Before there were commercials, television, or the Internet, my great-grandfather’s stories would draw crowds and fill seats. One tale he told was of Charlemagne’s court. His medium was a stage, his voice, and 150 marionettes he’d brought from Sicily to America when he immigrated in the late 19th century. His performances were the YouTube of that day.
My dad tells me that people would pay to hear his grandfather’s stories. Today, we’d consider that quaint. Yet, isn’t that what we do whenever we purchase a movie ticket, pay our cable TV bill, or subscribe to Netflix?
From the earliest cave paintings, stories have been an integral part of human history. Every culture that exists or has been known to exist has had a culture of storytelling. One of the earliest surviving records of the origin of storytelling is found in the Papyrus of the Egyptians, in which the sons of Cheops entertained their father with stories. Today, it’s not only movies and books—our music, music videos, and even commercials are all weaved around a story.
Facts Tell, but Stories Sell
If some of the forums and message board postings I read are any indication of how freelance designers, programmers, and copywriters sell their services, no wonder they struggle. Quoting hourly rates, asking for their budget, breaking down the hours so the client can see how much time is involved. How uninspiring (not to mention, completely irrelevant to your client). Here’s all your client cares about: “How can you solve my problem?”
You can answer that spoken or unspoken question more effectively through storytelling than with cold, dry facts. That’s because stories appeal to our emotions—and it’s emotions, not logic, that makes people act. I’m not saying that people never want facts. They do (and you should always be ready with them when the time is right). But it’s much easier to persuade or get someone accept a new idea if you link it to an idea or concept they already understand. Recounting a compelling story makes your point more powerfully than simply stating a fact.
Leo Burnett (the man) famously pointed out that good advertising makes cars drive better and food taste better. He knew how to give good narrative, and he recognized that narrative is (or at least should be) at the center of everything we do as marketers. – Ed Castillo, Adweek: The Song Remains the Same.
So what type of stories should you tell? How about what happened when other clients hired you, took your advice, or started using your product or service? For instance:
That’s a good question, Jim. Let me tell you about the last client we worked with. When he came to us, the company was struggling because they were losing market share. When they went into business in the ‘60s, they were one of just a few companies who did what they do. But over the past decade, technological advances in their industry lowered the barriers to entry, so they found themselves competing against a larger pool of companies providing the exact same service.
They were hoping to leverage the Internet to regain the market share they’d lost. We identified five top competitors they wanted to beat, then devised a two-prong approach: build a website that looked more professional than these five competitors, which wasn’t difficult; and get a high ranking on Google to go toe-to-toe with them on a national level.
We were able to achieve both of those goals, and they’ve seen sales increase as a result. What’s more, when my client showed his boss and their business consultant the site, the business consultant complimented him on a job well done. So I got to make him look good in front of his boss, which he appreciated.
I’ve told that story to clients and used it as an example in my sales training sessions. Isn’t that much more effective than “We built a really nice website for our last client and helped get him top search engine ranking on Google,” then wondering why he hasn’t whipped out his checkbook?
“Let me tell you a story…” Does that make your ears perk up? We’re hard-wired to respond to stories, so start incorporating them in your sales process and watch your client list grow.
Former owner and partner of web firm Jenesis Technologies, John is currently Director of Digital Strategy at Haines Local Search, a company providing local search marketing solutions to SMBs, including print and Internet Yellow Pages, web design, and local SEO. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks.