Have you ever come up against a decision maker who is glaring at you with arms crossed (in person or via a video call), daring you to take up their time? The best way to engage them in a meaningful conversation — while building credibility, trust, and rapport — is by telling a value-based story.
Successful sales professionals are great storytellers. They have an ability to share information and ask questions that the buyer can clearly relate to, versus simply talking about their products, solutions, or company. How can you up your sales game by learning how to tell value-based stories? There is an art to it, which I’ll walk you through in this article.
When a buyer gives you the opportunity to engage in that first conversation, as in, "Okay, I have a few minutes," you have limited time to quickly establish yourself as a trusted resource. When you prepare with purposefully crafted value-based stories, you can quickly pique the interest of busy executives and get them listening for solutions that could bring similar value to their problem.
What are value-based stories?
Value-based stories start with a credibility introduction to get your foot in the door. To establish credibility, you must focus on the other person and their issues. I can’t emphasize enough not to jump into a sales pitch before you establish credibility. It’s all about being knowledgeable and relevant to your prospect or customer, having insight and actively listening. A value-based story is then the hook or the linchpin of the credibility introduction to get the buyer engaged.
Value-based stories articulate a compelling value proposition by mentioning your past relatable successes that show how similar business problems were solved with measurable outcomes. Unlike case studies, they do NOT discuss your company’s capabilities, products, or services.
3 Steps to Create Value-based Stories
1. Do your homework.
Research the buyer, the company, and industry. To connect with prospects, your story must focus on what is relevant to their needs and problems, not your need to book a meeting or close a sale.
For publicly held companies, take time to scan their financial reports, read the CEO’s letter to the shareholders, and listen to analyst calls. These calls provide great statistics and figures, and you hear the voices and tone of the executives describing what has just happened that quarter. Be sure to stay on the line for the good part — the analyst questions and the executive responses.
This Q&A uncovers real business issues that are critical at the executive level. The executives may even describe their plans for the coming quarter or year to rectify their problem. Why is that so important? It helps you align your story with one of the critical business issues they plan to take action on soon.
If you’re pursuing a privately held company, review their press releases or news articles in local business journals and the industry trade media. In these channels you can often learn a lot about the company, its funding, and its top executives.
2. Find a common language.
During your research, pay attention to the prospect's business acumen. Understanding the buyer’s terminology and speaking their language can make or break your story.
For example, if you’re creating a story to sell to hospitals, it’s important to know income is referred to as reimbursements, not revenue. If you talk about rising revenues that will not be well received. Instead, sharing a scenario about improving reimbursements will create interest. Telling a story using their business terminology lends credibility to you and your story.
3. Include metrics that demonstrate business value.
The final and most captivating piece to develop in your value-based story is measurable outcomes. Having solid data or measurable impact will make your story even more powerful. These are the quantifiable metrics and value produced by your service, product, or solution.
For example, explain how a leading hospital increased patient satisfaction scores by 12% in eight months or a global consumer goods company reduced capital expenditures by 15% in six months. With these measurable values, your story will have an executive’s attention. Without them, your story will fall flat. You should then end your story with a question that transitions to and prompts a discussion about their real-life situation.
Delivering Value-based Stories
Telling the stories with confidence, empathy, and authenticity is essential. It’s part of how you build credibility, trust, and rapport. When you’re genuinely interested in the buyer, not your own agenda, it shows. Elevate your confidence by practicing your value-based stories and honing how you communicate them, leveraging your research and business acumen.
Have an arsenal of value-based stories at the ready. Salespeople use these stories throughout the entire sales cycle, from prospecting, introducing yourself to the buyer, and making the sales pitch to handling objections, negotiating price, closing the sale, and even managing customer relationships after the sale. And you don’t need to name the company in your story – in most cases it’s better to keep it unnamed – this may make it more relatable to your prospect.
Be aware that telling value-based stories in a virtual setting may be more difficult than when you are face-to-face. You may have a natural inclination to talk more than usual on a conference call or video call because it’s harder to read non-verbal cues. Don’t forget to actively listen and ask confirming questions to make sure you’re on the same page.
A Value-based Story Example
Here’s what a value-based story may sound like:
"I’ve worked with other software industry VPs of Sales and one company I worked with had a problem growing its business due to an inability to scale. Their software product was excellent, but their challenges included a complex portfolio and the inability to differentiate their service. In essence, they didn’t know how to show off this hidden gem.
By partnering with us, this software company saw their revenue increase by 30% in one year. How did we help them? We taught their salespeople how to be more confident in communicating value and we walked them step-by-step through how to differentiate from their competition in an impactful way. This company now sell more effectively and they are creating long-term relationships with clients, rather than focusing on one-and-done, transactional sales.
In researching your company, I understand you’re facing a similar situation, but I don’t want to assume that. I would really love your feedback. What are some of the top-of-mind business drivers that you’re looking to address?"
It’s never been more important for sales professionals to rise above the clutter of cookie-cutter communications and engage with their customers on both an emotional and a rational level. It’s time to cut the buzzwords and adopt a more empathetic approach to customer conversations.
Use the art of developing and delivering value-based stories to connect with your prospects and gain credibility. By linking your past customer success stories to the buyer’s top-line issues, you have a much better chance of hitting the mark.
For more advice on engaging with decision makers, check out this list of qualifying questions.