Success in selling belongs to those who can balance the roles of analyst and storyteller. Doing so requires the ability to source, organize, and communicate data in a way that connects the salesperson’s solution to the buyer’s challenge. In short, salespeople must be master storytellers with data. But where to start?
Here are three steps to improve your team’s ability to craft compelling sales narratives that differentiate your company’s solution and advance the sale.
Storytelling with Data
1. Start with a question
It’s not news to you, but before you construct your story, you must have a clear understanding of your customer’s challenges. The best way to accomplish this is by asking open-ended questions such as:
“Who do you think will benefit most from this initiative and why?”
“What do you see as the biggest challenges to this approach?”
“Where are the pinch points in this process?”
“When do you know when you’re being effective in this transformation?”
“Why isn’t the current solution working anymore?”
“How do you envision the proposed changes having an impact on the organization?”
Taking time to ask questions allows you to demonstrate your customer focus and to deeply understand your customer’s challenges and priorities. With this information, you gain insight into the metrics that matter most and are able to begin formulating a positioning strategy.
Use these insights as the starting point for your data collection. Filter through irrelevant data for your buyers and focus the conversation on information the buyer needs to feel confident moving forward in the buying process.
Is fast implementation important to them? You’ll want to feature your streamlined onboarding process prominently in your demo. Are they experiencing pain points with their current solution? Explain how you’ve helped other companies in their position switch to your service -- and highlight their success.
2. Collect the right data
You’ve got to start with the end in mind. Consider the data you’ll bring to the conversation and ensure you can provide compelling analysis.
At this stage, it’s important to rightsize the data to avoid overloading your prospect with information. It’s also important to be persuasive and authoritative here as well.
Cognitive load theory says learning falters when it demands too much working memory capacity. Here’s a quick breakdown of several neuroscience concepts salespeople can rely on to avoid overwhelming their prospects:
Choose data points that don’t require a complex foundation of pre-existing knowledge to avoid intrinsic load - Intrinsic load is low when the concept can be learned in isolation. For example, learning a list of words requires low intrinsic load, while learning the grammatical rules to connect those words requires high intrinsic load.
So, when possible, lighten the intrinsic load on your prospects. If you’ve run a slide full of ROI data by them, consider tackling a topic that’s easier to understand next. Or, tell a story with those ROI numbers. Pick one successful client and use their ROI numbers to prove your value.
Explain how Le Jardin Landscaping Service had seen stagnant growth for nine months in a row before implementing your management system.
Once they onboarded, tell your prospect about the company’s double-digit growth for 12 consecutive months -- and how that allowed them to hire more landscape architects, growing their business and their revenue.
This is a far more compelling story than simply throwing a slide up that says, “Clients have seen an average of X% growth after implementing our management solution.”
Supplement your story with visuals to avoid extraneous load - Extraneous load refers to how you convey an idea. Are you using visuals in a presentation? Are you using descriptive language over a conference call? The latter demands greater extraneous cognitive load than simply showing a picture or short animation.
Consider this when building your demos. When possible, always use images in place of text. An image on the screen -- with your voice telling a story on top of it -- will make a compelling and memorable presentation for your prospects.
Break information into pieces so prospects can absorb the content and avoid germane load - Germane load is the degree to which the learner must interpret and classify new information.
Rightsizing information for buyers is only half of the battle; The second step is to select information that persuades. There are three types of data found to be extremely persuasive:
Strong evidence: In a recent study, participants in one group dramatically changed their preconceived opinions when presented with research-backed findings.
Supporting evidence: Sometimes a customer is not completely sold on a solution. In these cases, they’ve seen evidence that supports the value of the product -- but they’re not moving forward. Here, sales professionals need to provide a nudge; they must offer some additional but concise findings to move the customer over the line.
Authoritative evidence: Statistics can backfire. If a prospect forms an opinion, then sees questionable or incomplete statistics that support that same opinion, they may change course. The takeaway: ensure that the statistics represent sound science and come from reputable sources.
3. Leverage the data in a story
Good storytelling in sales follows a logical progression. While narratives differ across various industries, each adheres to the same core structure: You need the solution to fit seamlessly into the story.
Story structure keeps listeners engaged, because it moves. Don’t labor over one slide or portion of your pitch. Make your point, then move to the next piece. As Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Mamet explains, the basic format of a story is:
Once upon a time … (The business entered a new market.)
And then one day … (They started to grow and take market share.)
And just when it was going so well … (Unforeseen technical challenges upended customer implementations.)
When just at the last minute … (They partnered with a provider to rapidly fix the issues and scale.)
And they all lived happily ever after … (They reached ROI performance goals and improved customer satisfaction.)
The simplicity of this five-part format is its greatest feature. Why? Because business challenges — and solutions — are increasingly complex. Therefore, a simplified story structure keeps the discussion focused.