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16 min read

Leverage the Science of Storytelling to Close More Deals, Faster

by Matthew Pollard
by Matthew Pollard | 
16 min read
 | May 14, 2024
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  3. Leverage the Science of Storytelling to Close More Deals, Faster

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Storytelling is a game-changing strategy in both B2C and B2B sales, scientifically proven to turn passive listeners into engaged prospects eager to hear what comes next. As Gartner points out, “Every good sales presentation is built on top of a good story.”

But why exactly do stories work so well?

Imagine this: It’s a busy Wednesday afternoon, and you’re the fourth person to present your solution to a major technology firm. The executives, who’ve been scrolling through LinkedIn on their phones, barely glance up as you get started. They’ve heard it all before – features, benefits, the usual spiel – and their bored facial expressions show it.

But then you say, “Let me tell you a story,” and suddenly, the room changes. Phones go down, eyes meet yours. There’s a palpable shift in attention. This isn’t the typical sales pitch; this is something different, something memorable.

This is the power of storytelling in sales.

And it works at every stage of the sales process, for every imaginable scenario: Building trust and rapport, establishing credibility, overcoming objections, negotiating, upselling, customer retention, and more.

Let’s explore the neuroscience behind why storytelling captivates, and why sales stories are your secret weapon to closing more deals, faster.

Storytelling and the Reticular Activating System

Leverage the science of storytelling to close more deals faster

The Reticular Activating System (RAS) is a network of neurons located in the brainstem that helps regulate wakefulness, attention, and sleep. It acts as a sort of filter for the massive amount of information our senses take in every second, highlighting what’s important and filtering out the rest. 

With a nonstop barrage of information coming at us, and a filtering system that tells us what to focus on, you can probably already see exactly why effective storytelling is a powerful way to stand out from the thousands of other salespeople trying to close deals with your potential customers.

Most of them are likely still going about their sales presentations the old way: Relying on the sheer volume of interactions and a mechanical approach to establishing rapport, then immediately launching into a boring pitch deck full of features. 

But this simply doesn’t work anymore. Not only are our brains overloaded with information every second, prospects are also busier, savvier, and more educated than ever. On top of that, over 85% of sales require multiple decision makers, making the sales process lengthier and more complicated, with more hoops to jump through and more people to convince. 

What happens when you cut through all the noise and simply tell a story?

The RAS, Memory, and the Power of Storytelling to Close Deals

When you tell a story, you’re not sharing the same old boring information like everyone else; you’re skillfully engaging the RAS. Stories that resonate on a personal level or stir emotions are flagged by the RAS as important, which means the listener automatically gives the salesperson’s words heightened attention and deeper cognitive processing. 

Moreover, the RAS plays a pivotal role in how we retain information.  In fact, according to Stanford Marketing Professor Jennifer Aaker, stories are remembered up to 22x more than facts alone!

For example, when speaking for corporate sales professionals and executives, I’ll often ask the audience a simple question: “If I told you to remember three things without writing them down – chairs, porridge, beds – and I came back in a year, would you be able to recall that list?”

Of course, everyone says no. How can anyone remember three random words from 12 months prior?

But of course, if you’ve ever heard the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, you already know where I’m going with this. You’ll remember “chairs, porridge, beds” for the rest of time, thanks to the information being embedded in a story you heard decades ago.

Simply put, people remember stories.

So what’s the upshot?

Even if a lower-performing salesperson catches a prospect on their worst day, with a million things on their mind and a deep desire to hang up the phone and head home, they can simply tell a good story – and still have a much better shot at staying top of mind and closing the deal than anyone else using old-school techniques.

Leverage Storytelling Techniques to Bypass the Logical Mind

The human brain has two systems: the emotional brain (largely the limbic system) and the logical brain (often associated with the prefrontal cortex). The emotional brain processes feelings and impulses, while the logical brain handles rational decisions and analytical thinking.

Have your sales teams ever expressed frustration over potential clients constantly raising objections or explaining all the reasons your product or service won’t work? Your team is prepared, their pitches are polished, the benefits of the solution are real  – and yet, as soon as they start talking, the walls go up. Prospects start with the “buts” and “what-ifs,” turning what should be a constructive conversation into a defensive standoff.

This defensive reaction is the logical mind in action, always analyzing, always critiquing, always coming up with reasons why “this won’t work for me.” Traditional sales methods, which rely heavily on logic and reason (lists of features, benefits, and the hard sell) are often met with equal force from the prospect’s logical defenses, making those objections difficult to overcome.

This is the exact situation my client Volney was in when we first started working together. As a principle partner in a large commercial real estate firm, he found his sales team really struggling to build trust, create an emotional connection, and convince prospects that the firm’s services were ideally positioned to meet their specific needs.

“I have to get hyped up on coffee first thing in the morning,” one of these salesmen, Thomas, told me. “I psych myself up to be ready to blow past their objections and list all the reasons we’re better than the competition. But they always give me just a few seconds on the phone before cutting me off and hanging up.” 

The Science Behind Storytelling to Engage the Emotional Mind

The problem Thomas was running into with his prospects, and the problem your teams may be facing as well, is what’s known as cognitive resistance

Cognitive resistance occurs when a prospect instinctively guards against being influenced, particularly during a sales or elevator pitch. This resistance is a natural reaction from the logical brain, which evaluates information critically, always on the lookout for inconsistencies or exaggerations. When faced with direct sales tactics, which usually come loaded with facts and figures, a prospect’s logical defenses activate, leading them to counter-argue or disengage.

Using storytelling in sales is a surefire way around these defenses. Unlike traditional sales pitches, a compelling narrative engages the brain on an emotional level. The logical part of the brain is quieted, the emotional brain turns on, and it happily cries, “Story time!”

In fact, neuroscience research reveals that when we listen to stories, not only do the language processing parts of our brains light up, but so do the regions that we would use if we were experiencing the events of the story ourselves. This phenomenon is known as neural coupling.

Why is neural coupling so powerful? It aligns the brains of the storyteller and the listener, creating a shared experience and a personal connection. Have you ever gotten a little misty while watching a sad movie? It’s because your brain experiences the events happening to the characters as if they were happening to you.

In a sales environment, this brain synchronization helps the listener internalize the sales story as their own experience, making the key messages more persuasive and memorable. 

Essentially, when prospects feel as though they are part of the story, they are more likely to empathize with its pain points and outcomes, see the relevance to their own situations, and be motivated to take action based on the proposed solutions. 

The Impact of Storytelling on Volney’s Team

When I introduced the concept of storytelling to Volney’s team, they were immediately skeptical, especially Thomas. He reminded me that prospects give him just seconds on the phone, and objected that there’s no way they would sit through a long story.

However, once I explained the science, helped them craft their first impactful client story, and gave them a few pointers on the agenda for the sales call, everyone agreed to give it a shot.

The results? Within two months of our training, the team quadrupled the number of appointments set, with a potential income of $1 million in the pipeline.

On top of that, the sales process became much smoother, easier, and lower-pressure for everyone. See for yourself in the quick testimonial video below:

The Neurochemical Impact of Telling Stories

Stories evoke a complex interplay of neurochemical reactions that can profoundly influence our emotions and decision-making processes. In the context of sales, triggering these specific neurotransmitters and hormones provides a strategic advantage.

Here’s how cortisol, oxytocin, and dopamine – the chemicals behind our stress responses, emotional bonds, and feelings of pleasure – work together to make the art of storytelling an exceptionally powerful tool in sales.

Cortisol: Capturing Attention

When we hear a story that introduces tension or conflict, it triggers the release of cortisol, the stress hormone, which helps focus our attention.

In a sales context, introducing a story with specific challenges or problems can capture attention right away, immediately resonating with your audience. In turn, this heightened focus makes it more likely that the prospect will stay engaged throughout the pitch, paying close attention to how your product or service can resolve the presented issues.

Oxytocin: Building Connections

As the narrative unfolds, particularly when characters and emotional content are involved, it stimulates the release of oxytocin, which works to build trust and empathy towards the storyteller.

This chemical reaction is incredibly helpful in sales, as it helps break down natural skepticism and builds a sense of connection between the salesperson and the prospect. It’s yet another reason you can dispense with awkward rapport-building and simply craft compelling stories.

Dopamine: Enhancing Satisfaction and Recall

Finally, a well-resolved story climax releases dopamine, known for its role in pleasure and reward pathways in the brain. Dopamine not only makes the story satisfying but also makes it much more memorable. This feel-good neurotransmitter keeps your company top-of-mind long after the sales conversation ends, often swaying decision-making in your favor.

Cognitive Ease: Simplifying the Complex in Your Sales Process

In the high-pressure environment of sales, the clarity and simplicity of information can be the difference between closing a deal and losing a prospect’s interest.

This is where the concept of cognitive ease comes into play. Cognitive ease refers to the brain’s preference for information that is easy to process and understand. When information is presented in a clear, concise, and engaging manner, the brain does not have to work as hard to comprehend or find it credible, leading to a more comfortable and agreeable experience for the listener.

Storytelling allows for cognitive ease by simplifying complex information into simple, relatable narratives, making the concepts more digestible and relatable to your target market. The narrative provides a concrete example that illustrates the product’s benefits in action, making it easier for the prospect to understand and remember the key points.

Moreover, because stories engage the emotional brain, they enhance cognitive ease even further. When a story stirs emotions, it makes the information feel more personal and relevant, which increases the likelihood of a prospect being persuaded. 

Sharing your best stories is hands-down the best way to transform complex, hard-to-sell products into appealing solutions that make sense and feel both understandable and necessary. 

Tips on Crafting Compelling Stories for B2C and B2B Sales

A sales story is not the same as a brand origin story or case study

For a full explanation of how to incorporate storytelling to establish meaningful connections, build relationships, skillfully share the value of your product or service, provide social proof, and resonate on a deeper level, please see our comprehensive storytelling framework article (which includes details on how to craft the perfect narrative structure).

Here, I just want to provide a few high-level tips and best practices as you begin to consider all the ways storytelling can be a powerful tool for your sales teams:

Stories Are Not the Same as Case Studies

All too often, case studies are simply a bland recitation of customer satisfaction facts, along the lines of “the client wanted this, so we gave it to them.” Standard case studies don’t provide a memorable experience, they are typically filled with jargon, and they cast the company as the hero of the story, when it should actually be the client.

In fact, be sure to use the client’s actual name when you tell the story; don’t just say “our customer.” The story needs to paint a picture of a real person to keep the audience emotionally invested and get those mirror neurons firing.

Use Emotion to Bring Your Sales Storytelling to Life

Storytelling in marketing, content marketing, and sales should all be approached the same way – with the accurate, responsible use of emotion. 

The value of your solution is not just in the revenue gained or the problem that your product or service can solve. It’s also important to share the real emotions of the customer your story is about. 

What were they struggling with before you came on the scene? What kept them up at night? What was their biggest pain point? Did their work stress interfere with their family life? Were they constantly under the gun, pressured by their boss and colleagues to sort out the problem?

Your target audience very likely experiences these troubling emotions in their own situations. So when you share success stories of clients who had great results using your product or service, the prospect imagines what a relief it would be to experience the same results themselves.

You Need Just One Story to Get Started

When I deliver speaking presentations on storytelling to corporate sales executives or entrepreneur groups, they’re often really excited to get started, but held up by the fact that they don’t yet have any success stories.

In truth, they do have stories, they just haven’t identified or crafted them yet. The easiest thing to do is talk to your team, identify one great story, craft it, practice it, and perfect it.

And yes, the whole team can use it. They can simply say “we” instead of saying “I,” to give credit to the team as a whole rather than themselves individually, if they weren’t directly involved in the sale.

To begin understanding the critical elements and key steps required to tell a compelling story, I invite you to download the free storytelling chapter from my book, The Introvert’s Edge.

Check it out, even if you’re not an introvert. After all, everyone in sales can benefit from a proven, reliable process, right? Just click below for instant access:

Real-World Examples of Storytelling 

If you’re just getting started in the world of storytelling, the best way to understand the storytelling process is to look at a few before-and-after story transformations.

In my speaking engagements, I’ll often ask an audience member to come up on stage and share a powerful, real world customer story. Then, I’ll rework the story on the fly to infuse it with emotion, make a stronger connection to the hero of the story (the customer), show that we understand their pain points and have the exact right solution, and finish with a moral that causes the listener to take action.

Here’s just one example of a B2B sales story transformation in action. Please note, we’ve muted all mentions of the company and client names for privacy.

See how we turned a good story into a great one, just by adding some key detail, emotion, and moral? You can do the same!

If you’d like to see several more examples of story transformations, check out our full story transformation playlist.

Beyond the Sale: Storytelling in Marketing, Customer Retention, Recruitment, and More

I hope it’s clear that storytelling is a powerful tool that transcends traditional B2C and B2B sales tactics. But it also offers profound benefits across the entire business spectrum, not just sales performance. 

From thought leadership and management (where stories inspire and convey vision) to change management (which uses narrative to ease transitions and foster acceptance) storytelling enriches communication and deepens understanding. It provides a paradigm shift in training and development, making complex concepts more digestible and memorable. It strengthens your marketing team’s branding efforts by developing an emotional connection with each target audience.

In customer satisfaction and service, storytelling demonstrates empathy and showcases problem-solving. Stories are also game-changing for employee recruitment and onboarding, helping new hires connect with corporate culture.

Are you ready to become a captivating storyteller? If you’d like to discuss the many innovative ways that my team and I can help you craft sales narratives for success across your KPIs, let’s talk! I’d be honored to show your team an easier, more enjoyable way to reach and exceed their goals.

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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