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Recently I delivered a presentation to an audience of professionals and entrepreneurs titled: “How to Sell With Stories.” We recorded that talk and shared it with my podcast audience as part of our show. Liten to the talk on the player below (and subscribe to The Inside BS Show with the Godfather and Nicki G. wherever you get your podcasts). I’ve also included my complete set of notes.

Earlier this month I wrote that there was one exit strategy article you need to read this year. Well, if you want to increase your sales, this is the one article you need to read and one audio program you need to listen to. Follow this guide and you’ll enhance your ability to entertain an audience and you’ll also increase your sales.

As a business strategy consultant and a presentation coach, I’ll share a secret with you: There is an an age-old tool that remains unmatched in its ability to influence and connect: the story. Ever wondered why stories hold such a potent sway? Let’s delve into the art of how to sell with narratives and the magic behind using them effectively.

From the earliest days of humanity, stories have been our primary mode of communication and connection. Imagine primitive men and women huddled around a campfire, sharing tales of their day’s adventures, of dangerous hunts, and hard-fought triumphs. This deep-rooted love for narratives has not waned; it has simply evolved. It’s not just about the mighty brontosaurus hunt anymore, but the stories we share still have the power to make us laugh, cry, and most importantly, act. Stories are one of our most valuable resources as business leaders.  That’s precisely why mastering the craft of how to sell with stories can be a game-changer.

But why are stories such an effective medium, especially when the goal is to influence? The answer lies in our human nature. Stories have an uncanny ability to bypass our logical, judgmental brain. When we hear a narrative, we’re less likely to critically analyze its content, especially if it resonates with us on an emotional level. This is a boon for those in the business of influence—marketers, business leaders, and team motivators. If you can craft a story that speaks to the heart, you can almost effortlessly guide the listener’s mind and emotions in the direction you desire.

Before we dive deep into the mechanics of how to sell with captivating tales, let me share a story with you. Afterward, we will dissect it, exploring the seven core principles that make a narrative not just entertaining but also incredibly influential. Stay tuned, and discover the unparalleled potential of selling with stories.

How to Sell With Stories: From the Mall to the Corporate World

In the world of sales, it’s often said that personal stories are the bedrock of trust and influence. Demonstrating this, I’d like to share a remarkable tale from 2009—a tale that paints a vivid picture of how to sell using the sheer power of storytelling.

Meet Russell Jacobs. When I first encountered Russell, he was not the successful entrepreneur many know him as today. At that time, introduced to me by a mutual friend, he was the general counsel of a real estate firm, with a side hustle focused on helping homeowners facing foreclosure. With an unconventional approach, Russell would head to the Dolphin Mall with other attorneys, hosting seminars in the very center. While the scene painted a picture reminiscent of PT Barnum, what struck me was the sheer volume of potential clients who flocked to his table after each session.

The incongruity between Russell’s ambitious visions of managing sophisticated corporate transactions and his current scenario was palpable. Here was a man with one foot in the corporate realm and the other in the entrepreneurial sphere, letting his side gig keep him in a liminal space for years. Despite the revenue from the foreclosure defense, Russell was swamped and stressed, far from the refined vision he had for his practice.

The turning point arrived with the intervention of a strategic advisory group, of which Steve Klitzner was a member. With their guidance, Russell took a leap of faith. He moved from assisting thousands with foreclosure to conducting training sessions for commercial realtors. Today, Russell stands as a beacon of entrepreneurial success, owning prime real estate, supporting his family’s dreams, and serving as an exemplar of the power of determination combined with the right guidance.

I share Russell’s journey when speaking to individuals on the brink of taking that entrepreneurial plunge. It serves as a testament to how to sell an idea, a belief, or even a service, using a narrative that resonates with people’s fears, dreams, and aspirations. For all those corporate individuals hesitating on the edge, balancing a side hustle and their main job, Russell’s story not only offers hope but also underscores the importance of the right support system. Stories, like Russell’s, showcase that taking risks can lead to profound success. They highlight how to sell the idea of betting on oneself, driven by passion, dedication, and the right guidance.

Selling isn’t just about pushing a product; it’s about connecting, resonating, and inspiring. Russell’s transformation is a testament to the compelling force of personal narratives and serves as a blueprint for others on how to sell with stories. Through these tales, we’re reminded that, with the right narrative, even the most skeptical can be convinced to take that defining leap.

In the pursuit of understanding how to sell, a compelling narrative plays a pivotal role. When you sell with stories, you create a connection that’s hard to achieve with just numbers and facts. Below are essential elements to incorporate into your storytelling strategy.

How to Sell With Stories: Know Your Objective

Step One: Clarity of Purpose:

When weaving a tale, always remember your core intent. Your story should persuade and prompt your audience to act. Ask yourself: What action do you want your listeners to take? Why should they take it? And what’s the outcome for them? Maintaining clarity throughout ensures your message isn’t lost.

When embarking on the journey of storytelling, especially to sell, it’s paramount to begin with a clear sense of purpose. This clarity ensures that your narrative remains focused and drives towards the intended goal. Here are the finer aspects of this step:

Define Your Objective: Before crafting your story, ask yourself, “What do I want to achieve?” Whether it’s raising awareness, changing a perception, or driving sales, your story should be tailored to serve this primary objective.

Understand Your Audience: Clarity of purpose also means understanding who you are speaking to. Knowing your audience’s desires, pain points, and values can help shape your story to resonate better with them.

Crafting a Central Message: Your story should have a central theme or message that aligns with your purpose. This central message will act as the backbone, ensuring consistency and relevance throughout the narrative.

Avoid Over-complication: While it might be tempting to weave multiple themes or messages into one narrative, clarity demands simplicity. Stick to one central message or idea to avoid diluting the impact.

Establish Metrics for Success: How will you measure the effectiveness of your story? Whether it’s the number of products sold, leads generated, or simply the engagement level of your audience, having a metric gives you a tangible goal to strive towards.

Feedback and Iteration: As with any marketing strategy, the clarity of purpose requires feedback and iteration. After sharing your story, gather feedback to understand if it met its intended purpose and refine it accordingly.

Align with Brand Values: Ensure your story aligns with the core values and ethos of your brand or product. This ensures consistency in messaging and reinforces brand identity.

In the context of “how to sell with stories,” clarity of purpose is like the North Star. It guides the narrative, ensuring it stays on track, remains relevant, and ultimately achieves its intended effect. Without this clarity, even the most captivating tales can lose their potency, drifting away from the main objective and leaving the audience unsure of the intended message or action.

How to Sell With Stories: Background Not Too Much But Just Enough

Step Two: Creating Context:

This step is all about “Putting the Audience in the Story.” Step two is integral to fostering a connection between the story and your listeners, making it a compelling tool in the realm of how to sell with stories. Her

Engaging your audience isn’t just about telling them a story; it’s about making them a part of it. When they see themselves in the narrative, they become emotionally invested, enhancing the impact of your message.

To effectively sell with stories, you must immediately situate your audience within your narrative. Use techniques such as:

Time Markers: As with the reference to 2009, indicating a specific period helps listeners relate and understand the story’s backdrop.

Engaging Questions: Just as the Flex Seal advert poses a query about a roof leak, it grabs attention and sets the stage.

Dramatic Behavior: Explicitly call out your target audience, address their concerns, and promise them a solution, much like the intro of the Inside BS Show.

Mirror Their Experience: To make your story resonate, it should reflect the experiences, challenges, or desires of your audience. If they recognize their own struggles or aspirations in the narrative, they’re more likely to connect with the story on a personal level.

Use Universal Themes: There are emotions and experiences that are universally relatable—like ambition, fear, love, and adversity. By tapping into these universal feelings, your story can resonate with a broader audience, regardless of their background.

Direct Address: Occasionally, pose questions or make statements that directly involve the listener. Phrases like “Have you ever felt…?”, “Imagine if…”, or “We’ve all been there, haven’t we?” can draw listeners in, making them active participants in the narrative.

Relatable Characters: Create characters that your audience can identify with. Whether it’s a young entrepreneur facing startup challenges or a parent juggling work-life balance, the more relatable your characters are, the easier it is for listeners to place themselves in their shoes.

Situational Relevance: Ensure the scenarios you depict align with situations your audience frequently encounters. If you’re speaking to business professionals, a boardroom discussion might be apt. If it’s millennials, perhaps a scenario involving social media or contemporary culture could be relevant.

Emotional Engagement: Stories should evoke emotions. By sharing the highs and lows, joys and pains of your characters, you make it possible for listeners to empathize. They should be cheering for successes and feeling the weight of setbacks as if they were their own.

Inviting Feedback: After sharing a segment of your story, invite listeners to share their similar experiences. This interactive approach can foster a deeper connection and make your story a shared experience rather than just a monologue.

To truly master how to sell with stories, understanding that your audience isn’t just a passive receiver is crucial. They’re an integral component of the storytelling process. By strategically putting them within the narrative, you not only engage their attention but also stir their emotions, making your message memorable and influential.

How to Sell With Stories: Who Is This Person and Why Do I Care?

Step Three: Setting the Scene:

How to Sell with StoriesTo ensure your listeners feel integrated into the story, paint a vivid scene. Whether it’s the bustling environment of Dolphin Mall in its earlier days or the quiet ambiance of a Starbucks, it’s crucial that your audience can visualize and immerse themselves.

When you’re figuring out how to sell with stories, painting a vivid backdrop is integral to captivating your audience. This step lays the groundwork for the action that’s about to transpire.

Establishing Context: Before diving into the main events, your audience needs to understand the context. Who are the key players in your story? What challenges are they facing? Where and when is this taking place? By answering these questions early on, you provide your audience with a clear framework to follow along.

Sensory Details: Engage your listeners by evoking their senses. Describe the sights, sounds, feelings, and even smells that are relevant to the setting. This immersion technique helps listeners visualize the scenario and feel more connected to the story.

Emotional Tone: The environment you describe can set the emotional tone for the story. Whether it’s an office filled with anxious employees awaiting news, a bustling marketplace, or a serene evening at home – the setting can evoke emotions that prime your audience for the forthcoming action.

Relatability: Ensure the scene is relatable to your target demographic. If you’re speaking to entrepreneurs, maybe it’s a startup’s humble beginnings. If it’s parents, perhaps it’s the chaos of a morning school rush. Aligning the setting with familiar experiences can foster a deeper connection.

Backdrop for Conflict: As you set the scene, introduce elements that hint at the forthcoming tension or conflict. This could be in the form of initial challenges, looming deadlines, or any external pressures that become relevant later.

Historical or Temporal Elements: Sometimes, the time frame can be critical. Was this during an economic recession? Was it a time before digital transformation? Establishing the time can give context to the challenges and the solutions that follow.

Introduce Key Characters: While setting the scene, it’s also crucial to introduce the main characters in your story. These are the individuals (or entities) whose journey the audience will follow. Give a brief background, their motivations, and what’s at stake for them.

In the scheme of “how to sell with stories,” setting the scene is akin to laying down the first few brush strokes of a painting. It might not reveal the full picture, but it offers vital context and background. A well-established setting provides a rich tapestry against which the subsequent events, tensions, and transformations become even more impactful. By grounding your audience in a vivid, relatable environment, you prepare them to be more invested in the narrative’s progression.

How to Sell With Stories: What Will Happen Next?

Step Four: Introducing Tension or Conflict:

Tension is the backbone of a gripping story. The dilemma faced by Russ, torn between a stable job and the desire to start his own venture, serves as a classic example. People inherently want to resolve conflicts. When you sell with stories filled with tension, your audience subconsciously seeks solutions. As a result, when you present a resolution, they’re more receptive.
When it comes to understanding how to sell with stories, this step is crucial in holding the audience’s attention and setting the stage for the transformative journey that follows.

Every compelling story, regardless of its genre or medium, hinges on conflict. It’s this tension that keeps readers or listeners engaged, prompting them to wonder, “What happens next?” Here’s a breakdown of this step:

Nature of Conflict: The conflict can vary from external challenges like market competition, societal pressures, or economic downturns to internal ones such as self-doubt, fear, or indecision. In a sales context, this could be a problem a potential customer is facing that your product or service can solve.

Relatable Struggles: Make sure the conflict you present is relatable to your target audience. The more they see their own challenges reflected in the story, the more emotionally invested they become. This also positions your product or service as a potential solution to their specific needs.

Heightening Stakes: As the story progresses, consider raising the stakes. This can be achieved by amplifying the consequences of the problem or introducing new challenges. This escalating tension keeps the audience engaged and emphasizes the urgency of finding a solution.

Obstacles and Adversities: Introducing obstacles or adversities faced by the protagonist (which could represent a company, individual, or a general customer) adds depth to the story. These barriers should test the resolve and resourcefulness of the character, making their journey more captivating.

Emotional Involvement: Tension is not just about presenting problems but also about evoking emotions. Whether it’s frustration, hope, anxiety, or anticipation, ensuring your audience feels something intensifies the story’s impact.

Building Anticipation: The primary goal of introducing conflict is to make the audience anticipate the resolution. They should be eagerly waiting for the solution or the transformation that will resolve this tension.

Setting up for Transformation: Conflict is a precursor to transformation. By presenting a significant challenge or tension, you’re setting the stage for the subsequent transformation, making it more impactful. The greater the conflict, the more profound the transformation feels.

In the context of “how to sell with stories,” the tension or conflict acts as the driving force that propels the narrative forward. It not only underscores the importance of the product or service being offered but also makes the subsequent resolution (the transformation) more compelling and satisfying. By carefully crafting this tension, you can guide your audience on an emotional journey, making them more receptive to the solution you present in the subsequent steps.

How to Sell With Stories: You Didn’t See That Coming

Step Five: The Power of Transformation:

Every story requires a turning point, a moment of transformation. For Russ, it was the strategic advisory group. This group symbolized hope and the possibility of change. By emphasizing this shift, you demonstrate the potential for positive outcomes, thereby reinforcing your story’s purpose.

The transformation in a story, particularly in a sales context, refers to the moment or series of events where the main character or subject experiences a significant change, realization, or evolution. This change is a direct result of the challenges faced or the journey undertaken, providing the audience with a satisfying resolution and a reason to invest in your message. Here’s a breakdown of this step:

Character Development: One of the most compelling aspects of any story is watching characters evolve. This could be a change in mindset, behavior, or circumstances. In a sales context, this could be a customer realizing the value of a product or service and how it improved their life.

Contrast Before and After: Clearly depict the ‘before’ scenario, which usually consists of challenges or pain points, and contrast it vividly with the ‘after’ scenario where the solution (your product/service) has brought about a positive change. This stark comparison can be a powerful persuasion tool.

Realization or Epiphany: This is the ‘aha’ moment when the character realizes something crucial or gains a new perspective. In sales stories, this moment is often linked to recognizing the value of a product or service.

Emotional Resonance: The transformation phase often carries strong emotional weight. Tapping into emotions like joy, relief, confidence, or empowerment can make your story more memorable and persuasive.

Relatability: Make sure the transformation is something your target audience can relate to or aspire towards. If they can see themselves undergoing a similar positive change, they’re more likely to be influenced by your story.

Evidence of Change: Depending on your narrative, it can be beneficial to provide tangible proof of this transformation. In a business context, this might mean showing data, testimonials, or real-life examples of customers who have benefited from your product or service.

The transformation step in “how to sell with stories” provides the payoff for your audience. It’s where the tension built up in the earlier parts of the story is resolved, offering a glimpse into the potential benefits and positive changes your product or service can bring to the table. By crafting a compelling transformation, you’re not just telling a story; you’re offering a vision of a better future or outcome, making it easier for your audience to connect with and invest in your message.

How to Sell With Stories: This is What You Discovered

Step Six: Clarify the Takeaway:

When crafting a story, it’s easy to assume that everyone will leave with the intended lesson or message. However, this isn’t always the case. Here’s a more detailed breakdown:

Reiterate Key Points: After narrating the story, highlight the main elements or points you wish the audience to remember. This ensures that they don’t get lost in the narrative and miss out on the primary message.

Address Different Perspectives: Recognize that each listener brings their own experiences and biases to the table. By addressing the story from different angles or perspectives, you ensure a more comprehensive understanding.

Ask Reflective Questions: Engage your audience by posing reflective questions like, “What would you have done in that situation?” This not only reinforces the message but also personalizes the story for the listener, making it more relatable.

Connect to the Larger Picture: Relate the story’s lesson to broader scenarios or situations, showing the universality of the message and its applicability in various contexts.

How to Sell With Stories: Do This Now

Step Seven: Call to Action:

After narrating a compelling story, leaving the audience without a clear next step can lead to a missed opportunity. Here’s how to make the most of your call to action:

Be Direct and Clear: Your call to action should be straightforward, leaving no room for ambiguity. Whether you want them to sign up for a service, buy a product, or just reflect on a message, make sure it’s crystal clear.

Link it to the Story: The call to action should seamlessly tie back to the story’s main message. This creates a logical flow and makes the action feel like a natural next step after hearing the narrative.

Create a Sense of Urgency: Encourage immediate action by introducing limited-time offers or emphasizing the potential consequences of inaction.

Reassure with Benefits: Highlight the benefits of taking action. If they follow your call to action, what will they gain or learn? Make it compelling.

Engage Emotionally: If your story evokes strong emotions, channel those feelings into your call to action. For example, if your narrative highlights a problem, position your product or service as the solution that can alleviate the associated pain or discomfort.

Remember, the essence of learning how to sell with stories is not just about the act of storytelling itself, but how effectively you guide your audience towards the desired outcome. By clarifying the takeaway and crafting a compelling call to action, you’re setting the stage for a successful conversion.

Knowing how to sell isn’t just about listing product features or benefits. It’s about crafting a narrative that resonates with your audience’s emotions and aspirations. When you effectively sell with stories, you don’t just promote a product or service; you offer solutions, hope, and transformation. And in the vast world of selling, those are powerful tools to have in your arsenal.

Conclusion: The Art and Power of Storytelling in Selling

As we wrap up, it’s essential to emphasize the age-old power of storytelling. Across generations and cultures, stories have been the cornerstone of communication, influence, and connection. In the world of business and sales, the right story isn’t just a way to entertain; it’s an effective vehicle for persuasion.

Understanding how to sell with stories isn’t about adding fluff or diversion to your pitch. Instead, it’s about harnessing the authenticity and relatability that stories bring, grounding your message in something more memorable and resonant. When done correctly, a well-told story can humanize your brand and make your proposition much more compelling.

So, as you move forward in your sales endeavors, don’t shy away from weaving narratives into your strategy. By merging the personal touch of storytelling with the clarity of your purpose, you’ll not only make your sales pitches more engaging but also more impactful. Remember, in the dance between data and narrative, it’s the stories that often leave the most lasting impression. Let’s embrace that power and make every sale a story worth telling.

Dave Lorenzo

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