storytelling in sales

If you’ve seen the show “Ted Lasso,” you no doubt remember the darts game from early on in the series. While his opponent had assumed Ted was surely going to be an easy mark, instead he hits bullseye after bullseye. And as he does, he tells this story:

Shape Copy

You know Rupert, guys have underestimated me my entire life, and for years I never understood why. It used to really bother me. But then one day, I was driving my little boy to school and I saw this quote by Walt Whitman painted on the side of the wall, and it said, ‘Be curious, not judgmental.’ … And all of a sudden it hits me. All of them fellas that used to belittle me, not a single one of them were curious. They thought they had everything all figured out.

– Ted Lasso

If they’d been curious, he goes on, they would have asked questions. “Questions like, ‘Have you played a lot of darts, Ted?’ to which I would have said, ‘Yes sir.’”

We remember that Ted won the game, but we also remember that story — and the point he was making: that assumptions can trip you up, and good questions can make all the difference.

This is a great example of the power of storytelling, and it’s something you can easily apply in sales to connect and communicate more effectively with your clients and prospects. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of storytelling in sales.

The power of good storytelling in sales

Research has shown that we’re 22 times more likely to remember and internalize a story than a series of facts or bullet points. That’s because stories get your whole brain working, not just the language processing parts. As your brain works through the story, it’s almost as if you’re experiencing those events yourself. You correlate the story to similar experiences you’ve had, and as a result, it narrows the distance between you and the other person.

Sales stories often bring an emotional element that pulls people in. If they can relate to you and what you’re talking about, that begins to build trust.

When you tell a story, your brain and the brain of your listener can actually get into sync. We talk about the importance of congruence in our sales training programs, and there isn’t a better example of congruence than what happens with storytelling. Not only do stories engage, inspire and make the point in a way that data dumps and endless PowerPoint presentations simply don’t, they bring you and your audience into alignment. Especially when you’re dealing with different kinds of learners and Behavior Styles, this is critical.

Stories can also help draw out a customer’s pain points in ways that simple close-ended questions can’t. Instead of asking if something is an issue, you can tell a story of what others in similar positions have been dealing with. In essence, you make it safe for them to admit the problem because now they know someone else had the same challenge. That will then open the door for you to discuss solutions to the challenge.

What makes a good sales story?

I share a lot of stories, in sales situations as well as when I’m facilitating training sessions. But I’m not telling stories just for the sake of it. First and foremost, every sales story you tell has to have a point. If it doesn’t relate or meanders along with seemingly no purpose, that’s not going to be effective and could actually backfire on you.

There are a variety of reasons to use storytelling in sales, so you need to understand first why you’re going to tell the story and what you want it to accomplish. For example, you might use a story to:

  • Break the ice
  • Build rapport and open up dialogue
  • Draw the person into the topic
  • Get them to self-identify/discover their challenges

I also find that humor works well in breaking down barriers. If you can make them laugh and make the joke about you, it will loosen things up and make people more comfortable.

As the Ted Lasso example shows, some of the best sales storytelling examples are ones based in your own experiences, where you can say, “Here’s what I’ve learned from that.” But remember, there has to be a point: “The reason I tell this is…”

Having said all that, the best sales stories are brief. If you go too long, you risk losing the person’s attention. You also need to be aware of the Behavior Style of the person you’re talking with. Especially with someone who’s highly analytical, you want to keep it short. You can still incorporate a story, but make sure it’s direct, tied to their needs and results driven.

The good news is, no matter who your audience is, you don’t need to go long to tell an impactful story. For example, when I work with med device salespeople, I talk about what happens once a rep gets to know their doctor-customers really well: They become friends, and as a result, they stop selling to them, because it feels awkward. And then I’ll say, “Everybody knows what happens in the friend zone, right? Nothing.” That usually gets a laugh, and it gets them thinking about their own accounts and what might be holding them back from reaching their sales goals.

Using storytelling effectively in sales takes emotional intelligence. But as you practice and get more comfortable with it, you’ll find that they’re a valuable tool for communicating not only with customers but also employees and anyone else that you need to connect with and find a mutual point of value.

4 Tips for Storytelling in Sales

Whether you’re in a sales role or you just want to be more effective communicator, here are 4 tips for structuring and delivering your story:

Have a goal.

Think about why you’re telling the story, and (this might sound obvious but) always make sure your story has a point. Consider:

  • What is your audience’s Behavioral Style?
  • What’s the purpose — to build rapport (Supporter/Talker) or to drive home a point (Doer/Controller)?
  • What are my listener’s needs, desires or challenges?
  • What solution do you want to demonstrate?
  • How does the story develop or reinforce the company’s or your personal brand?

Grab attention.

Knowing your audience will allow you to tailor the story in a way that immediately pulls them in. Consider:

  • How can I trigger that “aha” moment? Through humor? Building empathy?
  • How can I quickly tie it to their specific situation?
  • What emotions can and should I evoke?
  • How can my “once upon a time” and setting be relevant for my customer?
  • How can I hinge my listener’s needs to the “plot”?

Engage the audience in your story.

Your story should evoke some emotion, make them laugh or leave them thinking, “I can relate,” or “That makes sense.” Consider:

  • How does this story relate to their story?
  • How can I make my customer the “main character” of the story?
  • What kinds of reactions, feelings or opinions do I want to elicit?
  • What can I do or say to ensure my listener wants to hear more?
  • How will I ask for that engagement?

Enable the dialogue.

Even if you don’t say it out loud, be able to finish the sentence, “The reason I share this story is…” Consider:

  • How does my solution address the customer’s needs, solve problems and create value?
  • How can I validate that my solution addresses my customer’s needs?
  • How can I be sure that the solution I offer provides a happy ending for my customer?
  • What do I want my listener to do/feel/think next?
  • How can I get my customer to commit to action?

What’s Your Sales Story?

Try it out! Sales storytelling examples can take many forms. Sketch out a powerful, true story or two, using the steps above as your guide.

How might you use the story in a sales process? How might you use it with internal “customers” or colleagues?

About the Author
Mike Esterday
Mike Fisher

Master Facilitator

Mike Fisher began his 30 year career in sales as a college student, selling books door-to-door in the summers. He...
upward point of view on skyscrapers

Insightful Perspectives and Tips to Help You

Serve Your Customers Better
Don't Miss Out