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17 min read

A Storytelling Speaker’s Secret Formula For Business Storytelling To Increase Sales

by Matthew Pollard
by Matthew Pollard | 
17 min read
 | Apr 30, 2024
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  3. A Storytelling Speaker's Secret Formula For Business Storytelling To Increase Sales

Table of Contents

Remember when, despite its inherent challenges, sales was mostly a numbers game, a straightforward pitch, a handshake deal? That world has faded. Today, we’re navigating a sales landscape that is radically different, reshaped by seismic buyer behavior shifts post-COVID. As you’ve no doubt discovered the hard way, sales teams face a reality where old methods no longer suffice. The straightforward pitch falls on deaf ears, the handshake deal is a relic of the past, tight budgets prevail, sales cycles drag on, and there’s a strong emphasis on consensus sales. 

For example, Gartner notes that an average of seven people are involved in buying decisions, while Hubspot says that 71% of prospects prefer to do solo research instead of talking to a person. And finally, according to Lightspeed, post-pandemic sales cycles have increased for more than half of all companies.

I’ve seen first-hand how these changes have left many corporate sales teams searching for new paths to success. If you’re feeling the sting of outdated strategies that fail to resonate with today’s buyers, you’re not alone.

The good news? I’ve created a storytelling secret formula that provides a clear, proven way forward. It goes much further than selling, instead focusing on connecting, engaging, and storytelling—skills that help business owners and sales teams alike thrive in this new era. Best of all, this formula contains tried and true elements like human connection, narrative techniques, and use of emotion, all of which we already inherently leverage and understand in our day-to-day lives.

What Is Business Storytelling, and Why Does It Work?

Most sales professionals are no strangers to the concept of storytelling. Even before the global shifts brought on by the pandemic, the power of a well-told, relatable story was widely recognized as a dynamic tool in capturing attention and closing deals.

I myself have been using stories in my sales process for well over a decade, and other business leaders and sales luminaries, like storytelling experts Dale Carnegie and Donald Miller, have touted the power of storytelling right alongside me. After all, as Steve Jobs pointed out, “The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller.”

But why does storytelling resonate so deeply?

At its core, storytelling operates on a psychological and personal level—bypassing the logical mind and appealing directly to the emotional brain. This instantly shuts off the part of the prospect’s mind that thinks, “This solution won’t work for me,” and instead, simply invites the listener to sit back, relax, and enjoy a good tale.

And thanks to the magic of mirror neurons, storytelling results in what’s called “neural coupling,” a phenomenon where the storyteller and the listener’s brains exhibit synchronized activity.

In other words, the listener’s brain and the storyteller’s brain fire in the same patterns, similar to the way an entire sports arena will gasp when witnessing a serious injury on the field. This brain alignment fosters understanding and empathy, paving the way for trust and persuasion.

Furthermore, as Stanford marketing professor Jennifer Aaker discovered, when information is woven into a narrative, people can remember it up to 22 times more effectively than facts presented in isolation.

Talk about a leg up on the competition, who are spouting boring, easily forgotten lists of features and benefits! Stories are simply the best way to influence people and their buying decisions.

What Business Storytelling is NOT

For someone new to the concept of selling with stories, there can be some confusion about how it relates to similar, but very distinct topics. Let’s take a very quick look at each, and how they differ from the kind of storytelling I’m talking about here:

Visual Storytelling: This involves using images, videos, infographics, and other visual media to tell a story. It’s  often used in marketing to create a narrative that viewers can see, leading to faster emotional connections due to the impact of visual content.

Brand Storytelling: This is a strategy where companies use stories to give their brands a personality and emotional depth. These stories often focus on the company’s history, values, mission statement, and the human beings behind the brand. 

Sales stories, on the other hand,  focus on storytelling techniques that help sales professionals illustrate the benefits of a product or service, solve customer problems, and close deals. This form of storytelling is more strategic to sales outcomes. While all three types of storytelling may leverage a basic copywriting formula or structure, they each have a different purpose.

Why Being A Storyteller Is More Important Than Ever

So, why has storytelling become even more critical in today’s sales environment?

Firstly, the consensus sale, which has become increasingly prevalent, inherently benefits from storytelling. As sales involve more stakeholders, each with their own concerns and priorities, a compelling story that resonates on a universal level can align a range of competing viewpoints towards a common vision. 

In this way, stories serve the dual purpose of both facilitating agreement while significantly shortening the sales cycle by reducing the back-and-forth often involved in complex decision-making processes.

And in a landscape where digital communication often replaces face-to-face interactions, stories can cut through the noise of endless data and feature lists, creating an engaging, personal experience that stands out from the competition.

Ultimately, storytelling fosters a deeper connection that contemporary buyers—increasingly skeptical of traditional sales tactics—find appealing and trustworthy.

In our transformed marketplace, where emotional engagement and consensus are more important than ever, storytelling is indispensable. A good story is the bridge between data and decision, emotion and action, complication and consensus.

Can Introverts Be Good Storytellers?

It’s a common and persistent misconception that introverts aren’t good with people. Of course we are! We simply engage differently than our extroverted counterparts. Introverts are often excellent at telling stories, especially when meticulous planning and preparation are involved (which we naturally excel at).

For introverts, the structured nature of storytelling for business provides a clear roadmap for communication. This reduces anxiety about what to say next, while providing the prospect with the most compelling way possible to present your product or service. In this regard, you could say that storytelling comes naturally to introverts.

On top of that, sales stories present introverts with a strategic advantage. Extroverts often rely heavily on charisma and improvisation. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, what happens when they have a bad day and struggle to let that winning personality shine through? Without a planned agenda, including great stories, extroverted salespeople can find themselves at the mercy of their moods.

With a planned and prepared story, however, sales teams can deliver exactly what your company’s prospects need to hear no matter what. A consistent story formula, when combined with practicing and perfecting my storytelling technique, means that everyone in your sales teams, introverts and extroverts alike, can see stratospheric sales results. I’ve seen it over and over.

The Storytelling Formula You Can Use With Today’s Buyers

I hope it’s clear by now all the reasons why telling a story can dramatically simplify your team’s sales calls, shorten sales cycles, and close more deals, faster.

The big question now, of course, is, How is it done?

Let’s take a look at the four primary parts of powerful stories that sell.

This is exactly what I share in my keynote presentation, Build Your Story Playbook, summarized for you below:

1. The Problem, Want, or Need

To open your story, talk about the “before” state of a real client or customer. Present a problem, or a series of problems, they were facing. What kept them up at night? What were their goals? What were they excited about? What was happening at work that caused them stress? What did their boss expect of them? Paint a vivid, detailed picture of what was happening in their personal and professional lives. 

Most important, be sure to use emotion as you convey the problem and its many repercussions. Remember, your prospects are in a very similar position as the client or customer in your story, so right off the bat, an emotional description of their circumstances will grab the audience’s attention. 

Spend about 35% of your story on presenting and describing this problem.

2. Analysis and Implementation

This is the part of your story that focuses on the hero’s journey your client or customer went on in their quest to solve the problem. 

It’s absolutely critical here to focus the narrative on the client—not on you, your company, or your product. After all, this isn’t a brand story. Stay away from statements like, “I did this and offered that.” Instead, use collaborative language that makes the client the hero of the story. Remember, the client is the main character.

For instance, you might say, “Jane was thrilled with how easy the onboarding process was, and her boss couldn’t believe what we had accomplished together in just two short weeks.” 

Equally important, do not teach. This is not the time for technical details and jargon that turn on the logical brain. The goal is to get your prospect to sit back and enjoy story time, so that they can imagine themselves as the hero in their own business story. 

Aim for a max of 20% of your time on analysis and implementation.

3. The Outcome

Think of this as your client’s “after” state. This is an especially compelling part of the story, where you share all the incredible benefits this person received as a result of working with your company. 

Essentially, you’ll describe how things improved, using the same kind of emotional language you’ve leveraged throughout the story thus far. You can include wins like money saved, pain points resolved or avoided, successful product launches, increased sales, less stress, accolades received from the boss, more time at home and a happier spouse, and anything else that shows the value of your product or service (and that would resonate with your ideal audience). 

As with all parts of your story, keep the client at the center, convey appropriate emotion, and highlight the info you know your audience wants to hear. Spend about 35% of your time on the outcome.

4. Moral/High-Level Learning

The conclusion you want your listeners to reach may be obvious to you, but nonetheless, never leave it to chance. End the story with the core message you want prospects to take away—the moral—just the way it’s done in a fable or fairy tale.

Clearly spelling out the moral helps your prospect understand exactly why they need help and why you’re the perfect organization to provide it. In short, it inspires action. The moral of your story must also reiterate the financial, emotional, and opportunity costs presented by the problem, so you can fully reinforce the scope of your solution. 

An example of a strong moral is, “So while you’ve mentioned the main concerns you have with your current SaaS solution, what about related issues such as employee morale, high turnover, and the outrageous onboarding costs? Imagine if Charles had contracted with us even six months earlier; his company would have saved $300,000 on training costs and retained at least 10 of their most valuable employees, not to mention the stress he could have saved himself, along with more evenings spent at home instead of the office.”

See how a strong moral can lead a prospect to think, “Yes, I want that!”? Spend the remaining 10% of your story here, and you’ll end up with a powerful, three-dimensional story that sells.

The Right Way to Tell Stories To Grow Your Business 

It’s one thing to describe the art of storytelling in an article like this one; it’s another thing to see it in action. In the below clip taken from my recent keynote speaker engagement with Hexagon’s Asset Lifecycle Intelligence division in Dubai, I go into more detail on my simple storytelling formula, along with real-world examples of each story element. Please note, we’ve muted any mentions of the client’s name and company referred to in the story.  

See It In Action:

What If We Don’t Have Any Stories, Let Alone A Story That Resonates?

It doesn’t usually take much to convince people of the major benefits to be found in using my straightforward storytelling formula.

However, one of the first concerns I hear raised, especially by new salespeople or sales directors, is that they don’t have any great business stories that might inspire people.

Just as often, they say they don’t have any stories at all. What to do?

Building A Story Playbook for the Corporate Salesperson

For the corporate salesperson or team, the answer is simple. Your company does indeed have several great sales stories; those stories may just need to be identified, developed, and refined to meet the needs of your target audience, as well as adhere to my basic formula described above (which you can think of as “Storytelling 101”). 

The easiest way to create compelling stories in this case is to ask your sales director and sales team members for customer stories and write them following the structure above. For example, maybe your company’s product helped a major retailer streamline their inventory systems, leading to millions saved. Or your team implemented new software that allowed a healthcare company to see 30% more patients.

Then, when your sales team tells these powerful narratives to prospects, they can simply say “we” instead of “I,” to cast it as a company story rather than a client they directly worked with themselves. This is perfectly ethical. The entire story is true, and it accurately reflects your company’s product. It will build a genuine relationship with your prospects, and it shares the core ideas people want to hear when considering working with you. 

In my experience, it isn’t long before the story is working so well that other teams ask to use it too! From there, it’s a short leap to the entire sales department exchanging, perfecting, and testing stories to optimize them for success.

Building A Story Playbook for New Small Business Owners

I often present my storytelling topics and workshops to small-to-mid business groups such as Entrepreneurs’ Organization, National Association of Home Builders, and diverse industry dealer groups. One question that attendees usually have for me is, “How can I, as a small business owner, leverage stories myself, especially if I’m a new business?”

Easy: Their previous experience.

New small business owners and service providers were likely working in the same or a similar industry before they started their business. So, they can absolutely use true client stories from the company or companies they were employed by, if they worked directly with those customers.

They would tell the story using “I” if they were solely responsible, or “we” if they worked with a team.

For instance, maybe as a web developer with a previous company, this person overhauled an outdated site for a restaurant, allowing them to process online orders for the first time, resulting in a 25% revenue boost that first quarter. Or perhaps they implemented a new CRM system that helped a SaaS startup reduce response times by 50%. 

Doesn’t that sound much better than the standard sales pitch or elevator pitch everyone’s heard a thousand times before? When drawing from past wins, small business owners will have prospects hanging on their every word, eager to become the next success story.

Choosing A Story That Resonates with Your Audience

Here’s another place where people get stuck. They can often think of a few options for client stories, but which one to select and develop?

The key here is to think about the niche your company serves. That’s a discussion that goes well beyond the focus of this article, so for our purposes here, start by asking yourself these questions:

  • Who is my primary audience?
  • What is the primary benefit our company offers them?
  • How do I create a story that signifies that benefit?

It will be extra helpful for you to see this story creation in action. Here’s a video excerpt from my keynote speaker presentation for Collective Genius, an organization for high-performing real estate investors. In this clip, I work with an attendee to hone one of her best client stories:

Notice how I helped her draw out the emotional details of the story? How we made it about a real person, with real problems and real successes? How the moral was clearly presented, and how listeners would very likely think to themselves, “I want that success too”? Those are the hallmarks of a great story.

Now, that was just a brief example of some quick ways to refine a story. It would also be helpful for you to see a full story, told from A-Z using my formula. You can download this example right here:

How Many Stories Do We Need?

No doubt you’ll be happy to hear this: You need just one! Write it, perfect it, practice it, implement it, and track it. One story is plenty to get the whole team started.

As your salespeople begin using the story with prospects, they’ll see which parts work especially well, which parts need a little development, what can be removed, what causes confusion, what it particularly resonant, and so on.

Before long, they’ll have a reliable story that works beautifully to pique interest, overcome objections, and close the sale.

Of course, you can have more than one story. I usually recommend that teams have three solid stories to pull out in any sales situation. Having multiple stories allows salespeople to choose the best one for different audiences, buying scenarios, or sales funnels.

To start, however, one good story is truly all you need.

Start Selling with Story!

Sales isn’t just about the numbers anymore. To cut through the noise, and to reach busy, educated buyers who already think they know what they need, you’ve got to have stories that stir emotions and spark connections. 

If you’d like to speak with me directly to explore how my keynotes and workshops can dramatically level-up your team’s sales results, I’d love to connect.

Let’s start turning your prospects into customers, one story at a time!

About Matthew Pollard

About Matthew Pollard
Called the real deal by Forbes, Matthew is a small business advocate, introvert champion, Rapid Growth® Coach, and keynote speaker. Responsible for five multimillion-dollar success stories before the age of 30, today Matthew is an internationally recognized sales and networking expert, author of the bestselling Introvert’s Edge series, and host of two top-ranked podcasts. His work has transformed over 3500 struggling businesses to date.

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