Why do we find ourselves tied to the television, compulsively watching the next episode – and the next, and the next, and the next – of our favourite series on Netflix?
We don’t necessarily want to keep watching, but if we do have more time, there is something about those cliffhangers, unresolved plotlines, and sudden twists of surprise that keep us glued to the tube for as long as five or six hours at a time.
There is something addictive -- even compulsive -- about stories.
The Storytelling Brain
According to cognitive scientist Michael Gazzaniga, a desire for narrative is hardwired into the left hemisphere of our brains. And as neuroeconomics researcher Paul Zak has shown, even the simplest narrative can evoke a powerful neurochemical response, triggering the release of “love” hormones such as oxytocin in the brain.
As human beings, we are born with an innate affinity for stories. So it should come as no surprise that the best sales reps are often brilliant at telling them.
Storytelling in Sales
To help you turn your sales process into a Netflix-worthy narrative, I have outlined five steps below:
1) Outline your basic narrative with Freytag’s Pyramid
150 years ago the German playwright Gustav Freytag identified five separate acts which together made up the classic dramatic arc. These were:
- Exposition: To introduce important background information
- Rising Action: A series of events building towards the climax
- Climax: The turning point which changes the character’s fate
- Falling Action: The tension unravels (successfully or not) for the character concerned
- Denouement: A "new normal" is established once conflicts are resolved
Rather than the standard beginning -- middle -- end structure, Freytag’s pyramid allows sales reps to build post-sale relationships into their sales. Instead of ending the story with the climax and close, there is an emphasis on the effort to build a new normality together with the client after the initial sale has been made.
Try matching your sales process onto this narrative arc. (Pro tip: You can even try drawing it on a storyboard.)
2) Create suspense by consistently contrasting the beginning and final "acts."
If the middle three acts of Freytag’s Pyramid represent the real drama of the story, these depend for their meaning on a beginning and final act to frame them.
In other words, and to bring tension into the sales process, it is essential to consistently contrast your prospect’s current situation (the exposition of ‘What life is like now’), with the future denouement they might achieve through a purchase (‘What life could be like in the future’).
This contrast between present and future situations should form the basis of your sales pitch. Try using metaphors and visual language to connect the benefits offered by your service with the real-life, day-to-day experience of your customer.
“Our brains are wired to understand and retain stories,” writes Stanford marketing professor Jennifer Aaker. Make sure yours is a compelling one.
3) Creatively incorporate detail.
Once you have a basic narrative in mind, pack it with as much good and interesting detail as possible. Include your best case studies, success stories, facts, statistics, and answers to examples of common objections.
Use these details again and again to point to the difference between present and future situations, and to provide an understanding of how your product will bring about this. Blend facts and statistics with emotive details, anecdotes, and personal videos for a more engaging sales message.
Weaving details into the fabric of your sales message is part of the art of storytelling. Make sure you listen first to the prospect’s requirements, before being involved in finding creative, interesting ways to present your solution.
4) Be flexible with your structure.
Of course, simply reciting your sales message over and over again is not going to move the prospect through the sale -- no matter how emotionally engaging or well-worked your narrative might be.
It is essential to have some sort of destination in mind, to ask leading questions, and keep up the momentum. It is up to you to efficiently guide the prospect to your desired conclusion.
To continue with the idea of telling a story, think of yourself not as narrating a novel to your prospect, but as a performance artist, responding to your audience and adapting your script to them -- all the while looking for the right moment to drop your killer one-liner.
5) Give your prospect a role.
Sometimes, sales reps get so caught up in their own story they forget to keep their focus on the customer -- on their needs, requirements and participation. Any effective sales conversation must be two-way.
This is a point worth emphasizing. No matter how good your story, it will fall apart if you don’t involve your prospect. They are the main protagonist and you should be ready to follow their lead.
It is difficult to imagine any greater mistake for a salesperson than saying to a prospect “Please don’t interrupt” while delivering a pitch. Your customer should be the hero of your story. Make sure you give them the room to act and influence its shape.
So there you go. Follow each of these steps and you are well on your way to crafting a Netflix-worthy narrative of your own!