Stories have been with us for thousands of years.
They are ingrained in our very psyche. You could say that the three-act theory used by thousands of movie directors, novelists and graphic comic writers was first conjured up in a cave 40,000 years ago.
We know about stories. We understand stories.
And every single person on the planet can tell a story. It is part of our conversations we have with others. It helps us describe our days, each passing year, our relationships, our very lives.
But we can also use stories in marketing, in business meetings, in discussions we have with potential clients. In fact, we should use stories for these moments. As people, we can connect easily with a story. We want to connect with it as it provides some satisfying emotional urge within us.
Companies have learned to use stories to make their audience invest in their brand on an emotional level. Once we have some emotional connection, it is much easier for us to have faith in this brand, this product or service.
You need to do this too.
Learn how to use stories to sell your product or service.
Let’s take a look at some things that a story can do for you.
It all comes down to being able to connect emotionally.
Movies can do this in a highly effective way. They introduce the character, and before any of the main action takes place, long before the bad guy appears or any of the car crashes and bullets, we experience the hero’s life via story.
We might see that he is an ordinary guy, married with two kids. He has a job; he likes it but it gets on top of him at times. One of his neighbours is a pain in the neck. His son has done something at school that the principal wants to talk to the hero about.
The movie director drip-feeds all this information to us and we gradually get to know this guy. We may not live in the same city or even the same country, but we begin to feel empathy for him. We understand why he might feel frustrated at work, embarrassed because of what his son did at school while at the same time thinking it’s all part of just being a kid.
All the conversations the hero has in the movie in the first fifteen minutes, the way he looks at his neighbour as he gets in his car to go to work, the way his wife smiles at him as he pulls out of the drive.
These are all tiny clues that give us a fully rounded view of who this guy is and what he is about.
The director doesn’t use sledgehammer techniques to tell us who the hero is; he uses subtle movements, a word said in a certain way, a tilt of the head.
This is how a story works. It is subtle and by doing this we can connect emotionally because we had to assemble all these little clues together in our subconscious.
The subtle use of story turns us into a detective and we then become emotionally engaged with the hero and his life.
It is not about what but why.
‘Why’ is the important word in the story and you need to use it all the time.
Why is the customer buying from you?
Every story has conflict.
Without conflict, there is no story. Simple as that.
Think about the last movie you saw. There was conflict in that. Even if it was a tiny detail — maybe the main character was stuck in traffic, but there was conflict.
Every story has conflict and so does your client’s story.
We may know his conflict as pain points.
What are the things in his life that are causing him pain? What is keeping him up at night? What are the little worries he thinks about as he is driving on his way to work?
Those are the things you need in your story. And you need to bring those pain points right to the front of the stage. Do not be shy and let them hide behind any scenery. They need to be out in the open where everyone can see them.
So, for example, maybe you sell industrial cleaners. What is your client’s pain point that is relevant to you?
Ensuring that the plant is clean, and the drainage is clear and keeping all waste and effluents moving away from the factory.
That is the very thing you bring to the front of your story and make it a central part.
Who are you?
Often when people talk to prospective clients, they talk about what they are rather than who they are.
This is a huge mistake. They go into presentations or sales meetings and it’s like they are accompanied by a big brass band. A huge fanfare declaring what you are and what your company is.
The client doesn’t care. He has no emotional engagement. He has no connection with what. He is a human being, he can only connect with who.
So tell him who you are. Tell him a story about who you are.
No fanfares. No trumpets.
Years ago, maybe in the eighties, it might have worked to just brag about what you are, what the company is. But now people are tired of that. They want to connect. You can do this via story and telling him the story of who you are and who your company is.
This has authenticity. And the client can see that and then he can believe in it.
Use simple language
George Orwell was a great writer. His two most famous books being 1984 and Animal Farm.
Why was he a great writer?
Because he used the English language in a simple and clear way and yet he could tell the most captivating stories that have stayed in peoples’ minds and hearts for many years.
It was his ability to use simple and clear English that made him a master storyteller.
This is a real skill in itself.
You need to learn this skill too.
Forget all the jargon, the sound bites, the snappy expressions. They make you sound like a caricature from a TV show.
Speak clearly. Speak in simple English.
English that a 12-year-old could easily understand.
That is the best way to tell your story.
No numbers. No graphs. No data.
How many times have you been in a meeting staring at a screen filled with pie-charts, figures, numbers and all kinds of other boring detail?
Was it interesting? Did it make you believe in what the speaker was trying to tell you?
Or did your eyes kind of glaze over and you found yourself staring at the sky outside and wondering what kind of bird that was that just flew by?
Numbers are boring.
Graphs are boring.
Pie charts? Yeeucchh…
You don’t like to look at them when someone else is showing them to you in a meeting so don’t use them with your client either.
Unfortunately, there is this myth in the business world that people must talk from the head. Stories are all well and good but they deal with the heart and in the business world people don’t talk from the heart.
Hence all the pie charts, numbers, percentages and other data.
The people that do this could not be more wrong.
Talk from the heart. Lose all the boring numbers as they do not help you.
The client wants to hear a story. How to overcome obstacles, how to defeat the bad guy (whatever that may be) and how to achieve the goal at the end.
Show him how to do this through the story.
Show the benefits
The boring numbers and data often play on the idea of what the product or service can do.
What its features are.
What you really need to show are the benefits.
If you continue to talk about the features and brag about the numbers to the client he will have one question ringing in his head every time: So what?
Every time you brag about what the company can do, what you can do, what the features of your product or service are, the client will stifle a yawn and it’s so what, so what, so what clanging inside his head.
Talk about the benefits.
What are the benefits of your product to the client?
And how to talk about these benefits? Tell the story from an old client.
Tell an existing client’s story and tell the new client all about the old client’s pain points and then the benefits of your product to him.
Two things: You are gaining the new client’s empathy — he can empathise with your old client’s story. And you are not bragging about yourself. You are not beating your chest and running through a list of what you can do for the new client.
Story. It is that powerful. Every time.
Get to why
The client wants to know why he should invest in you.
Every story has a ‘why’. Think of it this way. Every story we read as children had a little lesson at the end.
Your story needs to have this too.
The best way to find it is to finish this statement.
And the moral of the story is….
In stories we read as kids, the end of that statement was something like, don’t trust wolves dressed as our grandmother, stepmothers are evil, especially if they are also queens, don’t trust a guy selling things like magic beans and so on.
What is the lesson the client can learn from your story?
That is the ‘why’.
How to structure your story
Every story needs some main parts without which there is no story at all.
Let’s go over all the essential ingredients for a good story.
Who are the players in the story? Who is the hero? Who is the villain? Is there a best friend or ally?
Determine who these people are first. The hero should be your client. He is the one we want to see defeat all odds, slay the dragon (whatever that may be) and win back the city for the citizens at the end of the day.
The hero absolutely must not be you! The hero can never be you!
(But you could be the best friend or ally…)
The villain — well, the villain may not be a real person, so much as a pain point or an obstacle.
But humanise this pain point. Give the pain point a human character, describe it as if it were a person. Think of the pain point as the arch-villain wearing a top hat and twirling his moustache as he ties the damsel in distress to the railway tracks.
Movies do this all the time. They give the object that is the villain in the story a human touch. By the end of the movie we almost believe this obstacle is like a person.
You can do the same in your story. Make the pain point human.
In your story, you need to set the scene. You need to tell the client who is in the story — the hero, the villain, then later, the best friend — and you need to say where the action is taking place.
Once we have a time and a place we are all set and the story can begin.
Like I said before, every story needs conflict. Without conflict, there is no story.
It all comes down to wanting something. Wanting the pain point to go away, wanting our life to become more comfortable, or gaining something we desire.
That is the conflict and you need to isolate what that is and bring it right to the front of your story.
Do not be shy about this.
What are the stakes?
Every great writer knows the phrase ‘raising the stakes’. In literary theory, it means making the main character’s life more difficult by putting more obstacles in his way.
What could the client win — or lose — by investing in you and your product?
Those are the things you present to your client as you tell him your story. If you don’t do this, then this might happen. Then this and this and this.
Or if you do this, you might gain this. And if you gain that then you might get this too.
Another trick is to add a ticking clock. Movie directors love ticking clocks. The hero only has six hours before the bomb goes off or the world blows up.
Use a ticking clock. That is also raising the stakes for the client.
Stories are not just for when we were kids and being tucked into bed and told one more fairy tale. Neither are they only for a group of us around the campfire and being in the right frame of mind because of the environment.
Stories are with us all the time.
As people, as human beings, we love stories.
Use them yourself when talking to your clients. By using stories you can connect with the client emotionally. He can connect with you. Once he does that he can gain empathy.
Find the conflict — the pain points — and draw those to the front. Make them highly visible.
Talk about who you are not what you are. No one wants to talk to someone bragging about themselves and what they can do.
Avoid all the boring data and numbers and instead, show the benefits. This can really be done well by telling stories with your client.
Make sure you have all the necessary parts for your story to begin then tell the client.
Your stories will help you connect with clients in a much more human way.
We have been doing it for thousands of years.