Telling Stories.

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.