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Stories That Sell
Craig Harrison

Sales success stories can build rapport, persuade and reassure prospects. Learn how to use them in your selling.

An old French proverb tells us "Nothing succeeds like success." In sales, nothing succeeds quite like success stories. Are you sharing yours? Why not? The secret is in how you share your successes.

To be effective, you need to learn to tell thirty-second "success stories." During sales calls, a quick-hitting story can make or reinforce a point in memorable fashion. Success stories may be told in response to a question, to serve as a testimonial, or even as an aside. Did you know you had a storied past?

Stories work for several reasons: they're more memorable than numbers, names and dates; and listeners enjoy the drama: a problem followed by a solution, a mystery solved with a twist, or a creative workaround to a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Also, your listeners can find themselves in the story. A good story will resonate with prospects.

"We're wired for stories, individually and collectively. Since the time of Odysseus, we've been told stories. Since we were little kids, we've been read and told stories. This is how we've been conditioned to learn; our morals and our values are taught through stories," says Gay Ducey, past president of the National Storytelling Association.

To start using stories in your selling, look at your sales history and pick out an accomplishment. Now tell the story behind the accomplishment. Your story says you helped a past client increase sales 60%. But tell how you did it; describe the "before vs. after" situation. What was the secret? Stories that reveal secrets captivate.

The three S's of success stories
Success stories offer a setting, a situation and a solution. Using this format, you soft sell a listener on what you did for past clients, what you did on past projects, or the difference a product or service of yours made in solving a problem, overcoming a challenge or generating a favorable outcome. Remember, you are the hero of your stories. Your decisions, actions and insights made the difference.

Here is an example:

"We recently received a call from a merchant unhappy with their current vendor. They were paying high fees, receiving poor service and experiencing frequent security breaches. In short order we were able to launch a wireless processing system that was more secure, more reliable and even less expensive. Through customization we were able to address their foreign and domestic needs, a strength of ours."
Not only does this success story demonstrate an independent sales organization's ability to solve problems, it displays an understanding of business, markets and methods.

The power of archetypal stories
Your stories can work on both conscious and unconscious levels with prospects and clients. When you tell a story that echoes an archetypal theme your listener nods in agreement on multiple levels. Think about the stories you tell as you sell. Do they mimic traditional themes that represent the human experience? For your stories to connect, I recommend they allude to one of these familiar archetypal themes:

  • The hero's journey
  • Coming of age
  • The acquiring of wisdom
  • Pacts with the devil / fooling the devil
  • Tricking the tricksters
Consider some of these story genres and motifs for your use in selling products, services, and loyalty to brand affiliations and organizations.

Cautionary Tales
Cautionary tales are stories that warn of danger or harm that awaits you if you do or do not follow a particular course of action. Think of the boy who cried wolf one too many times and was no longer trusted. Or the story of the three little pigs. These tales are great for selling products and services. Perhaps you tell your story about the client who didn't back up, buy insurance or create redundant systems.

The Achilles Heel
From Greek mythology we know the tale of Achilles, the great warrior with a fatal flaw. If your story involves a competitor's product and its fatal flaw, we'll nod knowingly in light of Achilles' fate.

The Hero's Journey
The late Joseph Campbell devoted his life to studying hero tales from around the world. We can all relate to an irrepressible hero on a noble quest. The struggles to overcome, obstacles to negotiate, and sacrifices endured on the way to ultimate success. When your story echoes this arc, your listener can become the hero or heroine, or is otherwise rooting for them. That's the power of story.

Creation Stories
Stories that explain how the world was created, or why the universe, world or life came to be the way they are. Found in many cultures around the world, these stories frame the world we live in, explaining its origins. Your creation story may explain the lineage of a device, an industry or your company.

Pourquoi Stories
These stories tell you why and how things are. They are great for teaching purposes. Stories such as "how the leopard got its stripes" explain a natural phenomenon or a reality we all accept. You can tell these why stories to explain the advent of trends, policies, research and migration paths for products and services.

Cinderella Stories
That elusive match, the magical shoe that fits just one foot, the chase, search or quest that ends in a match. An unjust oppression that is transcended. The conquest of love. These are universal sentiments you can tap in your sales story. Your love story can meld two devices, technologies, cultures or even ingredients.

Start using stories in your selling. This method works for sales, management, consultants, meeting planners, entrepreneurs and business owners. I know, I've coached them! Review your past sales history and identify the stories within each accomplishment. Now tell them to others. Don't forget the moral to your story: the point the story tells about you (and your firm), your skills and credits. And remember, yours is a never-ending story!

As a self-employed speaker, trainer and consultant on communication and customer service topics, Craig Harrison is simultaneously a decision maker, gatekeeper and caller on a daily basis. Visit his website at
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