(This is the 3rd in a series of the 25 Most Useful Sales Stories salespeople should have in their repertoire.)
In 2008, Wharton management professor and social psychologist Adam Grant conducted a very telling study. He and two research assistants went to an outbound call center where a fund-raising organization was raising money for a university. They divided the callers into three random groups.
Ten minutes prior to starting their shift, the first and second groups were asked to report to the break room where they were asked to read stories. The third group (the control group) was left to report to work on time as usual.
The first group, which we’ll call the benefit-to-others group, read stories that were written by students at the university who’d received scholarships funded by the money raised at the call center. For example, one story was by an engineering student who wrote about how the scholarship allowed him to pursue his education and participate in a number of extracurricular activities.
The second group, which we’ll call the benefit-to-me group, read stories written by previous call center employees describing how their jobs at the call center had made a difference in their careers. For example, one story was about how the call center experience helped an employee get a lucrative job in the real estate business.
These story sessions were conducted two nights in a row. Each caller’s success in fund-raising for a week following the intervention was recorded and compared to how the caller did a week prior to reading the stories.
The results showed that both the control group and the benefit-to-me group had no significant change in the number of pledges or the total money raised. But the benefit-to-others group more than doubled both the number of pledges and the total money raised.
The obvious conclusion Grant and his team reached was the power of storytelling on the sales performance of the fund-raisers. However, not just any stories will do. Stories that highlight how important their job is to them personally had no effect. But stories about how much good they were doing for other people—stories that gave their work a noble purpose—had a tremendous effect.
Many of the salespeople I interviewed in my research admitted to this kind of self-storytelling, usually through inner monologue, that helped them in several ways. The most notable reason was to motivate themselves to do well in their next sales call, just like the call center fund-raisers who benefited from Grant’s stories in his study. A beautiful case in point follows.
In her inspiring book, Selling with Noble Purpose, sales consultant Lisa McLeod recounts a conversation she had with a top sales rep at a major biotech company. Lisa asked the rep, “What do you think about when you go on sales calls? What’s going on in your head?” Lisa writes that the rep sheepishly admitted the following:
When I go on sales calls, I always think about this particular patient who came up to me one day during a call on a doctor’s office.
I was standing in the hallway talking to one of the doctors. I was wearing my company name badge, so I stood out. All of a sudden this elderly woman taps me on the shoulder.
“Excuse me, Miss,” she said. “Are you from the company that makes drug x?”
“I just want to thank you,” she said. “Before my doctor prescribed your drug, I barely had enough energy to leave the house. But now I can visit my grandkids; I can get down on the floor to play with them. I can travel. So thank you. You gave me back my life.”
Lisa writes that the sales rep told her, “I think about that woman every day. If it’s 4:30 on a rainy Friday afternoon, other sales reps go home. I don’t. I make the extra sales call because I know I’m not just pitching a product. I’m saving people’s lives. That grandmother is my higher purpose.”
How to Find Your Personal Motivation Story
Motivational speaker and sales guru Zig Ziglar reminded his audiences that “Sales isn’t something you do to someone. It’s something you do for someone.” In other words, if you do your job properly, you’re doing people a great service. In fact, Ziglar went further to suggest salespeople “think of themselves as an assistant buyer,” helping buyers find what they need and what’s best for them.
If you don’t have one already, you need your own personal motivation story like the biotech rep’s story above—one that can remind you that you’re actually doing your clients a great service. Here’s how to get started:
- Think about a time when you made a real difference for one of your customers. This would be a time you went above and beyond what was expected of you or when what was expected of you resulted in an extraordinary success for your customer.
- Recall the situation that surrounded it. What problem did the customer come to you with? What was your first reaction? Your second? How did you solve the problem for them? What did they say to you when you delivered the solution? How did it make them feel?
- Finally, think about the moment when you realized that what you had done made an extraordinary difference to the customer. Was it the words that they said to you? The tone of their voice? The sincere look in their eyes? The complimentary note they wrote to your boss? The “supplier of the year” award that was handed to you on stage? Something else? And how did you feel at that moment? That moment is the climax of the story you’re going to create. Write down all of the events leading up to that moment and how it felt to know in that instant how important you were to that customer.
This is your personal motivation story. Tell it to yourself prior to important sales calls, or just any time you need a bit of motivation to pick up the phone or knock on another door. If done consistently, Adam Grant’s study suggests it could double your sales.
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 Story, Parenting with a Story, and Sell with a Story.
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