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Structure Your Sales Story The Pixar Way

Pixar was founded in 1986 by computer scientist Ed Catmull, computer graphics pioneer Alvy Ray Smith and Steve Jobs. Over the last thirty-six years it’s made 21 movies, won 14 Academy Awards, and was acquired by Walt Disney Studios in 2006.

Many factors contributed to Pixar’s success. One is the simple and effective story structure at the heart of almost every film it’s made.

It’s a structure you can harness to connect to your clients in sales presentations, pitches, or written proposals. What’s more, you can do it quickly and easily over seven steps.

1) In the beginning…

The traditional start to any story, this is where you outline what the world was like before you came along. How did things work? How and why didn’t they work? What were the challenges? Why were they challenges?

2) Everyday…

This allows you to add colour to the picture. You can also develop a problem that’s specific to the client or audience in front of you. Don’t skimp on the detail or the magnitude. The bigger the problem, the more impetus your solution will have.

3) Until one day…

This is where you turned up. What did you do that was different? Why did it work? Don’t be scared to introduce an element of struggle. It adds credibility and engagement for the audience. What was the pushback and how did you adapt?

4) And because of that…

What was the major change that happened because of your initiative? What benefits accrued? Again, go into some detail here, try to paint a picture.

If appropriate, introduce a competitor. Who tried to go up against you? How and why did you prevail over them? Remember, the greater the villain the more exemplary the hero.

5) And because of that…

How did the first major change lead to a second major change, preferably nearer the point at which you are pitching? Stories are about causality, so make sure there’s a connection here. Don’t just drop in another unrelated event or milestone. And remember to translate the event/s into a takeaway that means something to your audience.

6) Until finally…

This where you bring your story up to date. Where are you now and how do you serve your audience in a way that no one else does?

7) The Bridge…

Although not a stage in the Pixar structure, The Bridge is a necessary addition in a sales story. It’s where you cross from the general to the particular, i.e. tell your client or audience what you can do for them specifically in terms of their situation and goals.

Also worth remembering…

  • The above assumes that you want to begin with a creds or origin pitch. It’s also very simple to use the structure to give a third-party or case-story example.
  • Keep it moving. The first 6 stages lend impetus to the 7th. Don’t get too bogged down in your own story. Two causal stages (4&5) are almost certainly enough.
  • This pitch structure doesn’t require you to go back to the formation of the business. You can start In the beginningat a point where there was a significant change in your company’s offering or structure.

60 Sales Coaching Questions

Coaching through feedback is the most effective way to develop a salesperson’s

skillset. When using the questions below, bear in mind that….

Feedback is a coaching process.

The questions below can be used individually or in clusters depending on where you want to direct the conversation.

Three questions may be enough for one feedback conversation.

You should use question number 60 frequently to extend answers.

De-briefing is as much about helping people understand what they did successfully as it is about highlighting what was less successful.

‘Why’ is best used as an adjunct to a discovery question.

Leading or loaded questions are okay but only to introduce an idea into the conversation and to get the coachee to reflect upon it.

60 Sales Coaching Questions

  1. What were you hoping to achieve from the call?
  2. How representative was this call of a typical call?
  3. How did you prepare for it?
  4. What was your fallback objective?
  5. What happened and when did it happen?
  6. What did the client say specifically?
  7. How would you describe the client’s reaction to the call in general?
  8. How would you describe the client’s personality/frame of mind?
  9. What did you find out about this client that you didn’t know at the start?
  10. Who spoke most on the call?
  11. Which questions worked well and why?
  12. Which questions were less successful?
  13. What did you do at X point?
  14. What value did this add to the call?
  15. What alternative strategies could you have used at X point?
  16. Which of these do you think would have been most successful?
  17. When have you tried this strategy before?
  18. What were the results then?
  19. What do you see as the parallels between these situations?
  20. Had you introduced X into the conversation, what difference might it have made?
  21. How would you know if that strategy had been successful?
  22. How would you describe your delivery style?
  23. In what way did your delivery style sync with the client?
  24. What was the evidence for this?
  25. How often, and in what way, do you vary your delivery style?

read more…

4 Steps To Structure Your Emerging Sales Story

As we emerge from lockdown, businesses need to tell a different type of story to their clients than they were two years ago.

While stories remain the most effective way to create meaning and communicate values, the pandemic has changed so much, including the nature of selling and pitching.

Values and trust were always important components in a relationship buying process.

Now they are crucial.

This four-beat structure can be used to create a 60-second top-line pitch or the spine of a half hour presentation with the slides in your deck chaptered accordingly.

It requires you to answer four questions: read more…

3 Reasons Pitches Fail – And How To Avoid Them

It’s hard to write an entirely unsuccessful sales story. Insert enough features, benefits, facts, stats, and case studies into the mix and someone, somewhere, will probably go for it. It’s like rolling dice – you’ll throw a six eventually.

My training and coaching clients need to minimise the luck element in a competitive pitch. They commit time and budget to get in front of potential customers and, naturally, want to give themselves the best chance to win.

Before a seminar we usually begin by analysing the deck or story they’re currently using. Often the reason they don’t win as frequently as they should is due to one of three factors….

1) What they have isn’t a sales story

Which I guess begs the question what is a story? Analyse any commercially successful movie and I guarantee you’ll find these components:

– Initial disruption to the everyday world.

– Struggle and consequence.

– Change and growth.

 If you want traction with your audience then you need to replicate these in your primary and secondary value propositions.

Disruption is about what changed in the commercial landscape and how you responded to this. In short it’s about why you came into existence.

Struggle and consequence are essential to stories. Illustrating how you successfully adapted to challenges and problems is the essence of a compelling and credible narrative.

Change and growth is where you are now and what you offer. Most sales stories score highly in this area but lack the first two critical elements.

When reviewing your story, try to assess whether each stage connects to the next stage and makes sense of the one preceding.

2) Too slow to get going…

You have a short amount of time to capture attention at the start of your pitch. With some personality types it can be 30 seconds or less. So how do you hook your audience? You generate something called an active question.

read more…

3 Questions To Transform Your Next Sales Meeting

In virtually any sales meeting there are 2 stories in play:

·     The one your client has developed based on the collateral he or she has seen on your website and other sources. Despite your best creative and marketing efforts, this will be riddled with distortions and misinterpretations.

·     The actual story of your business. The one you need them to buy into.

The distance between is where you do your work. Sometimes it’s wide, occasionally less so. Regardless, you need to unify the stories if you’re to get across the line.

Asking these 3 questions (in the following order) will help you do that. They are best located as close to the beginning of the meeting as possible.

·     How do we come over to you?

·     How does what we do resonate with what you do?

·     What do you need to hear from me today?

1) How do we come over to you?

This is an invitation for your client to share their take on your business. Resist the urge to overly complicate this question or use the word ‘think’. Buying decisions are almost universally emotional – even when we are convinced they aren’t.

2) How does what we do resonate with what you do?

This question scopes out mutuality. You wouldn’t be with your client in the first place if mutuality didn’t exist. The question is couched positively to build momentum. It doesn’t give the whole of the space between you; the next question does that….

read more…

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…

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…