How and When to Tell Sales Stories

telling a story
Telling a sales story.

Storytelling is one of the best ways to convey information because it's memorable. If you can work the information you're trying to convey into the form of a story, the listener is much more likely to both pay attention and retain the information later. And stories sell well because they also play on the listener's emotions.

Sales stories work best when they're tailored to each individual prospect.

While it would be nice to write up one or two stories and then use them in every presentation, general-purpose stories simply won't be as effective at targeting the prospect's needs as a customized story would be. Fortunately, your sales stories can be designed around a simple format that makes it easy to come up with new stories with a few minutes of work.

Know Your Client

The more you know about your prospect, the better your story will be because you can use what you know to make the story resonate. For example, if you are selling investment products to a prospect who happens to have two children in college and another in high school, you can write a quick story showcasing the high costs of college and how difficult it can be to get loans and scholarships. Now you have a story that will be sure to interest your prospect.

Specificity Rules

The more specific your story is, the more impact it will have on your listener.

If you start by saying “More than 70% of parents struggle to come up with college tuition,” you'll have way less of an impact than if you say something like, “Belinda couldn't believe it. The letter she'd just received from her son's college announced that tuition costs would be $3,000 higher next year.

She'd already had to cash in her vacation fund to pay for the last year's tuition... how was she going to manage?”

Don't Improvise

Don't try to make up a sales story on the fly. Few people have the ability to improvise a really convincing story. Instead, take the time to draft out your story well ahead of the appointment. Write it out, and then read it aloud from your script. This will help you identify areas where your story lags or skips something important. Better still, have a friend or another salesperson act as your audience for your first few stories. Once you've gotten the hang of writing them, you should be able to judge for yourself whether a story is working well or not.

You can prepare for the actual story-writing by composing a list of the most important components. First, jot down the fact or facts you've uncovered about the prospect that you intend to work into the story. Then, write down the product benefits that best apply to this prospect's situation. Think about the emotions that your character will have during the course of the story and write them down, too. These elements are the basic structure for your story.

Use Imagery

Imagery is helpful in getting and keeping your listener's interest.

Include some action and dialogue as well. In the example above, you might continue the story by having Belinda discuss the tuition problem with her husband and/or her son. A sales story should take no more than five minutes to read aloud.

Give a Disclaimer

Be sure to note somewhere that the story is based on imaginary circumstances, or your prospect might assume it's a customer testimonial. If you use such stories in written promotional materials or on your website, you can add a disclaimer at the bottom saying something like, “The above story is a general example and not based on a specific person or persons.” If you tell a sales story out loud in an appointment, you can follow up with, “Now that was just a made-up story, but it probably sounds very familiar to you...” and go on from there.