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How To Tell A STORY That SELLS (Ignite Emotion And Hack Their Brain)

Adrian Davis, Founder & CEO of Whetstone Inc., is incredibly knowledgeable on selling to the c-suite. In this episode of The Salesman Podcast, Adrian shares how we can hack our prospects’ brains by selling with emotion through stories.

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Featured on this episode:

Host - Will Barron
Founder of Salesman.org
Guest - Adrian Davis
Business strategist and an expert in selling to the C-Suite

Resources:

Transcript

Adrian Davis:

We make decisions emotionally, and if all we’re doing is spouting features and benefits, we’re really engaging the logical part of the brain. The logical part of the brain does not make decisions. Stories are about change. So every time we’re listening to a story, what we’re listening for is the change in the story, that’s what makes the story the story. So every story has a beginning, a middle and the end, and the middle is where the change takes place. The middle is always messy, the middle always has conflict in it.

 

Will Barron:

Hello, Sales Nation. I’m Will Barron, host of The Salesman Podcast, the world’s biggest B2B sales show where we help you not just hit your sales target, but really thrive in sales. Let’s meet today’s guest.

 

Adrian Davis:

Hi, this is Adrian Davis on The Salesman Podcast. I’m the president of Whetstone Inc. where we help you win, keep, and grow key accounts.

 

Will Barron:

In this episode with Adrian, we’re diving into storytelling in sales. And this is no ordinary Salesman Podcast because I personally took a torn away from this particular episode as you’ll see as you go through it. And we cover storytelling, what you need to do for the story, the discovery work you need to do there, how you tell an emotional story that drags the reader, the listener, the viewer, the person you are meeting with into it, and then the logical steps you need to do to close the deal after the fact. And so with all that said, let’s jump right in.

 

Do We Really Need Storytelling in Sales? · [01:15]

 

Will Barron:

Tell us why we need to use storytelling and how it perhaps can be a differentiator versus our competitors who are just sprouting features and benefits over and over to the audience, the prospects that we’re all trying to communicate with?

 

“Fundamentally, we make decisions emotionally, and if all we’re doing is spouting features and benefits, we’re really engaging the logical part of the brain. The logical part of the brain does not make decisions. But analyses and captures information to weigh pros and cons, but decisions are made emotionally. And what stories do is they tap into the emotional centre of the listener, and that’s where the decisions are made.” – Adrian Davis · [01:32]

 

Adrian Davis:

Yeah. Well, huge differentiator. And I’d say fundamentally, we make decisions emotionally, and if all we’re doing is spouting features and benefits, we’re really engaging the logical part of the brain. The logical part of the brain does not make decisions, it analyses and it captures information to weigh pros and cons, but decisions are made emotionally. And what stories do is they tap into the emotional centre of the listener, and that’s where the decisions are made.

 

The Sequence from Emotional to Analytical Selling · [01:50] 

 

Will Barron:

We’re going to go slightly off tangent already here. Is there a balance between emotional and analytical selling, if we put it that way, that we need to contemplate and think about in these conversations and stories? Is it 50% one way, 50% the other, or is it dependent on the individual that we’re speaking to? How does all this align up?

 

“Stories are about change. So every time we’re listening to a story, what we’re listening for is the change in the story, that’s what makes the story the story. So every story has a beginning, a middle and an end, and the middle is where the change takes place. The middle is always messy, the middle always has conflict in it, and that’s what we’re listening for. And then as a result of that conflict or that mess in the middle, we want to know, “Okay, well, what’s the outcome?”” – Adrian Davis · [02:32] 

 

Adrian Davis:

I would say maybe I would use the word sequence rather than balance. We have to capture the emotions first. Once the emotions are captured, then we need to feed the logic because the logic is what’s going to be used to justify the decision that’s made emotionally. What I’ll also say here, Will, is that stories are about change. So every time we’re listening to a story, what we’re listening for is the change in the story, that’s what makes the story the story. So every story has a beginning and middle and the end, and the middle is where the change takes place.

 

“Remarkably, when people buy from us, what they’re buying from us is change. They’re in a particular situation, which is the beginning of their story, we call it the status quo, and they’re unhappy with the status quo. There’s a threat in the status quo that if it’s left unattended, it could actually be fatal, it could be catastrophic. So they need to do something to move out of the status quo, to get to a better state, but they cannot do that without going through this bit in the middle, which is the messy bit, the transition state.” – Adrian Davis · [02:57] 

 

Adrian Davis:

The middle is always messy, the middle always has conflict in it, and that’s what we’re listening for. And then as a result of that conflict or that mess in the middle, we want to know, “Okay, well, what’s the outcome?” Remarkably, when people buy from us, what they’re buying from us is change. They’re in a particular situation, which is the beginning of their story, we call it the status quo, and they’re unhappy with the status quo. There’s a threat in the status quo that if it’s left unattended, it could actually be fatal, it could be catastrophic.

 

Adrian Davis:

So they need to do something to move out of the status quo, to get to a better state, but they cannot do that without going through this bit in the middle, which is the messy bit, the transition state. And that’s really where we help folks get through that.

 

The Five Key Steps in the Hero’s Journey · [03:39] 

 

Will Barron:

And what does that look like, Adrian, from, whether it’s an example from yourself, clients, someone along those lines? What does a business story look like? And I guess as you’re saying it, can you break it down into perhaps those three steps?

 

Adrian Davis:

Yeah, absolutely. In fact, what I would say is we can break it down into five steps. It is still fundamentally the three steps, but from a sale’s story perspective, Will, it’s nuanced into five steps that I call… Well, definitely I call, it’s called the hero’s journey. I’ve basically taken this pattern or this framework called the hero’s journey and just said like, “Wow, that’s absolutely fantastic, we need to apply that to sales.” And so I train salespeople how to use this very simple framework called the hero’s journey in their sales stories. Remember I said that the framework of a story, every story, is beginning, middle and end, and the messy bit is in the middle.

 

Adrian Davis:

Well, when you watch a movie, when you go to the theatre, when you read a book, even if you listen to a certain songs, they will follow this pattern of the hero’s journey, and it has five steps, where in step one, we need to introduce you to the hero. And if you’re watching the movie, they’ll usually take the first 15, maybe 20 minutes getting you to buy the hero, because if you don’t buy the hero, the movie doesn’t work. So everything that’s going to happen to the hero later in the movie, if you don’t buy the hero, the movie is boring, but if you think like, “Wow, this person’s just like me. I’m like that, and I could see how they care for their spouse, and I’m a caring person too,” once that happens, then the movie’s going to work.

 

Adrian Davis:

If it’s a thriller, you’re going to be thrilled because you’re actually walking through the shoes of the hero. So step number one is introduce the hero. Once you introduce the hero, then step two is to introduce the villain. The villain now comes to challenge the hero and cause the hero’s life to go poorly. And this is what really makes the movie is the conflict between the hero and the villain. That now moves to a state where the hero is in trouble, sometimes they are literally in a pit, but certainly figuratively they’re in a pit and they can’t get out. They’re using all their strength and power and they’re just stuck. And the only way they can get out is if they acquire new strength or new wisdom.

 

Adrian Davis:

And so at this point in the movie, or at this point in the story, a new resource shows up and gives them a word of advice or gives them a sword that they can now use to fight back. They’re they then now struggle and they now have triumph because they have this new strength, they’re able to triumph over the villain, and then there’s transformation. So these are the five key steps of the hero’s journey. There’s the hero, the villain, the pit, the new resource that comes to the hero in the pit, they’re able to fight back and triumph. And then there’s the transformation.

 

Adrian Davis:

Those five steps still follow the pattern of beginning, middle, and end, where the beginning is the introduction of the hero and the introduction of the villain. The middle is this struggle in the pit where the hero can’t get out. And then the end is the triumph and the transformation. This is an archetype that we are actually wired for. Our whole lives, Will, follow this pattern of the hero’s journey. Every single one of us is on a journey, and every single one of us encounters villains on this journey. And then we need help in order to overcome the villain. 

 

Adrian Davis:

And so this is something that we’re actually wired to listen for. And that’s why these movies, books, theatre, music, it all works because once this pattern is engaged, our brain recognises it subconsciously.

 

Will Barron:

I’ve got an example of this that I’m literally doing right now, I’m promoting as this podcast episode comes out. I just touched on it briefly, Adrian, with you before we clicked record, and so I’ll just give you a bit more of a picture to it because you can then help me because I’m missing a few steps in the story that I’m telling for the Sales School. We have these characters, one of them is Sam. He is the average salesperson. Sam was me five, six years ago doing okay, medical device sales, but not really crushing it. Sam lives in this crazy world. He’s a sales manager, is a complete asshole. The CEO of the company is based on Elon Musk. He’s an absolute baller who is doing all these crazy stuff, he’s filthy rich, but he’s an innovator at heart as well.

 

Will Barron:

There’s a marketer doing the doing typical marketing things that we all know and love as they’re clashing with sales. So there’s this little world that he’s in. And we go through some of the concepts in the Sales School, such as influence and the persuasion side of things and all the mission on aligning sales and marketing and all these different things that are all confounded within these stories. Now, something that I’m missing within this is, Sam seems to be always fighting, but never really having a transformation. Maybe this comes further down the line, I don’t know, but as you go through his archetype, it seems pretty easy to come across… Say we’re selling to a CEO, we can find with our previous series of customers, the CEO that aligns up nicely with the organisation.

 

How to Highlight the Villain in a Sales Story · [08:50] 

 

Will Barron:

Hopefully, it’s a competitor that you’ve worked with and know well for, so they go, “Heck, if the competition’s doing it, we’re going to have to do it as well.” So we have the individual. You might have already answered this, it might be status quo, but what would typically be the villain in that scenario if we’re selling some kind of a software product, for example? If we know the CEO, we’ve matched the individual we’re telling the story to, this one they can relate to, what would be the villain in that scenario?

 

“People buy change. And so if you’re selling to me, the reason I’m meeting with you is I want change. There’s something going on today in my situation that isn’t working and is quite threatening and I know it needs to be addressed. And so I need to move from my current state, or status quo, into a future state.” – Adrian Davis · [09:25] 

 

Adrian Davis:

Okay. Let’s just back up a little bit, because that’s a great situation there, by the way. And I thought you were going to ask me a slightly different question, but let me just back up a little bit. So first of all, what I said earlier was that people buy change. And so if you’re selling to me, the reason I’m meeting with you is I want change. There’s something going on today in my situation and that isn’t working and is quite threatening and I know it needs to be addressed. And so I need to move from my current state, or status quo, into a future state. So that’s number one.

 

Adrian Davis:

Number two, as you meet with me, you need to be very clear about two things before you tell your story. Number one is, what is my role? So if I’m the CEO or if I’m a sales manager, or if I’m a sales person, be very clear about the role that I occupy. And then number two, what is my goal? So it doesn’t make sense just to tell stories if you don’t understand the goal of the listener, you have to uncover the goal because the goal is really what makes the connection to emotion. Goals are emotional. If you’re a sports fan, whatever sport you’re watching, it’s a very emotional contest. And if your team scores, you’re thrilled. If  the opposing team scores, it’s devastating. 

 

A Practical Step-by-step Guide to Sales Storytelling · [11:01] 

 

Adrian Davis:

And so you see how emotional people are around sports, because every is tied to a goal, whether it’s putting a puck in a net or a soccer ball or a football across the line, whatever the situation is, there’s a goal. And so it’s very emotional. So who are you talking to? The role will ensure that your story is relevant. And then what is their goal to ensure that your story is emotional? Once they’ve shared with you the goal, then you can launch the story. So before I answer your question, let me ask you, who is it that you’re selling to? What is their role? What is their goal?

 

Will Barron:

We’ll continue with the Sales School example, I’m selling to B2B sales professionals who are sick and tired of traditional sales training not working, people coming in to the organisation once, twice a year and it not sticking. Countless data on that we included in the Sales School marketing. And they’re looking for a transformation, they’re looking to improve themselves so that they can both thrive in sales now and then become lined up and skilled up to become sales managers and leaders and move on throughout their career.

 

“They (your prospects) have to buy the hero. Hollywood will take 15 to 20 minutes to sell us their hero. We don’t have that, we have 15 to 20 seconds.” – Adrian Davis · [12:10] 

 

Adrian Davis:

Okay. So in my case then, let’s say I’m in sales, and I’m okay, I’m doing okay. I like the job, but I’m struggling, I’m not knocking it out of the park. And so you would be selling to me. You would have to uncover my goal, and say my goal is I want to I want to have a thriving career in sales and I want to be in the president’s club. I want people to look up to me and admire me, and I’m tired of being average. So you say, “Great.” The way you would begin the story then, and what I said is they have to buy the hero. Hollywood will take 15 to 20 minutes to sell us their hero. We don’t have that, we have 15 to 20 seconds.

 

Adrian Davis:

What I like to do is, I train people to simply use two words to sell their hero. So I’ve shared with you the story, and I’d say, “Will, what you’ve just shared with me reminds me of Fred.” It’s very important that the hero is a person with a name. And some people work in confidential industries, and so you have to make sure you have permission to tell the story. And then you may say, “It reminds me of Fred, not his real name, but he’s given me permission to tell the story.” So what you said, “It reminds me of Fred. Like you,” these are the magic words, like you, “Like you, he is also a sales professional, and like you, he wanted to be top of the class. He wanted to be the somebody that everybody looks up to.”

 

Adrian Davis:

So right there in that 15 to 20 seconds with the simple words, like you, I have sold you the hero because anybody who’s like you must be a good person. You’re a good person, if somebody’s like you, they must be a good person. It’s the same role. So you’re a sales professional, this person is a sales professional. That makes it relevant. And they have the same goal. Whenever somebody has the same goal as us, we want to hear that story because whatever trials or misfortunes or triumphs they’ve had along the way, we want to know about that, because it’s going to help us guide our lives. So just in that 15 to 20 seconds, you’ve sold the hero. 

 

Adrian Davis:

Now, you need to introduce the villain. The villain is the threat in the status quo. So if I’m selling to you and I want you to engage in our Sales School, I need to motivate you to take action. And a lot of people will hear, “That sounds really interesting, I’m interested,” but I don’t take action. So the way to get you to take action is to trigger the threat response. You need to realise that if you sit where you are and you don’t move, you could be in trouble. And so the way that I introduce whoever… When I introduce my villain in the story, the villain that I’m introducing is actually the threat in your current state.

 

Adrian Davis:

So I’m telling you about Fred, there’s a part of your brain that couldn’t care less about Fred. It doesn’t even know who Fred is and couldn’t care less. So whenever I’m talking about Fred, that part of your brain will convert the story to Will’s story. So it’s always about you. Everything I say about Fred is going to convert it to you. So I know that, but I’m just going to tell you about Fred. So I tell you, “You remind me of Fred, the sales professional like you, and also wanted to be top tier, wanted to be somebody that everybody looks up to.” I introduce the villain with a single word, that word is unfortunately.

 

“I introduce the villain with a single word, that word is unfortunately. Because we’re wired to know that whatever comes after the word unfortunately is bad news.” – Adrian Davis · [14:57] 

 

Adrian Davis:

Because we’re wired to know that whatever comes after the word unfortunately is bad news. So you just say suddenly, “This person, you remind me of, Fred, he’s a sales professional, like you, top-notch guy, and wanted to be top tier, wanted everybody to look up to him, and really wanted to crush it in his career. Unfortunately, he had a really demanding sales manager and average just wasn’t good enough. And this sales manager, every year, he would cut 10% of the sales force. And unfortunately, it looked like this was going to be Fred’s year to be fired. He’s doing his best, and just no matter what he’s doing, he can’t succeed. And it came to the point where he was weeks away from being fired.”

 

Adrian Davis:

Even though I’m talking about Fred, there’s a part of you that begins to wonder, are you going to fired? What’s your sales manager like? Is your sales manager running out of patience? But I’m just telling you about Fred. And now, I can actually build on that. Hopefully, I’ve actually spoken to Fred and he shared with me what was going on, he had a mortgage, he had car payments, he was thinking of getting married, and now he’s on the verge of losing his job. He’s middle-aged, and if he loses his job now, it’s going to be really difficult to get back into the market.

 

Adrian Davis:

And while I’m saying all of this about Fred, you are actually feeling it. There’s a part of your brain that’s translating all of this to your situation. And what I’m really doing is I’m selling against the status quo. I’m basically saying to you, “You can’t stay still because people are watching you, they have expectations. You miss your number again for another month or another quarter, your head could be on the chopping block.” And so Fred’s blood pressure was going up, he was starting getting to difficult situation with his spouse or his girlfriend. He was becoming unreasonable . He’s very high strung.

 

“As salespeople, we always want to be the hero. So most of our presentations, our PowerPoints, when we’re talking about ourselves, we talk about ourselves as if we are the ones that will come in and save the day. We cannot do that. Life doesn’t work this way.” – Adrian Davis · [16:55] 

 

Adrian Davis:

Then, I introduce the special resource. And this we’re salespeople, we just need to get better at this. We always want to be the hero, so most of our presentations, our PowerPoints, when we’re talking about ourselves, we talk about ourselves as if we are the ones that will come in and save the day. We cannot do that. Life doesn’t work this way. What we can do is we can enable, we are enablers. We can enable people to fix their problems, we can enable people to solve their problems. And so the role that we play in somebody’s story, because even though I’m telling you about Fred and how we helped Fred, I realise that I’m stepping into your story.

 

Adrian Davis:

And the role that I can play in your story is not to be the hero in your movie. Nobody wants to be in a movie where somebody comes in and takes over. This is Will’s story starring Adrian. It’s your story. So we introduce ourselves into the story and we simply say with the word, fortunately. So we introduce the villain with the word. Unfortunately, we introduce ourselves with the word, fortunately. “Fortunately, we met at a trade show. Fortunately, somebody referred him to speak to me. Fortunately, he was doing a Google search and he found me, found us. We spoke and we worked together.” 

 

Adrian Davis:

So it’s just the word, fortunately, to bring us into the story, and we worked together. That’s all we say. We don’t say that we went in and we saved the day. “We worked together, and as a result, he was able to… ” And this is really important, and this is where most stories fail, is we want to be the hero. No, we worked together, and as a result, he was able to become much more competent, much more disciplined in how he went about the sales process. And he began to realise that sales is a process and began to engage his prospects in a much more disciplined and much more effective way.”

 

Adrian Davis:

And then I say, “And now.” And this is how I’m going to end the story, “And now.” And this is really the critical part. Unfortunately was the current state and it was the threat in the current state. And now, I’m pointing to the future state. So we want to move from current state to future state. I’m going to say, “And now, Fred is the number one salesperson in his company. His manager is constantly telling the other reps to look at how Fred goes about his day, look about how Fred goes about his accounts. Always ask Fred to come in and do lunch and learns and explain to the others how he’s won a particular account, and he’s actually now about to be promoted to become sales manager,” or whatever the case is.

 

Adrian Davis:

But whatever I say after and now, this is the new current state for Fred, it’s his present, but it’s your future. It’s what you’re hoping will happen for you in the future. I’m telling you that somebody’s enjoying this today, and now this is what Fred has, and this is what you’re hoping for. So in that little story, I’m able to address the current state and the threat in the current state, I’m able to address the future state and the promise of the future state, and I minimise the transition state. That state in the middle which is really messy, I minimise that. I simply covered it over with, “We worked together.”

 

Adrian Davis:

So I came into the story, we worked together, and now Fred is off to the races. So if the story lands, if it works, Will, the listener will say, “Can you tell me a bit more about how you worked together?” And then I can elaborate on the Sales School and how it works, etc.

 

Will Barron:

You, Adrian are going to laugh your head off when you see the Sales School, I’ll send you a link, because I’m literally going to rewrite the homepage based on this conversation, or the audience who listen to the show who see the marketing for it as well will laugh their heads off. Because Sam, in the context of the Sales School, and it still works because it’s humorous, the mishaps that he gets into and that adds an entertainment value to the content itself. But the overarching story should be, well, is missing three of the steps here. In the Sales School, he’s always messing up, and there’s this and he’s working hard and the audience can relate to him. And he is the same person in this insane world that he’s working within.

 

Will Barron:

But he doesn’t find the resource. And the resource he should be finding is the Sales School.

 

Adrian Davis:

It’s the Sales School. Exactly. Exactly. Exactly.

 

Why You Need to Make Your Prospects the Hero of a Story · [21:41] 

 

Will Barron:

This is brilliant. And I like the way you worded it very carefully here on the lines of, you minimise the messy bits. Because that was the thing, as you were first going through this, I was struggling to get my head round of is, do we dive into that? Do we start raising the, how difficult it was and we help them with this. But as soon as we make the other person the hero, we don’t have to do any of that. That complicated part of the story doesn’t get glossed over, but just gets shorter. I think you used the word shortened as well. I love that. That’s fantastic.

 

Adrian Davis:

In the grand scheme of things, it’s insignificant. It’s significant, but it’s insignificant. What is significant is, right now, you’re losing, right now, things are not going well for you. And you’re worried. And that can all turnaround. You can actually be the opposite. You can be heroic, you can be empowered, you can be crushing it. That’s the significance of the story. You can go from losing to winning. And I’m going to create a little bit of intrigue by saying, “I stepped into the story, whispered some in the hero’s ear, gave them a shiny new sword, and they were off, and now they’re having triumph.” That bit of intrigue, by not giving too much away, actually invites curiosity.

 

“How you know that you actually won the prospect over is when they lean forward and say, “Can you tell me more about how you worked with Fred? What exactly did you guys do?” – Adrian Davis · [22:42] 

 

Adrian Davis:

And that’s how you know that you actually won the prospect over when they lean forward and say, “Can you tell me more about how you worked with Fred? What exactly did you guys do?” Once that question is asked, I know that the prospect has actually bought. They’ve emotionally engaged, and now we’re going to work with somebody. And that’s why I said it’s not so much balance, it’s sequence. Win the emotional fight first, engage them emotionally first, and then you can give them the logic. So once they come forward and say, “Can you tell me more about how you worked with Fred?” Okay, now we’re going to give you some logical information and ammunition because we know what you’ve bought emotionally.

 

How to Link a Prospect’s Goal to Your Sales Story · [23:20] 

 

Will Barron:

I want to come back to the next step of the logic element to this in a second, but there’s something that I scribbled down here and I don’t want to gloss over, and this might be just as important as the story itself, and it’s something I’ve never really contemplated before within the context of storytelling within sales. And that is, do we go into a conversation having a hypothesis of what the person’s problem is and then we throw a story at them and hope it sticks, or does this come further down the line after we’ve asked them a few discovery questions and we know what they need, what their problems are, and how we can potentially resolve them, and then we present that to them in a story?

 

Adrian Davis:

Absolutely. So in my book, Human to Human Selling, I actually show the pattern. The pattern is discovery first, then the story. And it has to be a particular type of discovery. I focus, as you know, on C-level selling, and so taking folks who are uncomfortable selling to the C-suite and making them very competent and very comfortable doing that. But when we’re selling to executives, it’s all about strategy. So it’s not just any goals, we have to understand their strategic goals. And so I have a discovery framework that I’ve developed that really gets into having a conversation around strategy and around strategic goals, then drilling down to the specific problem area, what’s going on today, where can we help?

 

Adrian Davis:

And once we’ve uncovered that, then that’s what we transition with, “Oh, what you’ve shared with me reminds me of Fred.” So it is that discovery process that comes first. And it’s once we hear the goal and we understand what it is they’re trying to accomplish. Once we understand the threat in the current state. So it’s that combination of uncovering the goal and the threat in the current state, their hopes and their fears, that then we say, “Oh what you’ve shared with me reminds me of John, or reminds me of Fred, or reminds me of Sue.”

 

Adrian Davis:

We speak the story into their goals, we don’t just speak stories, “Oh, let me throw this story at you and hope it works.” It’s really, I’ve heard what your goal is, I know what the threat you’re concerned about is, this reminds me of,” and I share this goal.

 

The Questions You Should Ask to Uncover a Prospect’s Current Problem · [25:28] 

 

Will Barron:

What would be an example of a question that we can ask to uncover someone’s problem that they’re having acutely right now rather than just a more wishy-washy question, which could lead to a mountain of problems that may never actually get resolved because they’re not priorities?

 

Adrian Davis:

So this is really good in terms of prioritising. Understanding strategic goals is what makes the current problem a priority. It’s this combination of uncovering the strategic goal, uncovering the operational issue, linking the two, that’s what makes the operational issue a priority because it strategic implications and it could create strategic vulnerability. But I would say, in a nutshell, the question that you’re asking, and I’m just going to give you a very, very basic question, because this is the fundamental question when we’re trying to get operationally what’s wrong. The question is, what is happening now that should not be happening? And that’s it.

 

Adrian Davis:

So there’s something happening now that shouldn’t be happening, what is that? But when we’re able to uncover that in the context of the strategic goal and then get them to understand the implications of this thing happening that shouldn’t be happening, the strategic implications of that, that’s what gives it a priority level.

 

The ASALE Framework for Executive Discovery · [26:48] 

 

Will Barron:

And what’s the follow-up question to go from, we’ve uncovered a potential problem here, how do we then get them to think about it at a strategic level, perhaps if they haven’t done already?

 

“Whenever we come into somebody’s presence for the first time or somebody comes into our presence for the first time, subconsciously, there’s a threat response. We don’t know if this person could harm us. So until we’re comfortable with someone, we’re on guard. So it’s important to bring that threat response down, especially if we’re meeting someone for the first time.” – Adrian Davis · [27:20] 

 

Adrian Davis:

Perfect question. The methodology, the framework that I’ve developed for executive discovery is the acronym. ASALE, A-S-A-L-E. A stands for amenity questions, where we need to be comfortable. You and I need to have a bit of rapport, have things in common, you need to be comfortable. Whenever we come into somebody’s presence for the first time or somebody comes into our presence for the first time, Will, subconsciously, there’s a threat response. We don’t know if this person could harm us. So until we’re comfortable with someone, we’re on guard. So it’s important to bring that threat response down, especially if we’re meeting someone for the first time.

 

Adrian Davis:

So amenity questions just create comfort, find common ground, build some rapport. Then instead of getting into the discovery of what are the challenges you’re facing and how can I help, because people know that you’re trying to sell them if you go straight there, instead with executives, where we go is we go to what I call the S, the strategic context questions. We want to ask questions and talk with people at a high level to understand their strategy, and where are they taking the company in the three to five years? What are their strategic goals?

 

Adrian Davis:

From there, we transition to the A, which is attention-focusing questions. And here in attention focusing, we’re trying to focus their attention on the part of the business where there’s a problem where we can help. So we want to understand them strategically, but then we want to understand them operationally in the area of the business where we can help, that’s the A. The L stands for linkage. And the linkage question is critical. It simply is the question along these lines, what does, whatever we were talking about, in this case, of salesperson who’s not hitting their numbers or sales team that’s not hitting their numbers, how does that relate to the strategic issues we were talking about earlier?

 

“Strategic goals are around desire, something that they want. Operational issues have to do with fear, something’s going wrong. We want both of these emotions, fear and desire to agitate them, and then we know that they’re emotionally engaged and that’s softening them up so that the story’s going to be most effective.” – Adrian Davis · [29:17] 

 

Adrian Davis:

So earlier, you said for example, it’s your strategy to be number one in the three markets that you play in, and now we’re talking about sales team not hitting their numbers. Can you share with me what the sales teams’ lack of performance, how does that relate to your strategic goal of being number one in the three markets that you’re playing in? And let them answer the question. We’re just asking them to connect the operational issue they’re having to their strategic goals. Why? Because strategic goals are around desire, something that they want.

 

Adrian Davis:

Operational issues have to do with fear, something’s going wrong. We want them to connect fear and desire, we want both of these emotions, fear and desire to agitate them, and then we know that they’re emotionally engaged and that’s softening them up so that the story’s going to be most effective. And then finally the E stands for envisioning, where we just want to now take the fear and flip it around and ask them, what does success look like? In a perfect world, what would that look like? And so we want to now get them to get the other side of the fear, to turn that into a positive emotion.

 

Adrian Davis:

And it’s having that conversation we then say, “Oh, you know what, what you’ve shared with me reminds me of,” and then we move into the story. And now the story’s really going to work because we were very specific. We’ve got the goal and we’ve got the fear or the threat.

 

Will Barron:

The reason I ask this is we’ve covered stories in the past, but we’ve never really had a set up for a story. And as you go through those process or those steps of a sale as you outline them, and I’ll stick these in the show notes as well for everyone who’s trying to scribble this down and running on a treadmill and nearly falling over, looking down at the phone, I’ll put in the show notes, I’ll make some notes on it, but you’re almost teeing them up, you’re getting them… how to describe it, you’re almost getting them lit up and engaged. And the tender’s already burning before this, like fire flame comes over with the story, really just smashes it and paints real picture in people’s minds, right?

 

Adrian Davis:

Exactly right. And also, there’s also this other dynamic, Will, of if I’m full, I can’t receive anything else, it’s just going to bounce off me. So you need them to empty their cup first. And so when they’re talking to you, they’re going to enjoy it and they’re sounding intelligent and they’re sharing with you how they think, and you’re respecting the answers that you’re hearing. And by the time they’ve had this part of the conversation, they’ve emptied their cup, and now they’re ready to receive from you. So now when you speak the story, they actually have a container that they can house the story in. So they’ve got to dynamic as well.

 

The Transition from the Emotional Into the Logical Part of a Sales Storytelling Process · [31:25] 

 

Will Barron:

It makes total sense because we could probably go through those steps of detail and have a seven-hour workshop on this, but I want to come back to the end of the story of where we perhaps turn this from an emotional two, three, four, five minutes into now a logical conversation. Is there a way to make that transition? And then once we’ve made it, what are we trying to get out of the prospect when we’re asking them questions or when we’re giving them logical facts? If we’re trying to empty them, then fill them of a story and get them emotionally bought in. What’s the transition? And then what’s the goal and the next step? 

 

Adrian Davis:

Normally, I’m dealing with people who are selling compact solutions, Will, so I’m meeting now with the key stakeholder here. We’re having this strategic discovery session where they’re sharing with me what it is they’re trying to achieve and where they want to take the company, and some of the things that are challenging them. I’ve listened to that, I then give them a little preamble, a little hero’s journey story to basically demonstrate to them, “The very specific things that you’re sharing with me, we have already helped people who are like you, who are facing very similar things, and now look at the success they’re having.” That then turns them on. 

 

Adrian Davis:

The objective of turning them on is to do deeper discovery, because in these complex sales, one person doesn’t make the decision, multiple stakeholders need to come together in order to give that go ahead, that yes, they’re going to go forward with a complex solution. So what I want from this after we’ve had this meeting is I want permission or sponsorship to go and meet with the other stakeholders and do a deeper discovery with them. So that’s my objective coming out of this key stakeholder meeting, is that I get sponsored to meet with the other stakeholders.

 

Adrian Davis:

When I meet with the other stakeholders, I’m doing a couple of things. One is, I’m building relationships. So I don’t want to be this strange foreign entity, I want people to know who I am, know who my company is and be comfortable with us. So I’m going to meet with these key stakeholders to build rapport and have a bit of relationship with them and get them comfortable with our ideas and our solutions. Number two, I want to hear how they perceive the challenges and the problems from their perspective. It’s one thing to hear the key stakeholders say, “Well, this is what this means, and this is what it could cost us, etc.” But each department head has their nuanced perspective of the situation and what’s wrong in the history, etc. So I want to uncover all of that.

 

Adrian Davis:

And number three, and this is where I think a lot of people miss the boat, Will, is we need to uncover the financial implications of the problem. So as I’m meeting with these executives and very early on in the process, I want them sharing with me, what is this problem costing them, so I can now, this is part of the logical, when we get to proposal writing, we’ve got to give them the logic. They’ve already made the emotional decision, and I want to share a quick story how looking back, I stumbled through into storytelling, but we want to win them over emotionally. We have to win them over emotionally.

 

Adrian Davis:

Once we’ve won them over emotionally, we then need to give them the logical ammunition to proceed. So when I come back now and it’s time to put a proposal together, I can show them that, let’s say the million dollars that they’re going to spend with me is going to actually save them 10 million a year. And that 10 million, I didn’t make this number up, I met with Fred, I met with Sue, I met with John and I met with Jane. And these are the numbers they gave me of the challenges that they’re facing, how many deals they lose, or how many invoices go out the door incorrectly, or customers who don’t pay, and I’m able to calculate all those numbers.

 

Adrian Davis:

And the number that I get when I put in their numbers is 10 million a year. And two million from Fred, three million from Sue, million and a half from Jane. These are their numbers, and I’m able to consolidate them now and say, “This is costing you 10 million a year.” And this is the logical part of the argument that if they don’t buy emotionally, they’re not going to buy. I can throw all the numbers at them that I like, it’s not going to move them. They have to be moved emotionally. And then once they’re moved emotionally, they need support to say, “Why do I want to do this?” And so they’re looking for justification. That’s where that comes in.

 

Adrian Davis:

I did say just quickly, I wanted to share with you the story. When I started selling really complex software, multi-million dollar software, I joined this company and it was during the internet boom. And I nearly didn’t take the job because their biggest competitor was in Toronto where I would be as a single guy and we were just a Silicon Valley company. And I just thought, “Their executives, the R&D, the engineers, everybody’s in Toronto, this is crazy.” Anyway, I took the job you. And when I went to the sales conference, I just met the sales guys, people like yourself and I just asked them one question, where have you been successful?

 

Adrian Davis:

And they would tell me, and I just made a list of stories where they were successful. I came back from that conference with about 35 success stories. These were not my stories, they were their stories. And just intuitively, there was no science here, it was just intuition. Whenever I would go on a sales call, I would look at my list of 35 stories and see which two or three stories might be relevant to this particular prospect, and then I would just commit it to memory. Go into the meeting and just find a way somehow in the meeting, during the meeting to just refer to one, two or three of these stories. And it just worked like a charm.

 

Adrian Davis:

In one particular case, there was a decision that was being made, the company was called Sprint Canada, and they were buying a new billing system. It was a $4 million deal. And I just got a call from a partner to say, “Adrian, Sprint Canada is about to make this billing system decision, you guys need to get in there.” I called their CIO and wouldn’t talk to me. He’s just like, “No, we’ve made up our mind, we’re good. Thanks. We know about you guys, we’ve made up our mind.” I was flabbergasted, I was like, “How could it be?” I had no idea that they were making this decision. We were pretty good in terms of intelligence, but I had no idea.

 

Adrian Davis:

I called the CEO and I told her, “You guys are on the verge of making multimillion dollar decision and you’ve never spoken to us, and we’re one of the leading vendors in this space, all we want is half an hour just to talk to you. And you make your decision, that’s fine, but at least you’ve spoken to us.” So she agreed and she brought in the VP of marketing. And before I go into the meeting, I saw we were successful at Sprint USA. And so I got that story and went into the meeting, and just in the meeting, listened to her, very same process to what I shared with you, except that I didn’t have the science then, it was just intuition.

 

Adrian Davis:

I was learning to sell strategically, I was very curious about strategy. And so she shared with me what their strategy was, where they were going, what they were trying to accomplish. And then I got to understand how the billing, the interne-based billing, that flexible, ability to invoice flexibly would be strategically important to her. And then I shared with her the story of Sprint US, and it was amazing. So they were moments away, maybe weeks away from signing this multimillion dollar contract, she put the whole project on pause, that CIO ended up getting fired. Looked like there was some under the table dealings, I don’t know what, but he got fired. Within four weeks, we won that deal.

 

“People can make big, huge multimillion dollar decisions in a moment if they’re engaged emotionally, and then everything you do after that is just feeding them the logical support they need to justify that feeling of want and desire that they have.” – Adrian Davis · [39:26] 

 

Adrian Davis:

We went from being nobody, nowhere on the radar, within four weeks, we had a four-million deal that was supposed to go, I’m sure the other salesperson had already cashed their commission checks. But that was to me, looking back, now I understand why it was so powerful. And in that 30 minutes at a higher level CEO made the decision to buy from us on the strength of the story of what we did with their counterpart in the US. And so I thought I’d share that with you and the audience just to say, people can make big, huge multimillion dollar decisions in a moment if they’re engaged emotionally, and then everything you do after that is just feeding them the logical support they need to justify that feeling of want and desire that they have.

 

How to Create and Build a Catalog of Sales Stories for Everyday Use · [39:45] 

 

Will Barron:

Love it. What a perfect way to almost wrap up the show. And there’s one follow up question I’ve got from that story, Adrian, and that is, what does this look like day to day for the audience here with regards to creating stories and building them? Is this we carry a notebook round of us and we jot down the rough outline of stories when we hear them? Is it, we ring up our sales colleagues on our team, even though we’re sometimes a weird competitive landscape with the people that you’re selling on the same team with where you’re competing against, do we ring these up and say, “Hey, have you got any good stories on X, Y, Z?

 

Will Barron:

Or is this something that we need to go, “Hey, sales manager, you need to, one, listen to this episode of the show. Two, hire Adrian and read his book on the back of all this.” And then get the sales manager to start collaborating some of this and to build, I guess, a playbook? What strategy do we need to like day one start with on this? 

 

Adrian Davis:

Yeah. Day one I would say, every salesperson out there, every salesperson listening to this podcast, just get started right away. If you had success, unless you’re like brand new to the company, you’ve had some success with the company that you’re in, go back and interview those customers and find out, what were they going through? What were they thinking? What was going on in their world prior to you showing up? What were they worried about? Then talk about how are things now and what difference have you made for them?

 

Adrian Davis:

And your folks can write to me and get a framework, I can give them a framework for the story, the hero’s journey story framework, and just start filling that in. And I would say, in every industry what I’ve found, Will, is there’s probably two or three key goals of certain players in the industry. If we sell to VPs of sales, let’s say, so the VPs of sales within a certain industry, there’s two or three things that they’re trying to do. You need to then find stories that speak to those two or three goals. So your stories need to be categorised by goal and by role. So just go back, “Where have I been successful? Let me take those successes and put them in this hero’s journey framework.”

 

Adrian Davis:

And you only need two or three to get started. And just make them comfortable that they come off the tongue very comfortably. You can just be talking, “Well, what you shared with me reminds me of Fred, like you… ” And you’re just able to tell the story very naturally. So do that right away. I would say, having said that, every organisation needs to realise that your success stories are a very powerful asset. And so the salesmen, if you’re the sales leader should actually make this a formal thing where, let’s just house these stories, put them in a central repository somewhere that people, “Hey, I’m selling into the telco space and I’m speaking to a VP of marketing, do I have anything that’s specific VP of marketing in telco? Oh yeah, there it is.” And share these assets that way,

 

Will Barron:

That makes all sense. And I guess I’ll be more overt about this, I could have framed up that question in that all our content is for B2B sales professionals. I know there’s a lot of leadership listening, and this just seems like a total no-brainer to have, even if it is just a Google Doc where everyone has one story that they add it every six months, and that builds up on a team of 30 sales people to 80 stories over the next 12, 18 months or so. It seems like a real interesting document that then you can go, and as you said, do interviews with these individuals, pull testimonials from it. If you get a referral, that can go in there, “This person loved us so much that they referred two customers after the fact.”

 

Will Barron:

And it seems like it’s almost a living document that is then super appropriate and super updates to be sharing with individuals. It’s not like Bob the dude who quit the company 20 years ago who did the biggest deal, we’re still sharing his stories, just a simple spreadsheet the whole team can add onto, a simple G Doc that solves all these problems. I think that’s really powerful. And yes, sales leaders listen to this, I think it’s a no-brainer for you to do that.

 

Adrian Davis:

Yeah. Don’t over complicate it.

 

Adrian’s Advise to His Younger Self on How to Become Better at Selling · [43:41]

 

Will Barron:

No, no, of course. And with that, Adrian, I’ve got one final question, mate. I’m pretty sure I asked you this last time we chatted, and that is, if you could go back in time and speak to your younger self, what would be the one piece of advice you’d give him to help him become better at selling?

 

Adrian Davis:

If I could go back in time and speak to my younger self, I would say, don’t be wrapped up in yourself, be wrapped up in your customer’s world. Don’t be self-centred, really truly be empathetic, climb into your customer’s shoes, walk in their shoes, see the world through their eyes. And the more you can do that, the more successful you’re going to be. And I think we limit our success when we’re thinking about our commission, we’re thinking about our situation, it limits our success, it limits our effectiveness. So really truly be empathetic.

 

Will Barron:

Perfect. This is a lesson that I’m constantly learning. And it seems almost counterintuitive at first that the more value you put out there without thinking about yourself, the more cash you get back, rather than trying to be selfish. It’s something that I get hit on the head with every time I do anything, launch new product, service, whatever it is, as soon as I stop thinking about myself and how many hours sleep I’m going to get each night, everything just makes way more sense and always comes in.

 

Parting Thoughts · [44:56]

 

Will Barron:

And I don’t think there’s a law of attraction or anything pulling on it, it’s just the world working in your favour. So with that, Adrian, tell us where we can find out more about you, sir, and the book as well.

 

Adrian Davis:

Yeah. Certainly go to my website, adriandavis.com, adriandavis.com. The book is on Amazon. And I would say, if people want some help with this, I do have a framework that I’ve developed that makes it very simple to record these stories, they can just write to me at adavis, [email protected] That’s W-H-E-T-stone-I-N-C.ca, [email protected] And I’ll also share with them some questions as well to have that executive conversation, the discovery conversation prior to telling the stories.

 

Will Barron:

Perfect. Well, make use of that, Sales Nation. Be emailing and pestering Adrian for this content. And with that, I want to thank you for your time, I want to thank you for your insights. Everything that we talked about will be in the show notes to this episode over at salesman.org. And with that, Adrian, thank you for coming on the show.

 

Adrian Davis:

Wonderful. Thanks so much, Will. Always a pleasure to be with you.

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