Telling Stories.

by Doug Weaver on January 3, 2012 at 10:04PM

It’s probably too early to select the “catchphrase of 2012,” but as an early front-runner you’d have to go with Storytelling.  Just yesterday it was announced that several advertisers had bought long-form commercial segments — :60s and longer — on next month’s NBC Superbowl telecast, marking a return to “storytelling.”  Ad agency CEOs are nowadays decrying the “loss of storytelling” amid the commoditizing onrush of ad technology.  And this fall the IAB dedicated its MIXX Event to “the art of storytelling.”

Storytelling is the new Occupy.

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Recently the term has seeped into the water-table of sales.  I’ve been hearing more and more from clients — media sales leaders mostly — who all claim that their teams “just need to get better at storytelling.”  Indeed they do.  And much money, marketing talent, copywriting, presentation training and rehearsing of lines will all be wasted in pursuit of this ideal.  Because, almost invariably, the sellers will be telling the wrong story.

In the world of sales, the idea of Storytelling is often little more than a sophisticated way to say “pitching.”  We go to great lengths improve the way we tell our story.   Perhaps the worst manifestation is “the general presentation.”  We cart the GP all over town and force customers to watch in disbelief as we slog through slide after slide about…us! (“And on this slide you’ll see logos of several of our top customers….and on this one you’ll see how we leverage cloud technology…” )

Truth is, the only story customers want to hear is their own.  They want to hear you describe the mountain they’re climbing; perhaps even the swamp they’re trying to escape.  They want you to understand and articulate their competitive landscape, to speak in the language of their industries.   Tell their stories, but be sure to write a couple of new chapters. Tell them  about the successful relationships they can have with their customers.  Write happy endings.  And be sure to write yourself — your company — into the story as a supporting character.

Now that’s a powerful story, well told.

Reader Comments (6)

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  1. Christine Bensen January 4, 2012 at 10:35 am

    Doug, I couldn’t agree more. However, we continue to get asked for “credentials” pitches which are at best boring and at worst horrendously torturously boring. How do suggest we reformulate the question specifically about us to get to the more interesting story about them?

  2. Richard January 4, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    Hey Christine – one way we turned the conversation more towards the client with a “credentials” pitch is by incorporating a “commonly asked questions” format. You can start the discussion by stating “Here’s a set of commonly asked questions I’m asked by similar clients. Do these work? Care to add more? etc.” One of the questions should be “What do you know about us?” (your client asking you) where you can cover the data points Doug mentions above by speaking to your client’s industry segment, their buyers, competitive set and challenges. As a follow-up to that, a question can be “How can you help me?” (that is you helping your client) where you can speak to your specific offerings/solutions that will address “the swamp your client is trying to escape.”

  3. Anne Miller January 5, 2012 at 10:11 am

    Storytelling is as old as caveman days and people like stories that relate to them. It’s the equivalent of answering the question, whose pictures of kids would you rather see: mine or yours? However the information about your company is communicated (and I like Richard’s suggestion above), EVERYTHING you say has to relate back to your advertiser’s situation. Otherwise, you are into the equivalent of “showing pictures of your kids” and you will lose your buyers.

  4. Robert Killen January 5, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    I admit my initial response to your article was a bit defensive. I am an advocate of the inward story. However, after taking a breath I realized that we are actually well aligned in our thinking, especially in reference to “pitching.”

    The greater value of the inward focused story is not for marketing, but for self definition. The foundation story, successes, a future vision: these are each essential to know and tell if a business is going to have some measure of ownership of their own cultural narrative.

    But, as you so eloquently point out, our client or prospect wants to hear their own story or at least they want to see themselves clearly reflected in ours. Thank you for a great article.

  5. Mark McLaughlin January 6, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    Learning to STOP presenting case studies clinically and, instead, use them as stories that help your new prospect draw analogies to their business needs and opportunities is a very powerful sales technique.

    First, think about how to present a case study in a manner that is contextually specific to the new prospect you are pitching.

    NOTE: worry less about whether or not the case study is in the same brand category and focus more on the target audience and the business objective. If the goal is to build awareness behind a product launch targeting Moms and using a safety message – you might have a case study from an OTC client that is relevant to a mini-van. You just need to focus on the objectives of the campaign, not the product itself.

    Second, develop very specific connections between the case history and what you know to be true about the prospect’s business.

    Third, rehearse and craft your presentation of the case study. The ideal goal is that your audience will make the connections between your case study and their business on their own – they will think they had an epiphany and they will think they came up with the core idea. But, you need to be ready to describe those connections as part of your story if it is clear that the prospect is not going to get there on their own.

    The performance metrics are the least important part of a case study. The CONNECTION between the successful client’s initiative and the upcoming needs of your prospect is the STORY you want to tell.


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