“Stories have power. They delight, enchant, touch, teach, recall, inspire, motivate, challenge. They help us understand. They imprint a picture on our minds. Consequently, stories often pack more punch than sermons. Want to make a point or raise an issue? Tell a story. Jesus did it. He called his stories parables.” – Janet Litherland
There are two types of sales presentations that you will usually make when you want to sell a product or service.
1. A personal sales presentation – when you speak directly with a potential customer.
2. A written sales presentation – when your message is in a letter, an e-mail, or copy on a website.
You can make both types of presentations twice as effective by using stories. And there are four ways to do it:
1. As “social proof”
2. To reduce a prospect’s fears
3. To get your prospect to think differently
4. To make ideas and concepts in your presentation more interesting
1. Using stories as “social proof” in your sales presentations
Social proof is based on a simple concept: We often make buying decisions based on what other people similar to us have done. This is how we often choose movies, restaurants, holiday destinations, cars, and many other products and services.
The key words in using social proof are “people similar to us.” So if you are a medical professional, you will be strongly influenced by what other medical professionals think. If you are a teacher, you will be very interested in what other teachers have to say. And so on.
One of the best ways to use social proof is with stories. And it’s very easy to do. Simply tell your prospects a relevant story about one of your happy customers who got great results from using your product or service. By “relevant,” I mean a story that your prospects can relate to – a story about someone who is similar to them in some way. They might be the same age, have the same circumstances, or have the same problem.
I sell investment properties, and I was recently talking to a couple who are both 60 years old. I told them a story about another client of mine who is also 60. I explained how that client (on the advice of his accountant) had purchased three investment properties from me … and doubled the value of his investment in less than three years.
The couple I was talking to related to my story because it was about someone who was about the same age. They went on to become happy clients.
2. Using stories to reduce a prospect’s fears
Fear stops many prospects from buying a product or service. It might be the fear of paying too much, getting something that doesn’t work, making a mistake, or even being criticised for making the purchase.
You can allay their fears by telling them a story about a customer who had concerns about using your product or service. But that customer went ahead and bought it … and enjoyed a number of benefits.
When I used to sell training seminars, a number of them were largely video-based. Attendees would watch 10-12 hours of videos over a two-day period. Many potential clients were afraid that watching 10-12 hours of videos would be boring … and also very tiring.
So I told my prospects who had this fear a story about a client who thought the same thing … yet still attended the training program. And he found that because he had an interactive workbook and was taking notes, the video sessions passed quickly. Instead of feeling sapped of energy (the way you do when you passively watch TV for an extended length of time), he was alert and refreshed at the end of the training program. I would then show my prospects a testimonial letter from this client that confirmed, in writing, what I had just said. This dramatically reduced a common concern about our training program being on video – and our sales increased dramatically.
3: Using stories to get a prospect to think differently
Before you can make a sale, you often need to get your prospect to think differently. And stories can be a very powerful way to do that.
In his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen Covey talks about how you can change your actions – and even your feelings – based on the way you think about a certain situation. He then uses a wonderful personal story to illustrate this point.
Covey was enjoying a peaceful suburban train ride on a Saturday morning. At the next stop, a man got on the train with a number of children. The children began running around the carriage, making a lot of noise. Yet the man just sat there and did nothing about it.
The passengers were irritated, so Covey went over to the man and asked if he could please do something about the disturbance.
The man looked up and apologised. He said that he and the children had just come from the hospital. Their mother had died an hour ago. He said that neither he nor the children were coping very well.
Everyone in the carriage heard what the man said. And, suddenly, no one was irritated by his noisy children. Instead, they all offered sympathy and asked if they could be of help.
As Covey explains, the situation hadn’t changed. The children were still running around and making noise. However, the other passengers were no longer concerned about it, because they now saw the situation in a different light.
4. Using stories to make ideas and concepts in your sales presentation more interesting
It’s much easier to relate to an interesting story than it is to boring facts and figures. That’s why many of the articles in ETR include an interesting story that has something to do with the main idea the piece is trying to communicate. This is no accident. Stories are a great way to “sell” any idea or concept.
When selling investment property, I find that it helps me make a sale if my prospects understand how much property prices have increased over time. Here’s the story I tell to make that concept come alive for them:
I was helping a family member move a few things out of his basement. (He was getting ready to have gas heating installed.) In a dusty corner, I came across an old newspaper dated Friday, September 28, 1979. Among other things, the classified section of the paper listed job openings and homes for sale. I was fascinated by those old ads. It was like going back 26 years in a time machine.
After telling the story, I then show my potential clients a copy of that old newspaper … and we talk about it. We look at what house prices were 26 years ago (about one-tenth of what they are selling for right now), how much people earned in various jobs, and so on.
Doing this makes much more of an impression on my prospects than just showing them a graph of how house prices have gone up.