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This podcast and the episodes that follow are primarily for people who work in sales or business development. But what you’ll learn here can help anyone who needs to influence others in the course of their work day, even if that’s giving a presentation, or making a recommendation to the VP, or asking your boss for a raise.
My goal is to help you use the art and science of storytelling to help you be more effective in your sales role. What you’ll hear will come from two primary sources. Most will be stories that come from interviews I conducted with professional sales and procurement managers from over 50 companies around the world, including: Microsoft, Costco, Xerox, Abercrombie & Fitch, Hewlett Packard, Kroger, Cushman & Wakefield, Huntington Bank, Ghirardelli Chocolates, Amway, and Children’s Hospital, among others — all of which are documented in my book, Sell with a Story: How to Capture Attention, Build Trust, and Close the Sale.
On other episodes I’ll have guest authors and experts in the sales field, including bestselling sales authors like Mike Weinberg, Anthony Ianarrino, Mark Hunter, and others.
For this first episode, what I mostly want to do is to introduce you to the concept of a sales story and give you an example of what I mean by that. When I say a “sales story” I don’t mean a “sales pitch.” I mean an actual story, meaning a narrative about something that happened to someone. And specifically, a story that can play a meaningful role at any point in the sales process, from introducing yourself to the buyer, to building rapport, to the actual sales pitch itself, to closing the sale, and even service after the sale.
As I learned in the the research, there are many kinds of sales stories (I found 25 to be exact). But here’s one of my favorite examples just to give you a feel for what I mean when I say a sales story.
IN MAY 2015, my wife and I went to an art fair in Cincinnati, Ohio. She was looking for a picture for our sons’ bathroom at home.
We got to the booth of an underwater photographer named Chris Gug. His gallery is full of breathtaking underwater shots of anemones, corals, sea turtles, and whales. My wife got attached to a picture that, to me, 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 saltwater, 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.
Chris 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. 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 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.
This podcast series will help you tell better sales stories.
Special Offer: As a thank you and reward for listening to or reading this new podcast series, I’m giving away three free copies of the Audible edition of the book it’s based on, Sell with a Story: How to Capture Attention, Build Trust, and Close the Sale. That’s the downloadable audio version that you would listen to on your phone or in the car. If you’d like to win one of those, click this link and play this podcast directly from iTunes. You can skip to the last 60 seconds of the podcast where you’ll find instructions for how to win one of the free Audible books. I’ll leave the contest open for 2 weeks after this podcast first posts. Good luck!
[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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