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How To Get Your Sales Team To Sell With Stories

Today, Paul Smith joins us in this episode of the Sales Leadership Show. He is the author of the captivating book Sell with a Story: How to Capture Attention, Build Trust and Close the Sale. We dive deep into sales stories and how they can be leveraged to close more deals, as well as how to build a database for sales stories.

You'll learn:

Featured on this episode:

Host - Will Barron
Founder of Salesman.org
Guest - Paul Smith
Author: Sell with a Story

Resources:

Transcript

Will Barron:

Coming up on today’s episode of the Sales Leadership Show, are sales stories a real opportunity to get more attention in the marketplace?

 

Paul Smith:

Yeah. And, of course, I’ll give you the non surprising answer, which is yes, of course. But I’ll try and be a little bit more interesting than that and the reasons why.

 

Will Barron:

Is there a reason why stories over thousands, tens, hundreds of thousands of years have that impact on those?

 

Paul Smith:

Yeah. I wish I had Richard Dawkins here with me to explain the evolutionary biology behind it. So I can’t explain the why, but you’re right that it is true.

 

Will Barron:

So that said then what’s the difference between, or is a difference between a story that we read in a book versus what we would class in this conversation as a sales story?

 

Paul Smith:

Let me answer that a couple of different ways. First of all, there’s a big difference between a sales story and a sales pitch.

 

Will Barron:

Or is there anything else we need to do differently when we do deliver a sales story virtually?

 

Paul Smith:

Yeah. Well, if you’d asked me that a few months ago, I would’ve said, “Well, everything’s less effective virtually than it is in person where you can see and feel, maybe not touch, but be close to people.”

 

Will Barron:

Hello, sales nation. My name is Will Barron and I’m the host of the Sales Leadership Show. On today’s episode, we have a complete legend. We have Paul Smith. He’s the author of the book, Sell With a Story. And that’s exactly what we’re getting into on today’s episode, how you can build a database of sales stories and then how you can leverage that as a selling tool for your team to help them close more deals. Everything that we talk about is available in the show notes for this episode, over at salesleadship.org. And with that said, let’s jump right into it. Paul, welcome to the Sales Leadership Show.

 

Paul Smith:

Yeah, thanks for having me on. I’m excited to be here.

 

In a Massively Automated World, Are Sales Stories a Real Opportunity to Get More Attention in The Marketplace? · [02:02] 

 

Will Barron:

I’m excited to have you on. Okay. On today’s episode, we’re going to get into sales stories and how we can leverage them as not just individuals, but as a team. Hopefully we can discuss building kind of a database or the uses of stories within a team perspective in this episode, but let me tee it up. And I think I know where you’re going to go with this answer. It’s massively leaded and loaded. So in a world, Paul, where everything’s been automated, we’re just spamming out more crap than we ever have done ever before, are sales stories a real opportunity to get more attention in the marketplace, because seemingly less and less people are using them?

 

Paul Smith:

Yeah. And, of course, I’ll give you the non surprising answer, which is yes, of course. But I’ll try and be a little bit more interesting than that and the reasons why. If you think back to your college days and you’re in class and the professor’s standing up at the board and he or she’s writing out formulas or whatever and you’re madly taking notes, and then at some point the professor stops writing the formulas on the board and turns around and just shares an example or an anecdote or a short story or something. What does the audience do? So what do the students do when that happens? You tell me.

 

Will Barron:

I know, me personally, I will put down my pen and actually pay attention. It captures my attention in that instance.

 

Paul Smith:

Exactly. So they put down their pencils, because, well, this isn’t going to be on the test. This is just a story. So they immediately drop their defences like oh my God, I’ve got to know everything that they’re saying or writing down because that’s going to be on the test. Well, this isn’t going to be on a test. So I’m just going to listen, and it may sound ironic, but that’s what you want your buyer to do. While you’re giving the sales pitch, they’re in defensive mode. They’re looking to analytically criticise everything that’s coming out of your mouth and poke holes in it and figure out where you’re trying to screw them over basically.

 

Will Barron:

Yep.

 

“And so one reason why stories are so effective is because you listen and you listen with a different part of your brain. You listen more with an emotional, intuitive part of your brain instead of the analytical, angry part of your brain. But that’s, I think, one of the reasons people don’t really realise is that it puts the listener in a completely different frame of mind that is helpful to you as a salesperson.” – Paul Smith · [04:09] 

 

Paul Smith:

But when you tell a story, well, they just put their pencil down, they lean back in their chair, and they just listen. And that’s what you want your buyer to do every once in a while is just listen to me and stop being so analytical and trying to find the error of my ways here. Just listen for the next two or three minutes. And so that’s one reason why stories are so effective is because you listen and you listen with a different part of your brain. You listen more with an emotional, intuitive part of your brain instead of the analytical, angry part of your brain. And it’s also more memorable, and it captures their attention more and all of those things as well. But that’s, I think, one of the reasons people don’t really realise is that it puts the listener in a completely different frame of mind that is helpful to you as a salesperson.

 

Are Humans Hardwired to Subconsciously Respond to stories? · [04:45] 

 

Will Barron:

We don’t need to dive too far into the weeds here, unless you find particularly interesting, but is there evolutionary biology behind this? Because, as you say this, if I imagine myself sat there in a lecture and a story comes up and I do put my pen down and I listen, I’m not consciously thinking, hey, this is a story. This is different. Put pen down. It’s subconsciously just happening, and I will pay more attention. So is there a reason why stories over thousands, tens, hundreds of thousands of years, have that impact on those?

 

“It’s true that we are, for some reason, wired to listen to stories and be captivated by them.” – Paul Smith · [05:21]

 

Paul Smith:

Yeah, I wish I had Richard Dawkins here with me to explain the evolutionary biology behind it. So I can’t explain the why, but you’re right. That it is true. It is true that we are, for some reason, wired to listen to stories and be captivated by them. That, for millennia, was how we passed down history, before there was writing. This is prehistoric days. So prehistoric means before writing, before we could write down our history and that’s 10,000 years ago or something. Before that time, the way people remembered the past was through stories, because they were easier to remember, whereas you couldn’t remember facts and figures, and the best berries are three miles that way and two clicks this way and whatever, but you could remember a story about walking through the woods and hanging a left here and a right after the Mulberry tree or whatever. So for whatever reason, they have become hardwired into our brains to listen, to be fascinated by, be captivated by, and remember the content of stories better than other forms of communication.

 

Will Barron:

When you put it in that perspective, again, I’ve got a background in science, but definitely not in biology, it almost seems like we’ve just had a 100,000, 200,000 years of refining stories versus math’s 4,000 years old, 2000 years old, 1000 years. So maybe that just comes into it, just the length of time our brains have had to adapt to all this. Okay. So with that said-

 

Paul Smith:

I like that. I’ll go with that answer. I’m going to use that in the future when somebody asks me the same question.

 

Will Barron:

Well, yeah. It might be complete nonsense, so I’d double-check my nonsense I’m spewing out here, but-

 

Paul Smith:

I’ll call Dawkins.

 

The Difference Between a Sales Pitch and a Sales Story · [07:01]

 

Will Barron:

Dawkins. Good man. Right. So with that said then, what’s the difference between, or is a difference between a story that we read in a book versus what we would class in this conversation as a sales story?

 

“There’s a big difference between a sales pitch and a sales story. A sales pitch is here are the reasons why you should buy what I’m selling. So, basically, a sales pitch is a list. It’s a list of very logical, rational reasons to buy something that you’re selling. So it’s speaking to the left logical thinking part of the brain, and you absolutely have to have that if you’re in sales. A sales story speaks to the other more intuitive, emotional part of the brain, because it’s an actual story. It’s not a list of reasons to buy something. It’s a story that contains a lesson about why you should buy something, but without it being delivered in a list.” – Paul Smith · [07:28] 

 

Paul Smith:

So let me answer that a couple of different ways. First of all, there’s a big difference between a sales story and a sales pitch, and you need both of them obviously. So, in fact, you probably need more sales pitches than you need, or you’re going to deliver more sales pitches maybe than sales stories, but there’s a big difference between a sales pitch and a sales story. A sales pitch is here are the reasons why you should buy what I’m selling. So, basically, a sales pitch is a list. It’s a list of very logical, rational reasons to buy something that you’re selling. So it’s speaking to the left logical thinking part of the brain, and you absolutely have to have that if you’re in sales. A sales story speaks to the other more intuitive, emotional part of the brain, because it’s an actual story.

 

Paul Smith:

It’s not a list of reasons to buy something. It’s a story that contains a lesson about why you should buy something, but without it being delivered in a list. It’s being delivered in the form of a narrative about something that happened to someone. So I think the question you actually asked was, is there a difference between a sales story and a story that you might read in a book? And the answer is a little bit. There’s a little bit of a difference, but not much. There’s a huge difference between a sales pitch and a sales story. There’s not much difference between a sales story and a story you’d read in a book. One of the differences is a sales story is probably going to be a lot shorter than a story you read in a book or a movie that you watch. A movie is a story, but it’s two hours long.

 

Paul Smith:

A sales story is two minutes long. A story you might read in a book, it might be 250 pages, or it might be a chapter, or it might be five or six pages, whereas, again, a sales story is going to be two minutes. But the sales story and the story from the book or the movie, they’re going to have a lot in common. Both of those types will have the basic six elements of a story, which is there’ll be where and a when. So that’s two, a where, a when. There’ll be a main character. That main character has some goal or objective they’re trying to accomplish. There’s a villain or an obstacle getting in the way of them accomplishing that, there’re events that transpire along the way, and, hopefully, resolve themselves nicely in either a success or a failure at the end.

 

Paul Smith:

So both those types of stories, sales stories and stories in a book, will have all of those same characteristics. Now the sales story will have some additional things that the entertainment story won’t, like there’ll be a lesson at the end of it, there’ll be a recommended action, and the topic of it will be convincing you to buy something as opposed to merely be entertained. But other than that, they’re largely the same.

 

Paul Shares a Captivating Example of a Sales Story · [10:01]

 

Will Barron:

To make this real for the audience, can you just share a two minutes sales story from yourself or a client, perhaps?

 

Paul Smith:

Yeah. Yeah. So a couple of years ago, my wife and I were at an art fair looking for a picture for our son’s bathroom at home upstairs. We were going booth to booth to booth and got to this one booth of this guy named Chris Guglielmo. Look this guy up. He’s fabulous. He takes these mesmerising underwater pictures of sea anemones and coral reefs and sharks and everything. Anyway, she’s flipping through his pictures, and she just gets emotionally attached to this one picture that, to me, looked about as out of place as a pig in the ocean, because it literally was a picture of a pig in the ocean. And so, of course, I had to ask the guy, “Dude, what’s up? Pigs don’t swim. Why do you have a picture of a pig in the ocean?”

 

Paul Smith:

And that’s when the magic started. He said, “Yeah. That was the craziest thing.” He said, “That picture was taken in The Bahamas off the coast of this uninhabited island called Big Major Cay.” And he said, “Apparently what happened was a few years ago, some local entrepreneur decided to raise a pig farm for bacon, I guess. And, anyway, he found out there was this island that was uninhabited where he could keep the pigs for free. Well, he’s no dummy, so he’s going to keep them on the free island.” So anyway, he said, “But if you look in the picture, look up behind the pig, up there on the beach, what kind of vegetation do you see up there?” And I kind of squinted and said, “Well, the only thing I recognise up there is cactus.” And he said, “Right. That’s a problem. Pigs don’t like cactus.

 

Paul Smith:

So, literally, there was nothing on the island for these pigs to eat. So the entrepreneur wasn’t very smart after all. Well, anyway, he got lucky and so did the pigs in that a local restaurant owner on a neighbouring island was boating his kitchen refuse, the kitchen scraps, literally, over to Big Major Cay every night and dumping them overboard a couple of dozen yards off shore just to get rid of the scraps. Well, if you’re hungry enough, you’ll do anything. So these pigs are starving, but they can smell and see this food floating out in the ocean. Well, if you’re hungry enough, like I said, you’ll do anything. So eventually one little pig braved the waters and dog paddled or pig paddled his way out there to get the food. And then it’s two little pigs and then three little pigs.

 

Paul Smith:

And, anyway, here it’s been a couple of generations later and all the pigs on Big Major Cay can swim. And he said, in fact, they don’t even call it Big Major Cay anymore. Everybody calls it Pig Island now, and all the tourists go see it, because you can swim with the pigs and it’s fun. But anyway, he said, “So when I boated over there to take pictures, the pigs literally swam up to my boat, because they thought I was the guy from the restaurant.” He said, “I didn’t even have to get out of my boat. Normally, I have to put my scuba equipment on and go in the water and wait for hours for something interesting to happen.” He said, “All I did is lean over the side of the boat with my camera. Boom. Easiest picture I ever took, and one of my best sellers.”

 

Paul Smith:

So, of course, at that point I’m like, “We’ll take it.” So I pay the guy and we’re out of there. Now, I don’t know if you timed that, but two or three minutes ago, before I’d heard that story, that was just a silly picture that I had no interest in buying. But after hearing the story, I had to have it, because now it wasn’t just buying a picture, I was buying a picture that had an interesting story attached to it. Or maybe I was buying an interesting story that had a picture attached to it. And if you come to my house, and you go to the bathroom, you’re going to hear that story again, because I’m going to tell it to you again because I love telling that story. And so the story made that picture so much more valuable to me than just it being a silly picture of a pig in the ocean. 

 

Paul Reveals That Most B2B Salespeople Lack The Ability to Add Context to Relatively Mundane Things · [13:27] 

 

Will Barron:

I feel like, clearly, you’re onto something, successful multiple books on this subject, but is this something that is a lost art in adding context to something that is utilitarian? And I’m thinking about software, for example. If we’re selling software, it does X, Y, Z. I don’t really care if it works in the background. This is massively cliche, but if you buy an Apple product, you get all the prestige and the street credit and everything that goes along with it. Is that something that’s perhaps lacking in B2B sales, specifically, that ability to add context to something that’s relatively mundane?

 

Paul Smith:

Yeah. I think it is. I mean, in fact, just imagine how that artist would have sold me that picture if he’d done it the traditional sales way. He would have said something like this. He’d have said, “Look, Paul, there’s three reasons why you should buy this picture. First of all, it’s the right size to fit on the wall in the bathroom where your wife wants it to go. Second of all, it’s the right colour palette to match the decor in your bathroom. Your wife showed me the picture of the bathrooms and this matches quite nicely. And thirdly, it’s in the right price range that you’ve already told me you’re willing to pay to spend on this piece of art.”

 

Paul Smith:

And those would have been three very rational and logical reasons to buy that picture, but those same three reasons were probably true of dozens of pictures all over that art fair. But that was the only picture that had an interesting story attached to it, and that’s why it’s the one hanging in the bathroom upstairs and the others are not. So that’s the difference. That’s how we normally would sell something.

 

Will Barron:

Sure. And I don’t want to remove too much of the magic here, but, Paul, how many times have you told that story?

 

Paul Smith:

Countless by now I’m sure. A dozen. Yeah.

 

How Salespeople Can Learn and Improve Their Ability to Tell Sales Stories · [15:05]

 

Will Barron:

Because you told it and it was… It’s obviously how you tell the story, your ability to story tell in real time has an effect on this as well. Because I was captivated, but you probably could have told me if I would have told that story, perhaps, it might not have been as captivating as you did it. So, clearly, I’m making the assumption that these are things that we need to rehearse, we need to practise, and there is a skill to delivering them as well.

 

“The story is more important than the delivery.” – Paul Smith · [15:39] 

 

Paul Smith:

Yeah, there is. So, clearly, practise makes perfect, but I tell my clients the story is more important than the delivery. Because some of these stories you’re going to tell over and over and over again in lots of sales calls and you’re going to get really, really good at them. Some of the stories you’re only going to tell a handful of times, or maybe once, because there’s a unique situation that happens and you decide, oh, I need to tell them a story about this thing that happened to me one time. And that situation just never comes up again. So you need to be comfortable with, and have a repertoire of, stories to tell, even if you don’t tell them a lot, and I’m convinced that the delivery is not nearly as important as the story. So just imagine, I’ve now tried to sell you this picture twice now.

 

Paul Smith:

I’ve told you a pig story, and I’ve given you the three reasons why. Now imagine I told you that pig story, but I didn’t tell it with as excited of a tone of voice and maybe I stuttered and stammered a little bit and maybe I kind of butchered the ending, but then I caught up. And maybe my eye contact wasn’t that great and maybe I fidgeted funny with my hands and I made all the rookie mistakes with delivery of any speech or story. I think it still would have worked. And the reason is that you’re not a professional… well, you might be and I am, a professional speaker. Most of us are not though. You might be a salesperson, but you don’t spend your time on stage.

 

“If you deliver the wrong story, but you deliver it in a way that would make a Shakespearian actor proud, your audience will never forgive you for wasting their time. But if you deliver the right story that’s helpful to them and helps them make a decision, but you commit some of those little foibles that I talked about and you don’t deliver it really great, but you get, basically, the main character and when and where it happened and what happened and how it ended and the lesson, if you get the basics right but commit all those other delivery failures, your audience will forgive you, because you’ve helped them.” – Paul Smith · [17:01] 

 

Paul Smith:

You’re not a Hollywood actor. You’re not a Broadway actor. Nobody’s expecting perfection in your delivery, so if you deliver the wrong story, but you deliver it in a way that would make a Shakespearian actor proud, your audience will never forgive you for wasting their time. But if you deliver the right story that’s helpful to them and helps them make a decision, but you commit some of those little foibles that I talked about and you don’t deliver it really great, but you get, basically, the main character and when and where it happened and what happened and how it ended and the lesson, if you get the basics right but commit all those other delivery failures, your audience will forgive you, because you’ve helped them. So don’t think of this as a performance art like you’re on stage. You’re just having conversations with people trying to help them make a good decision.

 

How to Build a Database of Sales Stories From a Sales Leadership Perspective · [17:55] 

 

Will Barron:

Okay. That makes sense. Okay. Now everyone is, myself included, massively sold on this, but from a leadership perspective, I’m going to ask you later on whether we can share stories and how we can tie that together so that Bob can share Mary’s story, perhaps. We’ll get into that in a second. But before that, how do we build a database of these stories? How do we get our team to… Is it just a case of asking them to jot them down when they come up with a story that a buyer responds well to? Is there software that we can use to collate all of this? How do we go about it from a leadership perspective when we are sold on using stories in sales, our team are sold on using stories in sales, but, seemingly, they’re just a mass spray of massive stories that we’re sharing with the marketplace with no real structure?

 

“Your sales stories are the most valuable assets you have in sales.And for most companies, that just exists in the brain of their existing salespeople, which means when they leave or retire or quit or whatever, they’re gone. Whereas the sales pitches and brochures and price lists and order guides and spec sheets are all databased. Your stories should be databased as well, because they are every bit as valuable as those things, probably more valuable. ” – Paul Smith · [18:44] 

 

Paul Smith:

Yeah. So the fact that you’re asking that question is 90% of the success. Most people don’t ask that question, and it’s a great question to ask, because your sales stories are the most valuable assets you have in sales. And for most companies, that just exists in the brain of their existing salespeople, which means when they leave or retire or quit or whatever they’re gone, whereas the sales pitches and brochures and price lists and order guides and spec sheets are all databased. Your stories should be databased as well, because they are every bit as valuable as those things, probably more valuable. The easy answer to your question is database them the easiest way possible. Whatever’s easiest in your company. If that means literally writing them down by hand, fine, write them down by hand. You can probably find a better way to do that. Type them up into a Microsoft Word document and save them on the company shared drive and then everybody has access to it.

 

Paul Smith:

Some of my more sophisticated customers literally create data. They use database software, and they capture them either in video, so you’ll just sit in front of your webcam and tell the story and record it and then that gets saved in some company database. You’ll want to make sure they’re searchable so I can, oh yeah, I want to tell that story about the pig, or it was on an island or something about a pig on an island. And you just search pig, pig island, and then it would come up in your database or whatever. So a lot of my clients have different ways to do that. There are some commercial software apps available that will help you. Mindtickle is one of them. SharperAx is another one of them, and I can help get you links to these things.

 

Paul Smith:

I’ve never found the perfect one, or I’d be using it myself, but, literally, what I use as a Microsoft Word document on my computer. And I didn’t say that plural. Singular. A Microsoft Word document. One document has hundreds and hundreds of stories in it. And I do that just because it makes it easier to search. I open one document and I search for though the pig story or the story about the other thing, or the story about that guy named Bob Jacobson. What was that story about? I just search. It makes it easy to search.

 

Will Barron:

Because it seems like there’s tremendous value in just getting it down out of your head on something.

 

Paul Smith:

Yes.

 

Build Your Own Story Database By Writing Down Unique Customer Interactions · [20:50] 

 

Will Barron:

Because they’re probably quite fleeting, some of these great stories. I know that’s probably, as I ponder on this, chatting with you, Paul, it seems that that’s my experience of it, of I blew someone away with this story, and I’ll go, “Oh, that was a great conversation,” but then I don’t analyse it. I don’t document it. And then you’re almost reinventing the wheel every time you speak with someone from then on.

 

Paul Smith:

Right. So the important thing is to recognise that these stories are valuable, that they should be databased and accessible to other salespeople, and so you need to actively solicit them from your teams and say, “Okay. Every week I want everybody to submit one new story to the sales story database.” Make it an expectation of their job that they help you populate this sales story database. Some of my clients, they all have a weekly team meeting, one hour a week everybody gets together, and it’s all virtual now. At each of those team meetings, one person has to tell a new story, and this week it’s your week and next week it’s my week and the next week it’s Sally’s week. And everybody knows when their week is. And after one year you’ve got 52 new stories. So you just need to make it an expectation, a job expectation, that people bring their stories, document them, and put them into this database and then everybody will have access to it.

 

Is Virtual Storytelling More or Less Effective Than In-person Story Telling · [22:05]

 

Will Barron:

You mentioned virtual then, Paul. Is doing this virtually more or less effective than doing in-person or is there anything else we need to do differently when we do deliver a sales story virtually?

 

Paul Smith:

Yeah, well, if you’d asked me that a few months ago, I would have said, “Well, everything’s less effective virtually than it is in person where you can see and feel maybe not touch, but be close to people.” But I think we’re all getting pretty good at both delivering things virtually and listening to things virtually. I mean, for eight or nine months now, professional buyers have been listening to professional salespeople on Skype or Zoom or Webex or whatever like you and I are right now, and they probably haven’t stopped buying stuff, have they? So they’re still making purchase decisions and salespeople are still selling stuff. So I think we’re learning how to do this.

 

“Stories are not ineffective just because they’re delivered virtually.” – Paul Smith · [23:03]

 

Paul Smith:

If you can get in front of somebody in person, I think it’s probably always going to be better, but stories are not ineffective just because they’re delivered virtually. Did that pig island story just not work for you because you’re seeing me on a tiny screen instead of in your office? Probably not. It probably worked just as well. I think of stories as being vehicle agnostic, meaning it doesn’t matter if you’re delivering it on the phone, in person, on a video call, in a recording live. They’re stories. In writing, in an email, on a website, they all work.

 

Will Barron:

The reason I ask is, and I’ve got no evidence or data on this whatsoever, but, clearly, most people spend a lot of time, whether they appreciate it or not, looking at phones, screens, cinema screens, and consuming content. And I feel like when you were presenting in person, if we add a story in there, clearly, it’s going to have a big impact. And I feel like when we’re doing conversations via Zoom, there’s less of a pressure on people, versus in person, to really pay attention. People, whether it’s, again, subconscious or unconscious, they feel like they can slack a little bit, especially if they can get off the webcam and they’re just consuming the person talking to them. They’re probably doing emails. They’re probably making notes.

 

Why Being Present and Paying Attention During Virtual Meetings is Hard and How Stories Can Help improve People’s Concentration Levels · [25:20] 

 

Will Barron:

But I’m just wondering if there’s some kind of link, again, in our brains, rather than having a conversation through a video channel, we’re used to consuming content and paying attention to a person on a screen where the stories can have their own kind of different impact versus just a conversation. I’ve, again, no… I’m just kind of spitballing here with you, but I wonder if there’s something to that.

 

“I think virtual makes it a little bit easier to not pay attention. But, to me, that makes storytelling even more important.” – Paul Smith · [25:09] 

 

Paul Smith:

Yeah. So I think you’re right, and I think I agree with you that when you’re online, especially if it’s more than two people on the call, it’s easy to multitask, and I can real quick look down and check my phone and you probably won’t notice because there’re five other people. When it’s just two people, like you and I are right now, I think it’d be pretty obvious to you if I wasn’t paying attention. I wouldn’t be looking at you. I’d be looking at my phone. You’d hear me typing on email or whatever. But yet I still agree with you. I think virtual makes it a little bit easier to not pay attention. But, to me, that makes storytelling even more important, because if I was just giving you here are 17 reasons why storytelling works and I was on reason number 12, you might be drifting off a little bit. But right in the middle of that story about the pig island, you were paying close attention.

 

Paul Smith:

So I think stories will help refocus, if you have them every so often in your conversations, it regains attention every time the people that have drifted off. And I see this in my training classes. I mean, I’ll be in the middle of a full day, eight hour training course with people, and, of course, people are going to lose focus a few times during the day. I mean, they’re human. Of course they are. But every time I share a story, I get all eyes back on me, fully focused, no phones are up, no laptop lids are down, and I might do that 10 times during an eight hour training course. And those are the most rapt attention moments is during the story.

 

The Average Person’s Attention Span is Between Seven and 10 Minutes and Then You Need a Point of Reset. Paul Explains How Stories Can Be Used to Help Reset People’s Brain · [26:26] 

 

Will Barron:

I had a PhD… I’m forgetting the chap’s name now, so I apologise if he watches this. He has a PhD and he studies attention, and we were talking about Zoom calls, virtual calls, and he was saying the average person’s attention span, whether you like it or not, is between seven and 10 minutes, and then you need a point of reset. So it seems like a story in that kind of cadence of small topic story to either conclude a learning point, or you mentioned a few things here of a give an action point or teach a lesson. It’s perfect if you can do it every seven to 10 minutes, or maybe you stretch it a little bit further when you can. But it seems like a great way just to break up any meeting, nevermind just a sales meeting.

 

“What I tell people is stories ought to be 10 to 15% of the words coming out of your mouth. So in a one hour meeting, if you do that math that means six to nine minutes, you should be telling stories.” – Paul Smith · [27:07] 

 

Paul Smith:

Yeah. And I’m glad you shared those numbers, because I think that’s fairly close to… I kind of backed into my own set of numbers about how frequently you should tell stories, but I didn’t have that insight. What I tell people is stories ought to be 10 to 15% of the words coming out of your mouth. So in a one hour meeting, if you do that math that means six to nine minutes, you should be telling stories. But the other 85 to 90% of the time, you’re just talking. You’re having conversations like you and I are now, and you’re going through your sales pitch and you’re clicking through your slides and you’re asking them how their mother’s doing and all the normal talk that we do.

 

Paul Smith:

So every 10 to 15% of the time, I think that works out about the same as your every seven to 10 minutes you ought to tell a two minute story. Yeah. That’s about 20%. So we’re in the same ballpark. I think that’s good. So that’s what I tell people is, in that one hour, you might tell three or four two minute stories over the course of the hour. And I think that math works out pretty close.

 

If You Have a Team Story Database, Can a Team Member Share Someone Else’s Story or Does That Defeat The Whole Point? · [28:10] 

 

Will Barron:

Yep. Perfect. Okay. So final thing to wrap up on here, Paul, before the final question I ask everyone that comes on the show, and that is, if we’ve got this database, perhaps you’ve done what you’ve laid out for us here. Every weekly sales meeting, we’ve have one story from one individual and it goes into a document that we can all access. It’s on Google Drive, wherever it is. Can one member of our sales team share someone else’s story, or does that defeat the whole point? Does it make it inauthentic, or is there a way to restructure that story so that rather than just if there’s five people in the team, there’s five stories of their’s documented, they’ve actually got access to 50 odd, because they can reconfigure other people’s stories to be able to share them as well?

 

“You absolutely need to be telling other people’s stories. You will never have enough of your own stories to have enough. I mean, there’s seven billion other people in the world, so there are a lot more of them than there are of you. A lot of the stories you’ll tell are about your other customers who have had great success using the products that you’ve sold them.” – Paul Smith · [28:46] 

 

Paul Smith:

Yeah. You absolutely need to be telling other people’s stories. You will never have enough of your own stories to have enough. I mean, there’s seven billion other people in the world, so there are a lot more of them than there are of you. Absolutely. And now you’re not going to tell them in a dishonest way as if this happened to you. If you’re going to tell a story about Paul Smith, you’ll tell a story about Paul Smith. And you’ve got your peers at work and they’re all going to have had things happen to them or their customers have had experiences and you’re going to tell stories about them. A lot of the stories you’ll tell are about your customers, your other customers who have had great success using the products that you’ve sold them.

 

Paul Smith:

Well, those stories aren’t about you. Those stories are about the customers. In fact, now the story that I guess I did tell you the pig island, I mean, it was sort of about me, but the main story I told you was about the pigs and the entrepreneur and the photographer. Now I was at the beginning of the story, because I walked into the guy’s booth and I walked out with the picture and with 60 fewer dollars in my wallet or whatever, but the main story wasn’t about me at all. It was about other people. So, of course, you should be telling stories about other people all the time and you need to solicit them and make them part of your repertoire.

 

Paul Explains Why Your Sales Stories Should be Focused on Customer Experience · [30:10]

 

Will Barron:

Is there a principle here that perhaps we glossed over earlier on that our stories should be focused on the customer as opposed to how great our sales team is?

 

Paul Smith:

Yeah, definitely. In fact, if you find yourself telling stories about how awesome you are, those should be the minority of the stories you tell for sure, if ever. You definitely want to tell stories that help people understand what you can do for them and what your company can do for them and your services and your product do for them. Yeah. But I can’t imagine you really telling a story about how awesome of a salesperson I am. Yeah. “Hey, Bob, before I try and sell you something, let me tell you how awesome of a salesperson I am. I can sell anything to anybody. Let me give you a few examples of it.” Yeah. That wouldn’t serve anybody’s purposes very well.

 

Telling Stories To Add Context To Your Accomplishments ·  [31:01]

 

Will Barron:

And as you say that, Paul, this is kind of pulling two subjects together here that I’m focused on at the moment with stories but also LinkedIn and social selling in that a lot of people’s LinkedIn profiles start off with, from a sales perspective, the accolades that they have as a salesperson, as opposed to I’ve helped this person do this, I’ve helped this organisation achieve these things. So does all of this then translate into our presence on social media and written content as well as just conversations?

 

Paul Smith:

Yeah. Well, a lot of people on LinkedIn, what they’re selling is themselves. They’re looking for their next job. So I think it’s fair if you’re selling yourself, you need to be telling stories about yourself. So just like you would in a job interview. In a job interview, they’ve already seen your resume. What you should be doing is telling them stories about the things that you’ve accomplished, the things that you’ve done, which would be the things that you can likely do for them as well. So that’s a perfect opportunity where you should be telling stories about yourself and the things that you’ve helped the company who pays you accomplish.

 

Paul Smith:

So I think that’s fair on LinkedIn, but instead of it just being here that my accolades, you ought to include some articles, some blog posts more in a story format. Let me tell you a little bit more deeply about the thing that I accomplished for this company, instead of just I was the top rated salesperson on the west coast or whatever. I mean, that’s nice and put it on there, but they probably want to know more than that.

 

Paul’s Advise to New Sales Leaders on The Power of Storytelling · [32:44] 

 

Will Barron:

Sure. It’s probably what we touched on at the top of the show of a story adds context to an accomplishment and achievement. So I love that we can put our accomplishments and then we can wrap them up with context via story. Okay. Well with that, Paul got one final question for you, mate. It’s something I ask everyone that comes on the show. If you could offer advice to a brand new sales leader, they’ve been in the job for 30, 60, 90 days, hopefully it’s going to be something to do with storytelling, but what’s that one piece of advice that you’d offer them?

 

“All the way from the moment that you introduce yourself to the prospect, to building rapport, making the sales pitch, handling objections, closing the sale, to even the service after the sale. There’s a handful of types of stories that you should be telling at each of those phases throughout the entire sales process, which might be six months or a year or more depending on the industry you’re in. There are a couple of dozen different types of stories you might tell the same buyer over the course of a year, depending on where you are in the sales cycle. I think sales leaders, the first thing they need to do is figure out what stories you need and which ones you don’t have yet, because those are the ones you need to go out and find.” – Paul Smith · [33:44] 

 

Paul Smith:

Figure out what stories you need and which ones you don’t have. That’s the most important thing, I think, is to figure it. So we talked earlier about is, is how you deliver a story really important. It’s not that important. Yeah, they’ll be better if they’re delivered well, but it all starts with having the right stories, and my experience, most salespeople and even sales leaders, experienced sales leaders, don’t realise how many different types of sales stories they could and should be telling. They know the kind of sales pitches they want their people delivering, but they’re not familiar with the breadth of sales stories they could and should be telling. In fact, in my book, Sell With a Story, I document 25 different types of sales stories all the way from the moment when you introduce yourself to the prospect, to building rapport, to making the sales pitch, to handling objections, to closing the sale, even service after the sale.

 

Paul Smith:

I mean, there’s a handful of types of stories that you should be telling at each of those phases throughout the entire sales process, which might be six months or a year or more depending on the industry you’re in. So there are a couple of dozen different types of stories you might tell the same buyer over the course of a year, depending on where you are in the sales cycle. And I think sales leaders, the first thing they need to do is figure out what stories do we need and which ones don’t we have yet, because those are the ones we need to go find. Do we need more stories about how we’re different than our competitors, or are we lacking stories about the invention of the product that we’re selling, or are we lacking stories to create a sense of urgency to close the sale, or are we lacking stories to help negotiate price? What stories are we missing from this list? And then let’s go get them.

 

Parting Thoughts and Paul’s Book: Sell with a Story · [34:47] 

 

Will Barron:

It’s funny. You just took the words out of my mouth. I was just about to plug the heck out of the book, Sell With a Story. I’ve left it in the wrong freaking room. In the intro I’ll hopefully have it on the table when I record that later on, Paul, because you split it up across the sales cycle, as you said, and enlist the different types of stories that we need at each point of the sales cycle really succinctly. So I got a lot out of the book, and it’s highly recommended from me. I’ll link it in the show notes over @salesmen.org. And that’s what I wanted to wrap up the show with, and you’ve covered it there perfectly in that there’s strategy to this, isn’t there? We need to source out where we are, where there’s gaps in our conversations, in our ability to tell stories, and the book covers all of that and more. So with that, Paul, tell us where we can find the book and where we can find more about you as well.

 

Paul Smith:

Yeah. Thank you. So you can find the book anywhere online that you buy books, Amazon or Barnes and Noble or wherever, and you can find me and links to the book and the training courses I teach on my website, which is leadwithastory.com. That was the name of my first book was Lead With a Story. Sell With a Story came a little bit later, but they’re all on the same website there.

 

Will Barron:

Perfect. Well, I’ll link to all that and everything else we’ve talked about in the show notes for this episode over at salesleadership.org. And with that, Paul, I want to thank you for your time and, again, for joining us on the Sales Leadership Show.

 

Paul Smith:

Yeah. Thanks for having me. That was fun.

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