Upcoming Event 21st March: The Executive Presence Masterclass

How to improve sales performance through communication training

Andre Alphonso


Wednesday 11:00am. I have just come out of a major sales presentation, delivered to the buying committee of a key prospect I have been chasing for the best part of a year. It is a major opportunity and winning this logo will carry huge personal credibility with my boss and my boss’s boss.

As I walk towards the elevator, I can feel it in my bones. That sensation of doing a great job in the sales presentation. I was able to highlight their needs. The solution I proposed was a great fit. The price was competitive. I handled the objection from the finance guy really well. As I walk out of the building, there is a real bounce in my step. My mind goes to how this deal will smash my annual sales quota. Full of confidence, I take out my mobile phone and call my boss to let him know how well the presentation went.

Friday 3:30pm. I get a text message from my prospect on my mobile phone. It simply says “Please call me”. Adrenalin starts pumping through my body. “This is it” I say quietly to myself. I stick my head in my boss’s office with a huge smile on my face. I say my prospect wants to speak to me about the deal. “This will kick our weekends off to a great start André”, my boss replies also smiling.

I make the call and after a few moments of banter about the weather the conversation goes something like this:

Prospect: “We wanted to let you know we really liked your presentation and the work you did to put this deal together was impressive. But I’m sorry to inform you that we have decided to go with another provider”.

Me: “Can I ask why you chose them?” I ask in disbelief and trying to maintain composure while feeling that knot in the pit of my stomach. “I thought we had a great solution at a great price” I add.

Prospect: “You did, but we just felt a little more comfortable with the chemistry of the other company”

I get off the phone. My lizard brain is activated. “How could this be?” I think to myself. “What the hell? Chemistry?” and other thoughts swirl through my head like a tornado. The predominant thought is “What am I going to tell my boss now? And how do I explain this chemistry thing?”

Building Rapport

If you are a professional salesperson, you can probably empathise with this situation. We have all been through it. Since the time of Aristotle we have been trying to decipher how the mind works. Way back then, Mr Aristotle stated that reason and logic drove decision making processes. And that has been a central tenet in how we influence people for many years. This thinking has flowed over into sales and sales training. You identify needs. Provide a solution that meets the needs. Price it competitively. Handle the objections. Close the deal. That is essentially it. So why doesn’t it work every time?

The recent advances in neuroscience is starting to uncover the mysteries of the brain. And it turns out that reason and logic proposed by Aristotle no longer carry the weight we were led to believe they did in the decision making process. Empathy, passion, authenticity are much bigger determinants of trust and influence in the sales process, hence chemistry and rapport.

Leveraging Emotion

Without delving deep into neuroscience and the facts now emerging, we do know that emotion arguably carries about ten times the power that reason and logic can ever provide in the decision making process. What this means in the sales process is this: identifying needs; coming up with competitively priced solution that meets the needs; addressing objections; and closing, although logical, are no longer enough.  You need to do this anyway. It is the price of entry into the game. But it will not get you the deal. We need to find different ways to tap into the emotion centre of the brain so we are better able to create trust and connect our message into the hearts and minds of our prospects and customers. It is emerging that the communication skill of storytelling does just that – it taps into the emotional centre of the brain and disrupts the logical decision-making process.

The London Business School states “People retain 65 to 70 percent of information shared through stories while only 5-10 percent of information is retained through dry presentation of data and statistics.”

Geoff Mead, Author of Coming Home to Story says “A good story, well told, can slip past the defenses of the rational mind, pluck at our hearts, and stir our souls.”

Entrepreneur and author, Peter Guber says “In any situation that calls for you to persuade, convince or manage…the ability to tell a purposeful story will be your secret sauce.”

Our recent work at Ariel has focuses on both strategic and agile storytelling for sales professionals. We contrast both types of storytelling in a sales situation.

Strategic storytelling

Strategic storytelling describes the ability to intentionally leverage a story to achieve a specific outcome or move the sales process to the next stage. Strategic stories are usually crafted ahead of time with a specific purpose and situation in mind. We believe there are four critical stories every salesperson needs to use:

  • Personal story (who I am, why I do this, why you should trust me)
  • Client story (how we have done this before, what the future could look like for you)
  • Product story (what’s possible with this product, the dramatic transformation you could experience)
  • Organisational story (why we’re here to serve you, how we’re different from our competitors, why you should care about working with us).

Agile Storytelling

Agile storytelling describes the ability to spontaneously select and insert small, informal stories or pieces of stories into conversation in reaction to what the other person has just said. While a salesperson may be armed with potential strategic stories to pull from, waiting for the time to strike with a story rather than actively listening to the person’s needs. Doing this is obvious to your prospect or client and can make your story feel programmed and inauthentic. Salespeople need to practice and prepare ahead of time with stories that are responsive to the client’s particular situation and stage in the sales cycle. Here is an example of agile storytelling:

Client says: “This is a complex marketplace and we are struggling to get the attention of our customers. People seem too busy to even return e-mails or phone calls”

You say: “Yeah. Let me share something interesting that happened as I was walking to your office for this meeting. I passed a homeless guy begging at a corner a couple of blocks away. Sadly there seem to be more and more appearing and they all seem to have similar sad signs and we have become somewhat desensitized to them.  However this guy was holding a sign which said “My family was taken by Ninjas. Need money for karate lessons.” I couldn’t help but smile and I am the type of person who continues to walk past without engaging, however this time I felt this urge to put a handful of loose change into his basket. I observed quite a few other people actually doing the same, smiling and dropping coins in his basket. The homeless guy is also struggling for the attention of his customers who happen to be busy passersby and by changing his message to something unconventional he appeared to have greater success. I hear you say that the customers you are trying to reach appear to be drowning in a sea of busyness and you are finding it challenging getting their attention using traditional approaches.  

Applying Storytelling To Increase Sales

Storytelling, both strategic and agile, is a learned skill that sales professionals can use to tap into the emotional centre of our prospect or client’s brain. The ultimate success comes in the interaction between a prospect/client and you, when he/she is able to establish an emotional connection with the possibility of working together through the power of story – be it through strategic or agile storytelling. You as the storyteller use vivid detail, imagery, and emotion to connect with the heart and mind and influence the prospect/client. You walk out of the meeting and the prospect/client is able, and eager, to tell that same story to key decision makers. Helping you get your message across to others about your product or service. He/She may not remember all the facts, but they will remember your story.

In order to find success, your sales team must be able to better leverage the power of storytelling? Read our ebook on storytelling for sales or get in touch to learn more about our sales effectiveness training programs.

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