With 150 emails and 30 voicemails a day, and 60-80-hour workweeks thanks to corporate reorganizations, buyers are so busy today that to survive they have learned that they can't do it all.

Consequently, buyers now often stick with the status quo—even when it hurts the company.

Logic doesn't help

Product pitches, value propositions, and logical arguments do not convince a buyer in denial to change. In fact, to protect the status quo and survive, the buyer needs you to be wrong.

Even if the seller makes a brilliant logical case for an offering, the buyer's counterarguments to protect the status quo will always win—because the final judge is in the buyer's head.

Most important, the problem the seller is trying to help the buyer overcome isn't a logical problem; it's an identity problem. So, using logic is like throwing a drowning man a fire extinguisher. It doesn't work, it's the wrong tool.

Move buyer from critic to participant

So what does work? Provide your salesperson the right message to deliver via mini-stories that help the buyer make a discovery: that the status quo is no longer acceptable.

Stories work because they present a scenario that allows buyers to develop awareness through their own sense of discovery. Buyers trust this discovery because they made it, and they begin to trust the storyteller for telling it.

When buyers can picture issues in a real-world scenario, they see how the results might apply also to them. The issues start to make sense, and buyers gain insight.

Stories transport buyers from the role of critic to the role of participant. In short, stories allow buyers to take your offering for a virtual mental test drive. Could you ask for more?

The right stories aid buyer self-discovery

Stories need to be short and simple so that both the buyers and the sellers have time to tell their respective stories; and they should be insightful, so that buyers discover that they want to change.

The challenge is that to be insightful the stories need to be relevant to the buyer. Creating relevant messaging is the heart of moving the buyer off of the status quo.

Help your team create a "value map" so that the salesperson can...

  • Better help buyers see the problems and costs of their operations in the absence of the seller's product's or service's capabilities (cost of status quo)
  • Show how the seller's product's or service's capabilities could help buyers solve their problems and achieve their goals (benefits of change).

Here's an example:

Buyer: Head of Engineering, Top Drive
Goal: Efficiency
Constraint: Wasted Power
Capability: Less Is More

David, the head of engineering of a top drive manufacturing client of ours, was frustrated that the duty cycle of the critical path was being compromised because Purchasing was requiring his department to work with too many vendors. Sure, Purchasing had to try to get the best deal, but this was the critical path! It also represented only 10% of the total spend of $500K. So, a 10% reduction in price was worth only a 1% reduction in overall spend, or just $5K savings. Was $5K worth potentially compromising the critical path?

David didn't think so. Having so many suppliers that use different quality-testing criteria that were not designed to work together must surely create a suboptimal duty cycle. It seemed logical to Dave that it could result in pressure drops and power wastage.

Dave figured that he could save 10% in power by working with only one quality supplier. And 10% was a lot of money: $72K, he figured, based on total power costs per annum of about $720K. So all the client needed to do was spend 1% (or $5K) more on the purchase price to save $72K. Even Dave could sell that... and he hated the thought of selling.

Dave also wasn't convinced that going with one supplier would result in paying more to get the same quality. He wanted to check whether volume discounts could net the same price or lower. But that was a battle with Purchasing he didn't have time to pursue.

That's why Dave was glad to explore this opportunity with XYZ Corp. We went to Purchasing and were able to get a similar price via volume discounts. More important, Dave concluded that by having one integrated quality supplier provide a total critical-path solution, his customers could reduce power 12-14%. The vice-president of sales was over the moon because he had something tangible to differentiate his offering.

Phrase That Pays: Dave concluded that "less is more": Fewer suppliers equals more power.

Leading Question: But that's Dave story, what's yours?

Quant Question: Is it possible that having different vendors for critical path is adversely affecting the optimal duty cycle and thereby creating pressure drops and power leakages? By how much, potentially?


When necessary, the seller follows up on the buyer's story with a few simple quantification questions so that the buyer can cost-justify his or her decision to change.

All this is nothing new. Just look at the Bible. It's all about stories. Stories are how we make sense of the world. We know how to tell stories, for the most part; we just have to make sure we tell the right ones.

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How Mini-Stories Can Help Buyers Reject the Status Quo... and Embrace You

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image of Michael Harris

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