By Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing
Late in 2015 we started producing a bi-weekly radio program called Sales Pipeline Radio, which currently runs every Thursday at 11:30 a.m. Pacific. It’s just 30 minutes long, fast-paced and full of actionable advice, best practices and more for B2B sales & marketing professionals.
We’ve already featured some great guests and have a line up of awesome content and special guests into 2016. Our very first guest was Funnelholic author and Topo co-founder Craig Rosenberg. Next we had Mike Weinberg, incredible writer, speaker, author, followed by Conrad Bayer, CEO & Founder of Tellwise. Recent Guests: Jim Keenan; Joanne Black; Aaron Ross; Josiane Feigon, Meagen Eisenberg, and Trish Bertuzzi.
We cover a wide range of topics, with a focus on sales development and inside sales priorities heading into and throughout the year. We’ll publish similar highlights here for upcoming episodes. You can listen to full recordings of past shows at SalesPipelineRadio.com and subscribe on iTunes.
About our guest: Paul Smith
Matt: Thanks everyone so much for joining us. Pleasure to have everyone who is joining us live on Sales Pipeline Radio. We are live every week at Thursdays at 2:30 Eastern, 11:30 Pacific. If you are listening to us via the podcast on Google play or iTunes Store welcome, thanks very much for joining us. And if you’re just tuning in on demand from SalesPipelineRadio.com – really a pleasure to have you here as well.
Our job is to feature guests who are experts and bringing great ideas in the way of sales pipeline from the sales side, from the marketing side, from all elements of helping you build more predictable and repeatable sales pipelines and I am going to get right to it Paul.
Like our guest today, he’s got this amazing first name. His name is Paul Smith and he is the author of the book Sell with a Story. He’s one of the world’s leading experts in organizational storytelling, he’s also a book – Lead with a Story and we are definitely going to have to get to this one – Parenting with a Story. I feel like I really have had to keep myself from taking the entire show and just talking about Parenting with a Story because Lord knows I need help with that. So we will focused first on Selling with a Story. Paul thanks so much for joining us.
Paul Smith: Hi you are very welcome! It’s good to be here.
Matt: Thank you very much. Well you definitely want to check out some of what Paul has done, his book – Sell with a Story, Lead with a Story, Parenting with a Story. You can find all of them on Amazon and check out more from all at www.leadwithastory.com. But I want to start with you Paul and find out what you consider… What is a sales story? I mean I often think of things in terms of sales pitches and sales presentations, you don’t hear the term “sales story” very often. What does that mean?
Paul Smith: Yeah, so when I say story, I actually mean a real story which is simply a narrative about something that happened to somebody as opposed to start off your discussion with – you know there are three reasons why you’ve got to buy my product – you are into a sales pitch, you are not into a sales story.
A story has a time and a place and the main character and that character’s got a goal and usually there’s an obstacle getting in the way of that goal and hopefully there is a nice resolution at the end where they either succeeded or failed and sometimes the failures are even more interesting but I mean really storytelling and its use in sales.
In fact, can I share an example?
Matt: Yeah, please.
Paul Smith: Yeah, so this one actually happened to me and my wife personally just a year ago. We were at an art fair, she was looking for a piece of art for our son’s bathroom at home. And we got to this booth at this one underwater photographer, a guy named Chris Guth and he just does these fascinating fabulous pictures of sea anemones and coral reefs and stuff like that, just mesmerizing stuff.
And she gets attached to this one picture that to me looked about as out of place as a pig in the ocean but the reason it was literally a picture of a pig in the ocean and I just thought that was the silliest thing. And so I finally got the chance to ask the guy a question like dude, what’s up with the pig in the ocean? And that is when the magic started. That’s when he said oh yeah, it was the craziest thing.
He said that picture was taken off the coast of this uninhabited island in the Bahamas called Big Major Cay. He said apparently what happened was years ago a local entrepreneur decided to raise a pig farm, I guess for bacon and he found this uninhabited island and he keeps them for free. So he throws them out there but he says but you will notice in the background in the picture there is not much more on that island to eat other than cactus and he says that’s obviously not very good like pigs don’t like cactus. And he said so they were eating, they were thriving and he said but fortunately for some, coincidentally a local restaurant owner on a neighboring island was boating his kitchen refuse every night over to Big Major Cay and dumping it a few dozen yards off shore just to get rid of it.
Well pretty soon these hungry little pigs smelled the food and they are hungry enough that they get brave enough to swim out into the water and get the food and first it’s one pig and then it’s and then here it’s three or four generations later and all the pigs on Big Major Cay can swim. And he said so it was easy for me to get a shot, I just literally had to lean out of the boat because these pigs have been trained that any kind of boat comes nearby they think they are going to get fed so they dog paddle or pig paddle their way out there.
Of course at that point I got my credit card out and I’m like – we’ll take it. Completely sold right now. And two minutes ago that picture was worth nothing to me but after hearing that one little two minute story now I had to have it and it was because now I was buying a story, not just a picture. So that’s just one example of a story that could be used for sales purposes, obviously selling that particular story. And I call that a value adding story, the type of story that makes the thing you are selling more valuable than it would’ve been if you hadn’t told the story.
Matt: So powerful! So powerful! So we’re talking today on Sales Pipeline Radio with Paul Smith the author of Sell with a Story and he’s giving great examples of just how important stories are in selling anything from enterprise solutions to photography and art. And I think I’ve noticed that sometimes the best speakers that I see at events are those that tell stories. I mean you can see them when they get up on stage and they stop for a big pause or dramatic event and say well let me start by telling you a story. I mean phones go down, laptops go down, phones go up people pay attention and they are listening.
And I think about that in a sales context, a lot of salespeople want to get right into their pitch, they want to be efficient, get right to their demo. Talk about how, sometimes I think three steps are faster than one. You tell a story you get someone engaged, you get them more interested in hearing sort of what the enabler of that story is a what’s interesting behind it. Talk about this in the sales process for say an enterprise seller who is not selling something may be as exciting as photography of pigs on an island, is this still relevant in that kind of context?
Paul Smith: Yeah, absolutely. So you asked the right question about where does this fit in the sales process? And because it’s not just in the sales pitch itself. You can definitely use stories during the sales pitch but it’s useful all across the entire sales process. In fact I interviewed sales and procurement professionals from over 50 different companies to try to figure out where story selling was working in the sales process. And what I found is that it was working all the way from the beginning from when you first introduce yourself to a prospect through to building rapport with the buyer, with the prospect, the actual making of the sales pitch itself to handling objections and closing the sales. And even stories those people are using to manage customer relations after the sale.
So I ended up documenting 25 different types of stories that great salespeople are telling and a shared one with you already that I called a value adding story and that definitely is a story you would tell during the main sales pitch. But if not just for sexy things like photography, any product can benefit from a story.
For example one of those types of stories you tell during the main sales pitch is what I call a story to explain the problem. And so basically you are telling the story of the quintessential problem that your product or service is designed to solve so it’s a story about another client of yours or just a fictitious or typical industry that you would serve and you are telling it in a story format of the problem they run into and then you can stop and say okay at this point, if they had had my product or service the story would have ended very differently but it didn’t and so here is all the bad stuff that happened or if they did and you had a success story, that’s another type of story you can tell that story with a happy ending and that’s usually because they’ve bought your product or service. And so those are three of the types of stories that you would tell actually during the sales pitch; a problem, story, a success story and a value adding story but there is 22 other types that you might tell all across the sales process.
Matt: Yeah, and you outline a lot of those stories really well in the book Sell with a Story. You can learn more about Paul Smith and his free books including Sell with a Story at www.leadwithastory.com. It seems to me that the storytelling and sort of the reason why people are engaging is really the heart of the sales process, right? I mean convincing someone that they understand your product is interesting but really only interesting if they believe in the context into which it provides value, believe in the outcome that it represents. And telling stories about its impact – even sort of origin stories I’ve seen work really well where people, you can come in and say I tried to solve this problem 14 different ways and got super frustrated in my job and finally came up with a better way and decided to start a business around it – even those origin stories can be part of the acts.
How much and before we had to break here, how much do people have to think about the origin of or simply the stories around their product and the context versus how can people tell stories about themselves?
Paul Smith: The answer is both. So out of those 25 types of stories some of them will be stories about themselves personally and that typically happens when you are introducing yourself to the buyer to explain who you are and what you do or in the rapport building phase where you are explaining why it is you chose this profession or something just to get to know you personally.
But those origin stories also happen in the rapport building where you are telling them about the origin of the company that you work for because that rapport building place is where they are getting to know you and the company that you represent so you definitely need – I call them founding stories, origin stories is just a fine name for it as well. You definitely need the story of the origin of your company and the origin of the product or service that you are selling on that particular day. It’s kind of get you into the sales pitch part. You need all of those types of stories and more.
Matt: That’s right. When we get back from break here I want to talk a lot more with Paul Smith the author of Sell with a Story. We are going to learn more about both books both Sell with a Story and Lead with a Story. We are going to talk about customer stories and how to incorporate those into the conversation as well and we are absolutely going to talk about Parenting with a Story as well. We will be right back! This is Sales Pipeline Radio.
Paul: All right! Let’s keep the wave rolling here and bring back in Matt and his guest!
Matt: And keep telling stories. Paul you made the comment earlier that I think podcasts are a nice channel to be able to tell stories.
Paul: They really are, they are longform storytelling. You get a chance to tell more than a soundbite.
Matt: Yeah, and I think also the idea of taking this out of the written word. I mean there is all of this, will look we will have a summary of this transcript up on our website at www.HeinzMarketing.com and it’s a pretty efficient way of getting this information but hearing someone tell a story, and hearing the passion and emotion that is in their voice as they tell that can be a really compelling we of sort of really internalizing that message as well.
Excited to have you all here at Sales Pipeline Radio. If you want to hear more from our conversation with Paul and want to hear it again, maybe share it with your colleagues you can definitely check that out starting next week at www.salespipelineradio.com as well as all of our past episodes and past guests.
Coming up next week on Sales Pipeline Radio we have Jessica Fewless who is the field manager or field marketing manager for Demandbase. We are going to be talking about account based marketing. Specifically if you like the idea of account based marketing and want to help evangelize that internally we are going to talk about evangelizing and selling account based marketing internally – that sounds very meta-but companies are trying to build that momentum internally, a good way to practice building consensus among an internal buying committee so we will get into that next week. But today we are talking about storytelling as part of the sale with Paul Smith the author of Sell with a Story, Lead with a Story, and Parenting with a Story. You can learn more about him and his books at www.leadwithastory.com.
And I referenced before the break Paul, the idea of customer stories. At what point do you inquire about or do you ask for the customer story or identify a customer story that you can align your product or solution with? Where does that play into this?
Paul Smith: Yeah so you definitely want to have customer success stories. I mean probably the most famous example of one is the Jared story at Subway right? The guy that weighed 300+ pounds that lost it just by eating a Subway diet. That story has a sad ending so we don’t use it anymore but that’s an example of a customer story. And you definitely need to look for them among your current customer base because you want to be able to tell prospective customers about how happy your current customers are and you need to have those stories as opposed to just being able to say well we have a 95% satisfaction rate with our product. I mean that’s nice and you want to have those kinds of facts on hand but it’s far better if you can actually tell actual stories of successes. And those normally come at the end of a problem story.
In fact let me give you an example. One of my favorite problem stories from the book is about a guy that sells computer software security protocols which is a mouthful but basically they are the company that keeps your online transactions secure. And when he makes a sales call on a bank he typically tells them about a personal experience he had in Las Vegas. He said yeah, he was therefore a sales conference a few years ago and you know how it is in Vegas, you go to the conference in the day and you go to dinner and then you go to their casinos.
And so he was at the casinos and I was losing some that I won some then I lost some that I lost some more and I lost some more and it’s 1 o’clock in the morning and I’m out of cash and I thought I would go to the ATM machine to get some money and it denied my transaction. And so I thought I just put the pin in wrong so I put it in again and it denies it again. I tried another machine and it denied again and so at that point I know what’s going on, right? I live in New Jersey, here I am in Las Vegas all of a sudden, I am trying to get a boatload of cash out of the machine, they think somebody stole my credit card. Like I am totally fine with that. I love it that my bank is looking out for my better interest.
The problem I have is what they did about it. He says they called my wife at home in New Jersey at 4 o’clock in the morning, right? And can you imagine what that conversation was like – oh, I’m sorry to wake you up Mrs. Moulton but it is 1 AM in Las Vegas and your husband has been trying to get a boatload of cash from the machine. Do you approve this transaction?
Can you imagine how livid she was and then how livid I was that they had called her? He said I mean if they had had our software, here is where the problem story becomes a customer success story. If they had had our product or service they would have sent me a text to my phone, asked me for a special pin or asked me a security question or some other way of resolving the problem as opposed to calling home and waking up my wife because all that does is piss me off and keep me from doing legitimate business with them. Oh by the way, that’s not my credit card company anymore. I dumped them on the fly.
Matt: Interesting story.
Paul Smith: So that’s a problem story that then can become a customer success story if it’s got a happy ending.
Matt: I feel like the idea of stories are really starting to permeate businesses better in a lot of different formats, the idea of agile, the software development. You’ve got companies with Post-it notes up on the wall determining what they are going to build next and those aren’t features, those are stories. I mean they specifically call them and write them as stories, it’s the job that needs to be done, it’s the story of how a customer needs to use the product, it becomes what they develop. I mean this is definitely something that’s permitting business, not just on the sales and marketing side as well which is great. Talk about some mistakes people make when it comes to storytelling. What are some of the common things that you see that make you cringe that you want to make sure people avoid?
Paul Smith: Yeah, the cringe factor. Some of the most common mistakes I see, the two most common are apologizing for or asking permission to tell a story. And you’ve seen that before, you will be in a meeting with people and somebody will raise their hand and say oh, I am sorry to interrupt but can I just tell a quick story? I promise it will just take a minute.
Now what does that communicate to you about how valuable they think that story is?
Matt: It’s not very good.
Paul Smith: Exactly! They are already apologizing for it and asking permission to tell it – clearly they don’t think it’s as important as what they were going to say. And if you don’t think your store is very important then by all means don’t tell it, right? Just get back to the bullet points on slide number 72. But if you do think your story is important then just tell it! Leaders don’t ask permission to lead, they just lead and salespeople don’t ask permission to do their job, they just do it. Never apologize or ask permission to tell a story.
In fact I tell people, I go one step further, don’t even tell people you are going to tell them a story. So I tell them, don’t even say hey, gather around I’m going to tell you a story now. I mean unless you are talking to a bunch of kindergartners that’s probably not going to help you, right? Because we are adults, we don’t need to be told we’re going to be told a story, just start telling the story and let it do its work.
Matt: Speaking of kindergartners, we are going to run that time here at some points and I have to make sure ask you about the book Parenting with a Story. So tell me… Two questions; one – how did you, why did you decide to take this angle and talk about it with parenting? I know you’ve got a couple of kids of your own and you live in the Cincinnati area but why that angle and how does storytelling work differently potentially with kids than it does with adults in the other context?
Paul Smith: So the first question of why is I wish I could say it was my idea but as I was writing the first book – Lead with a Story and I was starting to share some of the stories I got from these executives with other people, I consistently heard this feedback – wow, I think I could use that at home with my kids. I thought that was strange at first but I kept hearing it and then it finally dawned on me that there really is a lot of similarities between leading people at work and parenting kids at home. I mean in both cases you are the boss in some sense, in both cases you care about their growth and development. In both cases eventually they are going to grow up and kind of outgrow you and move on to something better so they are really are a lot of similarities and I thought wouldn’t really be great if I had a bunch of stories that really were designed to be told to your kids and not just something you are co-opting from your office and bringing home?
And so I interviewed another set of hundred people around the world in 20 different countries to find their most meaningful life moments where they learned an incredible life lesson worthy of passing along to the next generation and I put those into a book. And so it really is just a collection of short stories that deliver lessons on things like ambition or creativity or curiosity or integrity or hard work or kindness and patience. I mean basically it’s a character trait. So the book is divided into different character traits you probably want your kids to have and then if you are struggling with any particular one, turn to that chapter and you’re going to have five or six great stories – true stories about somebody where they learned about that lesson the hard way.
Matt: I think about a lot of the business books that I read that they might be 350 pages long and they have a particular point, sometimes that point is not that long of a point, you can tell it maybe in a page. Sometimes you will see like the executive summaries like you see on the airplanes that you can subscribe to and those really get the gist of the message. But I don’t know if this is just me or this is with others but I find the difference between the two page version and the 300 page version is the stories. I mean for those books that are written well it’s the stories and the context and examples that bring it to life and I find that I understand and internalize and can leverage the message and the gist of the book better if I also have understood those stories. Is that part of sort of the differences? Is that something that the people see as well?
Paul Smith: Yes. In fact that’s one of the many reasons why storytelling is so powerful is it makes things easier to remember. In fact there are a number of studies that show that facts are between six and 22 times more likely to be remembered if they are embedded in a story than if they are just given to people in a list.
And you don’t have to believe any of those studies because I can prove it to you in your audience right now by just saying this – all of you know that if I were to give you a list of the top 10 reasons why storytelling works right now and I could, that none of you would remember that list tomorrow, right? It would just become a list of 10 things. You might remember two or three of them. But all of you listening to this right now know that by this time tomorrow you will remember the story of Pig Island, right?
Matt: That’s what I was going to say.
Paul Smith: Yeah! Next month and next year even. I bet you a year from now Matt, you could tell the story of Pig Island and get most of the facts right but you wouldn’t remember any of the list of reasons why storytelling works that I could give you right now – that’s the power of a great story.
Matt: So before I run out of time, how do you teach this? I mean I definitely encourage people if you haven’t read the book Sell with a Story or even Lead with a Story which is in I think it’s eighth printing available in numerous languages and so you will get it in any of these different books on Amazon and on Paul’s website www.leadwithastory.com. How do people begin to learn how to tell better stories? How can you as a manager teach people to be better at storytelling?
Paul Smith: Yeah, so the first step is kind of like Alcoholics Anonymous. You have to admit that you have a problem and that problem is that you are not a good storyteller. And most people I think assume that storytelling is either something you’re born with or you will never be good at. And it’s just not! It’s like any other talent or skill like music or art.
I am sure there are people who are natural born musicians and me for example and I am not but if I wanted to learn to play the guitar, I bet if I took lessons for six months I could learn to play the guitar. I am never going to be great at it because I don’t have that natural aptitude but I could get pretty good. And I think storytelling is the same way, if you don’t think you are naturally good at it and most of us aren’t, then learn how. I mean read a book, come to a training class on it; that’s why I do what I do for a living. And lots of other people do it as well and there are other books written on it as well.
But you have to recognize that it’s a legitimate skill like marketing or sales or finance or accounting or any other legitimate business skill – leadership, storytelling is a skill and it can be learned and it can be honed. But you can’t just practice, you can’t just say oh well, I would get the guitar, a piano and I will just be banging around on it and eventually I will learn. No, you go to a teacher and you hire somebody to give you lessons, you read a book on it, you practice. Treat storytelling the same way and you will get it.
Matt: Paul this has been awesome! It’s so much fun to talk to you and learn more about this. This will forevermore be known as the Pig Island episode of Sales Pipeline Radio. So appreciate you joining so much and sharing so many good stories and so many good insights.
If you want to learn more about Paul, more about his books I highly encourage you to check out www.leadwithastory.com. You can order his books directly there. He has his own blog and podcast and he’s got just a ton of other information and shockingly he stars a lot of great stories as well. So thanks so much Paul for joining us today.
For those of you who are joining us online, I appreciate you. For those of you that are joining us live I appreciate you as well. Make sure you join us next week Thursday 2:30 Eastern, 11:30 Pacific. We will be talking about account based marketing and how to evangelize that internally. And make sure you check out more of Paul and Sell with a Story on www.salespipelineradio.com and also the summary of this conversation on HeinzMarketing.com.
With that for both Paul Smith as well as Paul our producer this is Matt Heinz, thanks very much for joining us. See you next week on Sales Pipeline Radio!
Paul: You were listening to some great stories today on the only place you can collect them – Sales Pipeline Radio with Matt Heinz from Heinz Marketing.