Relating to your prospects is the very first thing you must do in a sales call – in person or on the phone.

But forget old-school techniques like noticing photos in a prospect’s office or talking about the weather, says sales training guru Dave Stein of ES Research.

It turns out that storytelling is a much more powerful way to get a prospect’s attention, connect with them emotionally, and get them to drop their natural defenses.

Stories connect emotionally
Researchers at the University of North Carolina found that as soon as listeners heard the phrases, “once upon a time” or “let me tell you a story,” they paid close attention and their defenses went down.

Why? Something chemical happens in the brain. Once the storyteller begins, the listener’s analytic left brain disengages, and the emotional right brain takes over.

That makes sense when you consider that for thousands of years of human existence there was no written language, only an oral tradition.

A narrative structure – where facts and even ideas are embedded in a timeline – are more easily grasped and remembered.

Key point: The right brain is the path to an emotional connection with the listener. (And the science behind what we know intuitively: that people buy with their emotional right brain, and justify doing so with their left.)

The ‘aha’ moment
UNC scientists found that “story structure” is an information powerhouse, evolutionally hardwired into human brains.

Hollywood knows this, of course, and has developed a classic “story structure” with five key elements:

  • A hero or heroine with whom the audience can identify.
  • A setting or situation the hero finds him or herself in, typically where things are going well.
  • A complication that comes up and makes the outcome uncertain.
  • A turning point or “aha” moment in which the solution becomes clear.
  • A final resolution that’s satisfying, often including a lesson learned.

To be sure, Hollywood and your B2B territory are worlds apart. But the principles of making an emotional connection with an audience remain the same. The difference is that you are often dealing with an audience of one – and you have different kinds of stories to tell.

Build your own inventory
You have a wealth of information available to build an inventory of stories that help you personally or professionally connect to your prospects.

It may be an example of how you helped a customer. Or how you once held a position like the one the prospect holds now, allowing you to understand the
pressures they face.

Either way, quick access to stories like that will make it easier for you to connect. ES Research has found that:

  • Some people process information better in story form.
  • Stories are powerful and have been with us for millennia; we understand them at a level deeper than we realize.
  • The format of a good story is easy to follow, and lets you set the direction for a conversation with a customer.

Stories you can use in B2B Sales coach Mike Bosworth teaches storytelling and breaks B2B sales stories down into four different categories:

  • The “Who am I” story. This is the story of how you came to be where you are, your background, experiences and what you’ve gone through to get there.
  • The “Who I represent” story. Here you tell the story of your organization, its beginnings, its growing pains, its turning points, and where it is now.
  • The “Who we’ve helped” story. This is familiar ground for most reps, and you need a bunch of them. Key: Work them out in advance by industry, job title, type of story and hot-button issue for every prospect. Example: “Can I tell you a story about another production manager?”
  • The buyer’s story. Here’s where the real connection begins. Pass the torch to the prospect by prompting them to share their story: “Dave, tell me your story” or “Tell me how you would respond differently?” Until the buyer opens up and tells their story you aren’t really connected.
  • Play like a jazz musician
    Your objective in an initial contact with a prospect is to get to “tell me more” in about 30 seconds or so.

    In that case you need a story that is more like a sound bite. When you are deeper into a sales call, a longer story can build rapport.

    In either event, you need to develop the ability to improvise, read the situation and adapt to it on the fly. Example: If you are new on an account, you probably want to lead with a personal story rather than an organizational story.

    Whether it’s direct face-to-face sales or the latest in social media, we are trying to get prospects to connect with us on a deeper level. Storytelling in a meaningful way will help you do that.

    Source: Adapted from a podcast by Dave Stein and Mike Bosworth at

    Photo Credit: lowjumpingfrog

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