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Your Salespeople Should Tell Great Customer Stories—Not Just Rattle Off Features

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The last person that your customers want to speak with is one of your salespeople. That's the conclusion of a recent Gartner survey in which salespeople came in last place—after technical and industrial experts, services and support, and senior executives—as "the most influential personal interactions across the entire buying cycle."

What's the Problem?

Some 74% of the executive buyers surveyed by Gartner said that salespeople focus too much on their product, and only 34% felt salespeople did a good job communicating a business value.

Your vice-president of Sales may be aware of this problem, but with the pressure of meeting quarterly targets, vice-presidents could use Marketing's strategic direction to overcome today's most fundamental problem to increasing sales.

For example, SiriusDecisions asked vice-presidents of Sales to name the number-one inhibitor to their reps achieving quota. The answer wasn't a broken sales process, poor of sales skills, or lack of leads. No, the number-one reason is that salespeople don't know how to articulate value.

How Is Marketing Helping Your Reps Better Articulate Value?

According to the Gartner survey, the best way for your reps to articulate value is to share customer stories. Some 70% of these executive buyers, for example, felt that "customer stories and case studies are the best way that providers can communicate differentiation that I trust."

Stories work because they allow your customer to take your product out for a virtual test drive. They also work because they make your product memorable. According to authors Chip and Dan Heath, for example, after a presentation, 63% of the audience remember stories, and only 5% remember statistics.

How hard is it to encourage your reps in client meetings to keep doing what they do but also share one relevant story? If sales reps can, customers will remember the story told by your salesperson long after the facts and figures of other vendors are forgotten.

Here's an example of a customer story.

Does Your Sales Team Really Have Customer Stories?

You may think your salespeople are already effective at sharing customer stories. It's my experience, however, that they aren't.

Here's proof: Ask a few salespeople to share a customer story. One that will bridge the gap between what customers believe and what they need to believe to buy your product. Don't give your salespeople time to prepare because customers won't.

The bad news is that the majority of your salespeople won't be able to articulate what hell looks like if the customer doesn't have your product. Instead, they will describe what your product is... and leave your customers to figure out why they should buy your product—or even why they should care.

The good news is that this information is already in your sales force because a few members of your sales team are exceeding quota. So, zero in on the insightful stories that your top performers tell and put them into a consistent format. Once completed, the rest of your team will now have the magic they need to inspire your customers to buy.

Even if members of your sales team don't deliver these customer insights as stories but instead share them through conversations, the story format is a simple way to package this information. After all, stories are easy to recall in the heat of a sales call. Moreover, according to Jerome Bruner, a cognitive psychologist, a fact wrapped in a story is 22X more memorable.

And because those insight-based customer stories are made by salespeople for salespeople, the sales team won't feel like you're imposing another sales methodology or process on them. Unlike other sales training programs that quickly become shelf-ware, they can use the stories that you helped them create (PDF) the next day with customers.

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Michael Harris is CXO of Insight Demand, a sales-training company that helps sellers take the shortest path to more revenue—through the power of storytelling. He is also author of Insight Selling.

LinkedIn: Michael Harris

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  • by Kurt Haug Fri Aug 29, 2014 via web

    GREAT article! As a six-time successfully exited entrepreneur who in "semi-retirement" has been an executive sales/business facilitator, I have only recently fully embraced the power of story-telling. While clients definitely appreciate the structured material I bring them, they almost unanimously have told me that the BEST things they've gotten from our sessions were those illustrated by the vivid and sometimes even HARROWING personal experiences I use in class.

    I look forward to continuing to learn how to apply storytelling skills to the work I do as a coach/facilitator/mentor.

  • by Arvind Sehtia Fri Aug 29, 2014 via web

    Hi Michael,
    Very well said. Stories help pick up customers interest immediately if related with their industry, similar problem situation, competitor, ROI etc. Example: " Mr. Customer, I was having this conversation with VP of Sales of mid size software company that happens to be in the same industry as yours and they had a similar situation three months ago when they came to us. The process we used to solve their lead generation challenge was customized to their unique target market. ......" Narrate your experience on how you solved a similar problem and the customer will not let you pause.

  • by charles ekongo Sun Aug 31, 2014 via web

    The sellers should be the key note of their commodity an act of advertising them attracts the main customer.

  • by Didi Thu Sep 4, 2014 via web

    Great post Michael. I absolutely agree with you. Nowadays it is all about the stories that we tell.

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