was making both of our lives easier. Yours by not having to deal with rejection, mine by not buying something I didn’t want. 

But I was wrong. I was only helping myself. And I am genuinely sorry.

Now, as discussed in this episode and many others, the sales industry isn’t exactly blameless either. 

Too few salespeople give their prospects the opportunity and empowerment to comfortably say no. 

I’ve never, in any sales conversation I’ve been a part of, heard anybody set the expectation of, “If this is a no, can you let me know?” It’s always been more like, “here’s what I can do for you, I’m the best, push, push, blah, blah…”

And I only rarely hear actual qualifying questions to find out if they have anything I actually need. Usually, the closest I hear is, “who’s your current fill in the blank provider?” being shouted at me at Walmart. 

Which isn’t their fault necessarily. That’s how most of them are trained to sell. 

The issue is that it doesn’t create an environment that makes it easy or comfortable for people like me to say no. 

BUT, that’s no excuse. No matter how pushy a salesperson may seem, no matter how much I want to avoid outright rejecting somebody, the alternative is worse. I know that now. 

From now on, as much as I’ll have to fight every natural inclination in my body, I vow to give people a definite no when I’m not interested. They’ll know they don’t have to keep pushing me or checking in with me, and I’ll know they can confidently move on to the next prospect and get me out of their pipeline. 

And if I meet a salesperson who sets the expectation that I can turn them down if it’s not a good fit, I’ll probably just hug them. Well, I’ll hug them before I tell them no.