Sales Story #1: Explaining What You Do, Simply

In an earlier post, I shared an overview of the 25 most useful sales stories that salespeople need. In this episode, I share an example of one of those 25 stories, and talk about how you can craft a similar one for yourself. I’ll discuss each of the other 24 sales stories in separate posts in the future, roughly in the order you’re going to need them in the typical sales process.

And the earliest opportunity you have to tell a story is the moment you introduce yourself to a potential new customer.

It could be in an email you’re sending or a phone call you’re placing for the purpose of introducing yourself. Or it could be face to face at a networking event as you’re exchanging business cards with someone who may or may not turn out to be a prospect.

Whatever the venue, the question you’re answering is likely the same: “So, what do you do for a living?” And the way you answer that question will determine how much interest your prospects have in listening to anything else you have to say before deleting the email or making an awkward escape to the cocktail bar.

There are generally two types of stories used at this stage of the relationship. The first type explains what you do for a living in a way that’s meaningful if your audience happens to be a prospect, but without putting them to sleep if they’re not. (I’ll explain the second type in a future post.)

In other words, the story avoids this kind of corporate yawner that’s guaranteed to leave you standing alone at the hors d’oeuvre table:

I represent a company that’s best in class at optimizing the distribution channels between the core manufacturing center and the desired consumer experience.”

What does that even mean?

There’s a better way. Almost all of the examples I’ll be sharing in this series are original stories based on interviews I conducted with professional sales and procurement managers. But for this one, the best example I’ve come across was in a book called Unique Sales Stories by Mark Satterfield. In it, he offered the following story for exactly the purpose I’m talking about. Instead of the eye-roller presented above, imagine if our distribution channel expert had answered the question like this:

Well, suppose you’re in the chicken business. They’re pretty perishable things and I don’t know if you’ve ever unwrapped a chicken you’ve bought at the grocery store that’s gone bad, but it’s not an experience you want to repeat. Anyway, the tricky part is, how do you get the chicken from the farm to the retail store, in less than three days, all ready for cooking and smelling nice? That process has a lot of moving parts, a lot of people involved, actually a lot of different companies, and if one thing breaks down from farm to grocery store, the whole thing turns into an enormous, foul-smelling hair ball real quickly.

So basically what I do is to look at all the steps in the process and try to figure out if there’s some way we can do them faster, better, less expensively, or more efficiently.”

See how much more clear and interesting that was? Sure, it took a little longer (30 seconds longer, by my estimation). But so what? Who would rather endure 10 seconds of unhelpful, overly-scripted boredom than 40 seconds of a genuine, conversational, and even entertaining story that actually answers the question?

More important, which of those two types of answers is likely to get you invited to the buyer’s office for a sales call? Exactly.

So, if your “what I do for a living” answer sounds more like the first response above, you have some work to do. Fortunately, this is one of the easiest stories to develop that you’ll come across in this series. (We’re starting simple.) The reason it’s so easy is that—as you might have noticed—it’s completely made up. It’s a fictional story based on a hypothetical situation.

So, unlike the typical stories we’ll be discussing, you won’t need to wrack your brain to remember the details or hunt down the exact facts of the case. Just rely on your knowledge of the business and the typical type of problems your company tends to solve, and create a plausible storyline around it.

You know you’ve got it about right when you can tell the story to your mom, your spouse, or your kids and they can understand what you do for a living.

So, your first homework assignment is to develop this kind of story for yourself. Here’s how:

  1. Invent a main character who’s in a typical industry you serve (“Suppose you’re in the chicken business”).
  2. Describe a plausible series of events (“get the chicken from the farm to the retail store”) that results in the problem your product or service is designed to fix (“the whole thing turns into an enormous, foul-smelling hair ball”).
  3. Finish with a one-sentence description of what you do to solve that problem (“So basically what I do is to look at all the steps in the process and try to figure out if there is some way we can do them faster, better . . .”).

I’d love to see what you come up with in the comments section below. The best story will win a FREE copy of the Audible Edition of my book, Sell with a Story. 

Source: Sell with a Story: How to Capture Attention, Build Trust, and Close the Sale, by Paul Smith.

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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