What we can all learn about selling . . . from a pig.


I’m very excited to announce today the publication of the Kindle version of my newest book, Sell with a Story: How to Capture Attention, Build Trust, and Close the Sale. As you can tell from the title, it’s about how to use the power of storytelling for salespeople, or anyone who needs to be persuasive really, to be more effective at their job. In honor of that, this week’s story comes from that book. In fact, it’s the opening story on page one. . .

In May of 2015, my wife, Lisa, convinced me to attend a juried art fair with her at Coney Island in Cincinnati, Ohio. As an artist herself, she has a sophisticated appreciation for fine art that I don’t. She can spend hours on end lazily drifting from one booth to the next, studying each piece and talking to the artists about their inspiration, medium, and techniques. Me, I just like to look at the pictures.

As the day dragged on, we arrived at the booth of Chris Gug (pronounced “Goog”), a photographer known for his awe-inspiring images of marine life. His gallery is full of breathtaking underwater shots of anemones, corals, sea turtles, and whales. On a mission to find a piece for our boys’ bathroom at home, Lisa eyed a picture that looked about as out of place as a pig in the ocean.

It was a picture of a pig in the ocean.

She described it as inspired genius—a cute little baby piglet, up to its nostrils in the salt water, snout covered with sand, dog-paddling its way straight into the camera lens.

I thought it was a picture of a pig in the ocean.

The artist joined us as we admired his piece—Lisa admiring it in her way while I admired it in mine. I asked him what on Earth that pig was doing in the ocean. And that’s when the magic started.

Gug explained that the picture was taken in the Caribbean, just off the beach of an uninhabited Bahamian island officially named Big Major Cay. He told us that years ago, a local entrepreneur brought a drove of pigs to the island to raise for bacon. Gug went on:

“But, as you can see in the picture, there’s not much more than cactus on the island for them to eat. And pigs don’t much like cactus. I guess in typical laid-back Bahamian fashion, the entrepreneur failed to plan that far ahead. So the pigs weren’t doing very well. But at some point, a restaurant owner on a nearby island started bringing his kitchen refuse by boat over to Big Major Cay and dumping it a few dozen yards off shore. The hungry pigs eventually learned to swim to get to the food. Each generation of pigs followed suit, and now all the pigs on the island can swim. As a result, today the island is more commonly known as Pig Island.”

Gug went on to describe how the pigs learned that approaching boats meant food, so they eagerly swim up to anyone arriving by boat. And that’s what allowed him to more easily get the close-up shot of the cute little sandy-nosed, dog-paddling piglet.

I handed him my credit card and said, “We’ll take it!”

Why my change of heart? The moment before he shared his story (to me at least), the photo was just a picture of a pig in the ocean, worth little more than the paper it was reproduced on. But two minutes later, it was no longer just a picture. It was a story—a story I would be reminded of every time I looked at it. The story turned the picture into a conversation piece—a unique combination of geography lesson, history lesson, and animal psychology lesson all in one.

In the two minutes it took Gug to tell us that story, the value of that picture increased immensely. Perhaps for an art aficionado like my wife, it was already a valuable piece. But for me, my interest in and willingness to pay good money for that picture increased exponentially as a result of the story.

Stories sell. And the people who can tell a good sales story sell more than people who can’t. Sell with a Story will help you tell better sales stories.

(Note: it turns out there are other theories about how Pig Island got its name, but this is the one Chris Gug heard and the one that he shared with me. Not that it matters. The truth is there is no situation in which a pig would find itself in the Caribbean Ocean happily swimming its sand-covered snout up to a camera lens that would not be entertaining. I was just happy to hear one of them. You can find Chris Gug’s work, including the picture of the pig, at www.gugunderwater.com.)

[You can find this and dozens of other examples and lessons on storytelling in sales in my book, Sell with a Story.]

PAS square profile Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books Lead with a StoryParenting with a Story, and Sell with a Story.

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Comments

  1. My copy arrived! Thank you so much! I love this lead in Pig story. I always ask artists the stories behind their work and every single time the work becomes that much more interesting and indeed valuable.
    Hugs from my heart to yours and congratulations on your next book! Wow, deeply inspiring!

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