Tiffany is a senior account executive at DataServ, a company that helps businesses go completely paperless and manage all their payables, receivables, and human resources processes and documents online.
One of the more common objections she gets during a call with a new prospect goes something like this: “I know your system would save us some time, and we’re really busy right now. But I’m just not sure the return on that time savings would be worth the investment.”
When she digs a little deeper to nd out what’s behind the objection, Tiffany often finds the following story playing out in the prospect’s head: “If I didn’t have to spend so much time on paperwork, I guess I could finally clean up our vendor master files. That would allow me to really understand how much we’re spending with each vendor and put me in a better position to negotiate for discounts. But that’s not going to be a very big number.”
In response, instead of a fact or set of arguments, Tiffany shares the following story of one of her recent prospects that had the same objection—the local municipal zoo:
In one of my early calls with the zoo, I found out they were extremely busy, like you. They were spending a lot of time keying in documents to their internal system, just like you do, and shipping off hard copies of documents to off-site storage facilities just to have to go searching through a warehouse for them later. I explained how with our system, they wouldn’t have to do any of that anymore and would save a significant amount of time. So I asked them, “What could you do if you had all that time back?”
Their eyes got really big at that point and they said, “We’d be able to do more research and apply for more grant money.”
So I said, “Isn’t grant money how you pay for most everything around here? Like that new gorilla exhibit you’ve been working on for months?”
They said, “Yes.”
So I said, “Let me get this straight. All this administrative paperwork is actually holding you back from pursuing your number one revenue source?”
“Yeah, I guess it is.”
“Well, then, it sounds like a no-brainer to me.”
That’s when Tiffany stops telling her story and provides a little silence for it to do its work. She tells the story because it’s hard for most people to think of the most profitable way to spend a bunch of extra time they don’t have yet—because they don’t have it yet.
Apparently, it’s not uncommon for prospects to come up with a few small issues to work on, like cleaning up the vendor master files. But after they hear her story, it’s easier for prospects to think of much higher value work they could be doing—either because the story prompted them to think outside the box for a minute or because they just don’t want to appear small-minded in comparison to Tiffany’s other prospects.
Either way, they quickly think of more valuable ways to spend their time. Her story immediately, and legitimately, drives up the value of the product Tiffany is selling. Just asking them to “think harder” about how to spend that extra time doesn’t work nearly as well.
Notice something else interesting about this story. This isn’t a sales success story where it ends with the zoo signing on the dotted line and becoming Tiffany’s newest client. That hasn’t happened yet (though she’s con dent that it will). Tiffany doesn’t limit her stories to current clients. She knows there’s also wisdom to be found in her calls with prospects that didn’t work out and those that just haven’t worked out yet. You should keep your mind open to these unexpected sources of story material, too.
[You can find this and dozens of other examples and lessons on storytelling in sales in my book, Sell with a Story.]
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 Story, Parenting with a Story, and Sell with a Story.
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