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How to Use 'Story-Selling' and Modular Content to Drive Sales

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Some marketers would tell you that salespeople are babies who need structure and boundaries, and can't be trusted with the nuances of storytelling. As a marketer and former sales representative, I disagree: A more accurate—and less demeaning—portrayal of salespeople would be that they are renegades.

So much of selling has in the past relied on the individual salesperson who was almost exclusively responsible for his or her own destiny: "Only I know my territory. Only I know my process. Only I know my clients."

Which is why it's easy to see why sales reps roll their eyes when asked to align with Marketing and work together with those dreaded "creative types."

I've seen how that alignment between two departments isn't always smooth. But I've also seen, firsthand, that it can work. And when it does, it works really well.

To Align Sales and Marketing, Try 'Story-Selling'

For "story-selling" (which is as it sounds: selling with stories), Marketing and Sales work together. They are co-storytellers.

Marketing creates the blueprint or outline of the story, and Sales does the actual storytelling, provides examples from personal experience, and brings the passion that fuels the emotional connection with the client.

Think of the process as a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book.

Marketing provides the bullet points, photos, and relevant information for each choice path. Marketing can also frame which content is a better fit for the intro, middle, climax, and resolution. It's up to sales to decide which path to take when telling the story to make it more personal and more real.

Before anyone can sell with stories, marketers need to determine how all the story pieces will fit together, and every piece of content should be designed with a modular approach in mind.

A Modular Approach to Content

There are four parts to story-selling with modular content: creation, distribution, use, and effectiveness.

The first step for marketers is having a strong grasp on the content creation process, as well as the concept of "modular content."

1. Creating Modular Content

Modular sales content is organized in a way that's specific to "story-selling" of goods and services: great design, terrific content, bullet points, pull-quotes, testimonials, and so on... that can be mixed and matched, selected to fit the occasion, refined, inserted in presentations at just the right place...

The challenge, however, is that marketers package content with a bow and send it off to Sales as "done," whereas it needs to be part of the story-selling content ecosystem.

A huge benefit of taking a modular approach is that the content is created and designed to stand on its own—and to fit with other pieces of content whenever and however needed. Having the ability to pull an appropriate piece of content into a sales presentation saves the storyteller a lot of work later on.

With a modular content approach, marketers are tasked with creating great sales content and organizing it into modules; salespeople then make their own choices of which modules to pull and use—and so remain the renegades they love to be.

2. Distributing Modular Content

We should be moving away from the approach of dumping all of that tough research and painstaking design into a pre-packaged, 50-slide presentation. Inevitably, the buyer will push back or ask questions, at which point the storyteller has to backtrack to slide 23 (or was it 24?) to remember the part of the story that his or her audience latched onto the most.

Instead, you'll have already created the modules, in the most effective format that a particular piece of the story can be presented as—lines of text, an image, a video clip, an animation, an infographic, a handout, etc.

The modules should be easy for the storyteller to reference or source directly during an "aha!" moment with a customer. That awesome content should not be held in CMS purgatory. Some pretty phenomenal technology has emerged in recent years that lets you pull content from anywhere on the fly without the usual panic.

3. Using Modular Content

The same chapter in a story doesn't need to be repeated five different ways; that's boring and redundant. Salespeople need to access the most effective medium, and pull that specific piece of content into the story when it's needed to support their story.

Sales content should be a conversation starter: Quotes and research, a provocative image (not risqué, but thought-provoking), or a new spin on an old idea can add a lot to the story. Use the most appropriate content only where it has maximum impact, pulling out a module when you really need it.

This is where your salesperson's personal experience, passion, and storytelling ability—not just the important bullet points—make a grand entrance.

4. Measuring the Effect of Modular Content

The reason stories evolve so frequently is that the storyteller reads the audience and determines, on the fly, how to tell the story. A positive reaction, neutral reaction, or a negative reaction to one piece of content can help the storyteller decide, in real time, which "Choose Your Own Adventure" module to bring in as supporting content.

During a sale, content mobility technology allows the modern storyteller to rely on a smartphone or tablet, rather than mental or handwritten notes, we at Mediafly have found. Mobile technology makes for a much more fluid story-selling experience overall. Meanwhile, those on the other side of the story will appreciate that the salesperson personalized the story to their tastes. A shared emotion between buyer and seller is what makes the interaction stimulating.

Real data derived from the mobile technology can track which modular content was used in each meeting, making the next co-authoring session that much easier.

What Comes Next?

Enterprise content creators and storytellers should assemble impactful lines of narrative consisting of modular content.

Remember, you're ultimately aiming for an emotional connection so your sales pitch stands out from the rest.

The narrative will change from one meeting to the next, so marketers should avoid assembling a linear story and should instead focus on creating modular content. Sales, in turn, needs to remain flexible by choosing the path and the modular content that the narrative requires.

Your "renegade" salesperson will know what parts of the story will resonate with that particular client. By co-authoring with Marketing, Sales will sell via stories that are on-brand and on-message. The result will be noticeably more impact—and revenue.

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Melissa Andrews is VP of marketing at Mediafly, an enterprise software company that provides a secure, cross-platform content distribution solution for sales and marketing functions.

Twitter: @MandrewsDigital

LinkedIn: Melissa Andrews

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  • by Michael Harris Wed Nov 4, 2015 via web

    The type of stories salespeople tell also changes I believe based on where they are in the sales cycle.

    Late in the sales cycle, case studies can be used as proof but early in the sales cycle when customers haven't yet decided to change I believe sales people need a different type of story that focuses primarily on why change.

    Also, salespeople need to take the customer stories and slice them up into small pieces so that they can deliver them conversationally in 90-120 seconds.

    Is this your experience?

  • by Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler Wed Nov 4, 2015 via web

    It's nice to see an article about modular content on Marketing Profs! We've been trying to get folks in the marketing space to recognize the importance of this approach -- called "intelligent content" once you get past the high level discussion about modular content. Unfortunately, marketers have no idea how to do this, nor do the tools that are available (designed for technical communicators) support marketers well. It's a growing field. Marketers interested in learning a little more about this idea should read our new book entitled "Intelligent Content: A Primer" by Ann Rockley, Charles Cooper, and myself. Available from your favorite bookseller or direct from XML Press. We wrote it just for you!

  • by Alaura Weaver Wed Nov 4, 2015 via mobile

    Great insights! I love the idea of co-authoring between marketing and sales. I used the term "story-selling" in my recent article on creating a sales pitch/marketing presentation based on the TED talk structure: and your ideas about modular content would apply perfectly to this.

  • by Brian Fravel Tue Nov 10, 2015 via web

    Great article. Most sales people are overwhelmed and have too much content. Every marketing person should attend their fair share of sales meetings and even try their hand at it. It's easy to write 20 pages of powerpoint. It's hard to deliver your message in 2 minutes or less.

    MobilePaks has a great sales enablement tool that helps you create this kind of modular content.... Highly recommend you check it out.

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