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5 Ways To Get More Story Into Your Sales Story

I’m occasionally asked what advice I recommend most frequently when coaching individuals and teams to tell better origin and pitch stories. This is far from an exclusive list (nor is it necessarily in order), although here is the top five…

1) Break the time frame

Stories come in three parts:

1) Trigger

2) Struggle

3) Resolution

 But they don’t have to appear in this order.

I often hear origin stories that begin: ‘We launched the business in 2009,’ or similar. It makes temporal sense but not story sense, as it doesn’t grab attention.

Try opening with the struggle. ‘In 2014 our business hit a crisis that meant we had a crucial decision to make…’ Whatever comes next, I guarantee your audience will listen. You can move to the trigger event if you want and pick the story up from there.

2) Develop an ‘active question’.

 If you don’t have an active question then you don’t have a story. An active question is the hook that draws attention at the beginning of the narrative. Movies engage by provoking curiosity and then maintaining it until the end of the film (How will Bond triumph? Will the couple get together? Who killed the president?).

It’s important that pitch stories and origin stories follow the same principle. If there’s no active question then there’s likely to be less audience engagement.

Breaking the time frame will develop an active question (which choice solved the crisis in example1?) but it isn’t the only way to do so. Other methods include:

  • Open with an insight.
  • Name you story’s theme up front.
  • Open with a parallel story.
  • State your intention.

read more…

Break Out Of Story Jail

Old Russian fable….

 A scorpion asks a frog to carry it across a river. The frog is afraid of being stung. The scorpion points out they would both drown in that instance. The frog agrees. Midway across the river, the scorpion stings the frog, dooming them both. The frog asks why? The scorpion replies, “I couldn’t help it. It’s in my nature.”

 Moral? Scorpions (and people) never change. For good or bad, we are what we are – destined to repeat our behaviour ad infinitum.

And yet books, life coaches, therapists, and podcasters maintain that if you change your approach then you’ll change your life. Occasionally these techniques work; mostly they don’t. After a dead cat bounce, we end up back were we were.

And then we buy a different book, engage a new life coach etc… Basically repeat the same behaviour in the hope that it will somehow turn out differently.

Often the reason is that the ‘change’ occurs at a surface level (tactical) rather than a structural level (story). In short this means that unless you re-write your core narrative, no amount of minor changes will take. Here are some ways to do that.

1) Where did the story originate?

Stories come from any number of sources – parental programming, peer group pressure, social convention, gender expectation – and sometimes they seem aggregate almost of their own accord like scale on a kettle.

First identify the behaviour you want change and then trace it back to its origin. If you can locate the source of the story this often gives you a sense as to its validity. But even if that’s not possible, you can still proceed to step two…

 2) Doubt & Certainty.

I don’t know what’s objectively true and what isn’t. No idea. What I do know is that what you believe becomes true for you, and that the more times you repeat it the truer it gets. Equally the more doubt you attach to a story the more it loses its power.

Take a sheet of paper and write ‘the truth’ in its centre. Then write as many orbiting ‘doubts’ as you can. Just give it a go. I guarantee you’ll come up with more than you think and I guarantee that you’ll believe the original story less as a result.

3) Create a more compelling story.

A new story needs to replace the old story. Otherwise the old one creeps back. Give the new story legs. This needs to be as much supporting evidence you can muster from wherever you can source it. The more legs you put under your new story, the further it will carry you. read more…

The Hero’s Pitch

The Hero’s Journey, story template was first outlined by mythologist Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces and has been used as the structure for many of the biggest Hollywood movies of the last forty years.

With a few tweaks, it’s also an excellent basis for a business origin story…

1) The Call To Adventure

The call to adventure is the start of the Hero’s Journey and comes in many forms. It can be externally or internally driven. Essentially it’s about why you decided to launch your business, initiative or project. What was the motivation? Why did you persistently feel the urge to set up something new? Be specific; detail equals credibility.

2) Refusal of the Call

Typically the hero passes at least once on the call to adventure. Equally it’s not unusual to find potential business heroes getting wet feet – it’s often referred to as staying in the comfort zone.

If you want an emotional hook at the start of your pitch (who doesn’t?) then incorporate what was on the line for you when you took the plunge and why you had to think very carefully before committing.

3) Crossing the Threshold

What gave you the momentum to get over the starting line? What made the call to adventure irresistible despite your misgivings? What were your early successes? What responses did you get that confirmed your initial instincts? read more…

Try less, sell more…

Around this time a few years ago I signed up for my first Impro acting class. I figured I’d be pretty good at it. I also thought I could incorporate some of the exercises into my training and coaching. Wrong on the first, right on the second. Eventually…

My inclination was to try to impose a story on every scene I was in. Invariably they spluttered to a halt. The teacher explained that if I tuned in and listened to what other people were saying then that wouldn’t happen quite so often.

Basically I needed to trust the process.

Imposition is why scripts and structures seldom work. The most successful sales people I know are also the most relaxed. They understand that their job is to start a conversation and see where it leads. In short they are successful improvisers.

Here are my top 3 improv practices for anyone regularly or occasionally involved in the in the art of persuasion:

1) Ditch your shadow story.

A shadow story is the set of assumptions we bring to any transaction. We feel the client is going to respond in a certain way and therefore limit our approach (and often our optimism) to what we assume might be achievable.

The problem is that this frequently leads to a limited outcome. Dropping your shadow story is about starting the process with a genuine sense of enquiry and, as a consequence, asking intelligent questions.

 2) Don’t Block Offers

Blocking is trying to send a transaction in a way other than your partner intended. It can also be thought of as not building on the conversation. Some offers are blindingly obvious to spot and you’re hardly likely to block them. However others are subtler and can be easier to miss.

As a sales coach I see this happening most frequently around objection handling, largely as the salesperson doesn’t spot the offer. For example:

Client: We’ve always used X company in the past…

Salesperson: But think about all the things you’re missing out on…’

The offer was there – it was the client sharing information – but the salesperson blocked it by immediately moving to their own agenda. Far better to build by asking what the client’s experiences have been specifically with the other provider.

Moral of the story – virtually everything’s an offer.

3) Be changed by what you hear…

I love this definition of listening. Being able to absorb information is important for any salesperson. Being changed by what you hear is crucial. Basically this means the ability to redirect what you do, depending on what the client says, the way they say it and (equally as important) what they don’t say.

Instead of going into each meeting with a pre-prepared message or a groaning PowerPoint deck, you have a broad idea of what you want to say but find the specific story in the room.

For any of you who want to explore impro further, and live in the London area, City Lit runs regular classes. You can find more here:

The Power of Metaphor

You’re in front of what could be a lucrative client.

You’re one of six potential suppliers.

The decision is to be made in ten days time.

How can you be remembered in a churning sea of competing information?

Metaphor can be your anchor.

Metaphor is the substitution of one thing for another that illustrates the common characteristics of both. Images (including mental images) are processed 60,000 times more quickly than spoken facts, numbers or abstract information alone.

Or as Sheryl Sandberg said about being offered a job at Facebook: ‘If you’re offered a seat on a spaceship, don’t ask which seat.’

People recall less than 10% of orally delivered information after 72 hours. This rises to 65% when a picture accompanies it. So if speed and memorability are important to you when communicating, metaphors should be too.

The Metaphor Generator

  1. Decide
  2. Choose
  3. Bridge
  4. Test

1) Decide on your message.

What’s the core of your pitch?

What’s your point of difference?’

If your client could only recall one thing, what would you like it to be? read more…

Your Dream Pitch

I’ve struggled with sleep for as long as I can remember.

Sometimes it’s waking up early; sometimes it’s struggling to drop off. There are no shortages of Apps to help. One of the best is Calm

Particularly effective are the ‘sleep stories’. Stephen Fry describes lavender fields for 24 minutes while Jerome Flynn takes half an hour to detail a trip down the Oxford Canal. I’ve never heard the conclusion to either.

They’re a bit like certain sales stories I’ve heard in that respect. Apart from the Sleep stories are purposely boring – sales stories aren’t meant to be. What they have in common is excessive detail. What they lack is rising action.

Here are 5 tips for more effective story-based pitches.

read more…

Do you know your why? (and does it really matter?)

My first novel was published three years ago. Along the way I’d written four books that were rejected, and had the book that was eventually published turned down by at least thirty agents. So when it came out you can imagine how jubilant I was.

Apart from I wasn’t jubilant at all.

Don’t get me wrong. I was very pleased – just not swigging Champagne straight from the bottle, or God you can take me now type pleased.

read more…