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Story Spine Instructions 


The purpose of the exercise is to co-create a team story.

This will initially be done in pairs (use Breakout Rooms if you’re on Zoom)

Each pair has 10 minutes to create a ‘story’.

The first 2 elements are about the past. Element 3 is about what caused a change. Elements 4-9 are how the team reacted.

  1. Once upon a time there was a successful sales team.
  2. They were successful because….
  3. But then one day…
  4. And because of that…
  5. And because of that…
  6. And because of that…
  7. And because of that…
  8. Which meant that eventually…
  9. And the moral of the story is…

When the pairs have completed the exercise, bring the team together as a whole and listen to each story. Discuss the points raised in plenary.

A (very) generic example might read:

  1. Once upon a time there was a successful sales team.
  2. They were successful because… they committed to communicating as effectively with each other as they did with their clients.
  3. But then one day… the virus struck and they were forced to work remotely. This meant they had to find more innovative and flexible ways to operate. 
  4. And because of that… they used better question sets and were more tech savvy.
  5. And because of that…they engaged with and understood their clients to a degree they hadn’t managed before.
  6. And because of that… they were able to sell with greater flexibility and maintained their marketshare.
  7. And because of that…they realised they’d only been operating at 80% potential.
  8. Which meant that eventually… when things returned to normal, they were able to apply their new skill-sets in different ways and become yet more effective.
  9. And the moral of the story is… we get better when we’re tested.

Don’t give your team this, or any, example as all you’ll get back is a slight variant. And let them go a bit crazy with their stories if they want to – it makes the exercise fun and you can always pick out the salient points afterwards.

If you want more information on any aspect of sales storytelling or coaching, email me at

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May Be Habit Forming…

Habit is the invisible architecture of every day life. The difference between success and failure is often the sum of the actions we perform on a regular basis. Knowing the difference between good habits and bad ones isn’t the issue.

Spot the odd one out…

a) Brushing your teeth.

b) Going to the gym frequently.

c) Eating a chocolate-iced Krispy Kreme donut with extra custard filling for breakfast every morning washed down with a grande caramel macchiato.

d) Regular health checks.

Maintain a, b and d on a regular basis and you may get away with c (for a while at least) but get out of a daily KK habit and life will be better…. long term.

Walter Mischell’s famous marshmallow test asked children to forgo an instant treat for two treats a few minutes later. The kids who resisted temptation achieved more later in life, those who didn’t – less so.

Willpower is one way of establishing good habits. But if willpower isn’t your strong suit, here are a few strategies that might provide a shortcut…

1) Limit your decisions.

Writer John Tierney coined the phrase decision fatigue. This is the notion that we have a finite daily capacity to make decisions.

Tierney likens decision making to a muscle that tires with use. I have a friend who schedules (and pays) for her monthly yoga sessions in one hit. This means she doesn’t waste time wondering whether to go or not on a particular day. In turn this gives her increased focus to make decisions that actually matter.

 2) Temptation Bundling

Often the hardest part of going for a run is going for a run. Temptation bundling gets you through the door. I love Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. It comes out twice a week and is around 90 minutes long. I can easily be tempted to listen to it when I should be doing something else. I’m also not mad about exercising first thing on a winter’s morning and am highly tempted not to bother.

And so I trade each temptation off against the other – the only time I can listen to WTF is if I’m running and vice-versa. Often I find myself taking an extra lap around the park, if I haven’t finished a particular episode.

Okay, it happened once…

3) Reframing (aka Switch the Story)

Habits give birth to stories and stories reinforce habits. In my experience nowhere does this happen more than on sales teams. A story is essentially a series of causal links. If we do this then this will happen…. We’ve always done this so there’s no point in trying that… Everyone knows that cold calling is pointless… And so it goes.

Stemming from the work of Aaron T Beck and Albert Ellis, Cognitive Behavioural Coaching (CBC) is around challenging the evidential veracity of stories. When coaching teams (and individuals) often this where we begin. Only when people let go of old stories can they dispense with retrograde habits and form new strategies.

4) Accountability & Consequence

Two light words that make you instinctively feel good?

Me neither. But you can make them work for you…

Public accountability is the process of informing the world that, come hell or high water, you will achieve X task by Y date. And with more ways to tell the world stuff than we’ve ever had before, that isn’t too much of a challenge.

That’s the accountability bit. The consequence part is putting some financial skin in the game by pledging money to an organisation you like if you achieve your goal… or doing the same to an organisation you loathe if you don’t.

You can go either way if you visit

Traditional wisdom has it that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. Traditional wisdom is probably wrong. Research by Pippa Lalley of UCL concluded that it can take anything between 18 and 254 days with a mean figure of 66.

So, good luck with your New Year’s resolutions and roll on March….




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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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