SALES 101: Explaining the Problem

[The 13th in a series of the 25 most useful sales stories.]

One of the most important stories you’ll ever tell as a salesperson is about someone who encountered exactly the kind of problem your product or service is designed to solve. It lets buyers understand the problem in a more personal, visceral way than just being told, “I’ll bet you have this problem. And it’s especially useful if the buyer doesn’t even know they have a problem.

Here’s an example.

Kevin Moulton was director of sales for an online security company. When he met with prospects in the banking industry, he’d have all the research and statistics he needed for the main sales pitch. But he was also likely to tell them about a trip he made a few years ago to Las Vegas. . .

The ATM in Las Vegas

He was there for a corporate event, but like everyone else, he made it a point to take in some of the Vegas night life.

“About 1 a.m.,” he explains, “I realized I was out of money, so I found the nearest ATM. I put in my card and password, but the machine denied the transaction. Apparently, my bank thought it might be fraudulent. I don’t have a problem with that. I like that my bank looks out for that kind of thing.”

What the bank personnel did about it, however, did create a problem for Kevin. He said,

They called my wife!”

“Okay, it’s four o’clock in the morning in New Jersey where we live. And you have to imagine what she’s hearing on her end of the phone. It must have sounded something like, ‘I’m sorry to bother you, ma’am, but your husband is trying to get a boat load of cash at a casino in Las Vegas at 1 o’clock in the morning. Do you approve?’ How pissed do you think I was at my bank?”

What bothered Kevin even more was that the bank had an emergency phone number for him on file, which was his cell phone number. “But did they use it?” he grumbles. “No! They called my home instead. I called the bank the next day and reminded them that they had my cell phone number. They said, ‘It’s our policy to call the home number.’ Well, then, why do they even have it?”

How it works

The story establishes the problem that in their zeal to protect their customers from fraud, banks sometimes make it too difficult for their customers to do legitimate business with them. They can even, as this story illustrates, cause trouble in their customers’ personal lives.

Instead, he could tell them, “Our research shows that 37.5% of your customers are moderately to significantly dissatisfied with their interactions with your bank.” And if he has that data, he should. But the story communicates the issue in a much more tangible, memorable and human way.

After telling his story, it’s easy for Kevin’s prospects to realize that they might be similarly frustrating their customers and not even know it. After talking about what their issues might be, Kevin shares ways his company can help fix those problems.

This kind of “problem story” is a critical part of a sales pitch and is a must-have in your repertoire of stories.

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

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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