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Before salespeople can convince a potential customer to buy their product or service, they have to convince the buyer of the need for change. And to persuade their customers to change, most sellers arm themselves with rafts of facts and figures packaged up as PowerPoints, brochures, and whitepapers.

But facts and figures that are devoid of emotion struggle to convince. Why? Neuroscientists have discovered that "emotions determine the meaning of everything." Every time we experience something, our Stone Age brain is hardwired to ask the emotion-fueled question, "Will it hurt me, or will it help me?"

In their book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, authors Chip and Dan Heath argue that stories are powerful persuaders because of their ability to simulate and inspire. When writing that book, they read hundreds of stories to search for templates of stories that would motivate, energize, and drive productive action.

The Heath brothers identified three basic story templates: the challenge plot, the connection plot, and the creativity plot. Those plots are based on Chip Heath's research at Stanford University. I've added a fourth, called the cautionary plot.

Each of these four approaches can, depending on the specific circumstances, convince the buyer to accept change—i.e., be come amenable to buying the seller's product or service.

1. The Challenge Plot

The challenge plot is especially popular with B2B salespeople because its essence is a story of business success against the odds. Variations include the underdog story, the rags-to-riches story, and the triumph of sheer willpower over adversity.

Challenge plots make us want to try harder, to go the distance, to hang tough. We draw courage from ordinary people like ourselves who summon up the courage to tackle formidable challenges and eventually triumph, achieving extraordinary results.

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image of Harry Mills

Harry Mills is the founder and CEO of The Aha! Advantage, an international consulting and training firm that helps clients cultivate sales and capture big deals. He is the author of 14 books on sales, motivation, persuasion, business development, and negotiating.

LinkedIn: Harry Mills