On my first ever structured sales training course, way back in the 1980s, I was told right from the start of the course that “telling isn’t selling.”
Let me take you back to the “power 80s” for a moment — where big hair was the fashion, where you were neck-deep in debt and image was everything.
And as far as sales techniques went, there was no “selling,” it was all about “closing.”
At that time, if you were a mere salesperson, you were nobody.
But a “closer” however, was at the top of their game — they had reached the pinnacle of success.
It was a hard-nosed world and one where success was quickly celebrated and failure resulted in an even quicker termination.
Telling was definitely not selling in those days and it was all about getting the order or not, as the case may be.
“Do or do not…there is no trying.”
The style of selling in those days and from me looking back was one of desperation — the world was a debt time-bomb and companies were highly leveraged…including my own staffing agency that managed to create nearly $10m in sales but was still able to lose money.
You see, our lifestyles had to create the image of success and that meant borrowing heavily for most of us and there were definitely some serious winners, who were able to take advantage of timing and make a huge success…but then came the inevitable crash, which left most of us with personal debt and a load of shattered dreams.
But there was one thing that I held onto, one thing that I knew in my heart was the key component of success and it went wildly against the teachings of those days, and sadly, some of the teachings that are still around today.
Telling is selling…and it is the best form of selling — one that we are all conditioned to respond to since birth.
Because we are all conditioned to listen to, read, and recite stories.
And if the story is believable, then we are suckers for that story.
Only the other day, my daughter and I convinced my two young sons of the power of the black moth — the totally harmless creature that was resting comfortably on their bedroom curtains.
With the power of a very convincing history of the black moth, it’s the ability to inflict serious damage to humans in milliseconds, we had managed to strike serious fear into two boys who now refused to go to bed!
In fact, it took a serious story from the other perspective to convince them we were making it all up!
The power of “telling.”
How wrong these so-called sales “experts” were.
Sales techniques: Training
There are so many sales techniques training courses in the B2B world and the industry is worth a fortune.
You don’t actually train sales techniques — you train the psychology and thinking behind how and why people buy, then fit your approach accordingly.
It really is that simple.
We are all experienced buyers and sellers — it’s in our human nature to barter for goods and services, or we would have had a hard time surviving.
As I have said, there is no need to train someone how to sell…but you may need to refresh their memory as to how to tell a story!
If you can communicate your, or your company’s value proposition by creating a story in your own words, that comes across to anyone who hears or reads it as natural, then you are well on your way to gaining control over the sales process.
Forget the open-ended questioning and other ludicrous techniques that go against human nature and simply wrap the whole process up into a story.
When you are selling to the C-Suite for example, your story needs to be very succinct — you need to resonate very quickly with the pain points of the business and explain how you can help.
Now, don’t get caught up too much with telling a story in a book-type fashion — stories are meant to be human, they are meant to capture human emotion.
CEOs are far more likely to be fact-based decision-makers than emotional ones, but that doesn’t mean they are not human.
You pick your storytelling methodology and make sure it resonates with the audience and the only way to learn is to get out there and do it!
Sales techniques: How to tell the story
If you want to learn the art of storytelling then one of the best things you can do is to invest in a copywriting course.
Good copywriters are master storytellers and if you are involved in online marketing, then you will understand the power of the art — learn as much as you can about the techniques of copywriting and you will be adding not only another skillset to your repertoire, but you will be gaining invaluable knowledge on the subject of storytelling.
Research is a critical component of sales and serves as the foundation for storytelling — I cover it in more detail in the “influencer” article I have linked to above, so take a look.
I will give you two personal examples of using stories effectively — one in the classroom, where I was conducting a sales training session with a new intake of trainees and the other in the field with a senior executive of one of my key customers.
But first, let’s look at some basic, key points of how to craft a story in sales:
- Create the endgame — there has to be a conclusion and sometimes you lead with this
- Create the challenge — you need to demonstrate the obstacles to be overcome
- Create the introduction — you must set the scene
- Avoid jargon — you are appealing to emotions
- Make it personal — I always refer to another client with a similar problem to the one I am selling to and explain how the problem was solved
I had my best successes in “training” people who had no previous sales experience and in this example, the task was to present my company back to me as a prospective buyer.
Training: The wrong way
It was intimidating for them, but you have to throw people in at the deep end and teach them how to survive in a rough sea.
They had only a week to learn and prepare and on the day, only a few people managed to get through the exercise…but what they didn’t know, was that I was allowing them to present to me in the wrong manner.
If you have been in a sales presentation where you have to sit through endless PowerPoint slides, having each slide talked over, and from people who were not passionate about their industry and company, then you will know what I mean.
After the exercise, each person had one hour to prepare another presentation on a subject that was close to their hearts and it could be a sport, hobby, interest, or whatever and they then had to present that back to me.
The difference was night and day — they each talked with ease, with passion and crafted their words into a story that flowed and naturally led me to ask questions.
There was no training on this, just a little guidance after to help them stay focussed and on track.
Now the challenge was to capture that passion and transfer it into my company so that they could present in the same way to our customers.
I was struggling to bring a deal to what should have been a natural conclusion and I was facing the all-important issue of pricing.
The client was not moving and I had no room to move because we had factored into the price some contingency for legal costs, which we were sure to incur — these were for the benefit of both parties as we needed to use a specialist third-party company to ensure that the people we provided (this was in tech-staffing) on a short-term or contract basis were legally able to operate and pay local taxes in the country.
However, some of my competitors were cutting corners and not taking this required step, which in turn, meant they were much cheaper.
Lunch followed the meeting and here I went into action.
I told the story of one of the worlds leading multi-national companies, who operated in a different field, who had secured a contract in the country and had to deliver their products and services — they were in a similar situation to my client in that they required people from other countries to work on a short-term basis.
They, however, were completely unaware of the legal and compliance issues, because nobody had advised them and they were also one of the first companies to import labor on a large scale into the country.
Because of the numbers and frequency of the people coming in, it wasn’t long before they faced an investigation from the local tax and compliance authorities, resulting in heavy penalties and the loss of their workers…albeit on a temporary basis until the issue was resolved — but service delivery was now compromised.
I now had his attention…but there was hesitancy because there were budget pressures, to which I offered to go with my client directly to his COO to present the business case based on the story, which I could obviously substantiate.
He approved the extra expense.
I crafted the story carefully in this example and I wanted to use just enough emotion to appeal, but I also had to make sure that I kept it businesslike — there is no way to teach this type of balance and it is only gained through experience.
Sales techniques: Closing
I hated the word “closing” ever since I encountered it back in the 80s and that is why I got fired from a few sales positions I had to take to make ends meet during my entrepreneurial journey.
I always believed that if the product was right, that if I sold with passion and belief and of course if the customer had a need, then the deal would “close” itself.
Once I started my own company, I felt liberated and it was that liberation that led me to go out and practice what I preached.
I did my homework on the industry and my customers, approached them proactively and at the highest levels, with a clear, concise “no-brainer” value proposition that compelled them to buy.
Objection handling is one of the most talked-about issues in sales and especially when it comes to closing.
I use stories to overcome objections, but I am more likely to use this in my marketing material rather than in a sales presentation.
I am a firm believer in doing research, anticipating customer needs, and then selling to those needs in advance as this puts me way ahead of the competition.
My research will give me an outline of the problems and challenges customers are facing and then it is my turn to jump into their shoes and craft my own logical questions that I would expect to face…and then provide the answers.
I play devil’s advocate and then use stories of previous successes to answer the objections.
I do these in various formats — articles, supporting materials with presentations and video, which is gaining huge popularity today.
When you take the time and trouble to conduct your research, to anticipate needs rather than react to them, and to craft your process into a series of stories, you will find that deals will conclude naturally.
Please forget the notion that “telling isn’t selling” and leave that concept back where it belongs and for me, it is dumped firmly back in the 1980s.
We are conditioned as human beings to listen to stories and that is why the best marketers are able to wrap messages into a story…a compelling one.
Take your innate abilities to wrap your company or personal value proposition into a story and you will be ahead of the game…but make sure you actually have a beginning, middle, and end!
And some of the best stories start with the end result!
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Last modified: September 8, 2020