Just how to use science of storytelling to boost sales

By CEO Africa Team

Personal stories most of time do not sell. Counting on it is a wrong idea. It is not about you. One of the worst things salespeople can do is tell stories that put the focus on themselves.

Why Sales Stories Sell? Captivating your audience in sales is an art as much as it is a science. But I would say that only 20% of people who use it understand it, and the rest have no idea what they are doing. A good salesperson knows how to talk; a great salesperson knows how to tell sales stories.

Stories make your products special, thereby increasing their monetary value as it set your offering apart from your competitors; near substitutes and build demand. This is particularly critical for small businesses that need to differentiate themselves, often with no budget. As an added benefit, stories support your social media and content marketing efforts.

Sales stories have a profound effect on our brains and our behavior. This goes back to childhood, when the most basic request we made as kids, besides “I am hungry,” was “Tell me a story.”

The persuasive force of stories has been well documented. A series of experiments performed by neuroeconomics pioneer Paul Zak found that stories that are highly engaging and contain key elements; including a climax and denouement, can elicit powerful empathic responses by triggering the release of Oxytocin. Often referred to as the “trust hormone,” this neurochemical promotes connection and encourages people to feel empathy. When released in the brain of your prospect it can help to build trust in your brand or product, and in doing so increase sales.

However, stories that do not have a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end do not engage our brains in the same way. In fact, people ignore them. In Zak’s own words: “Stories are powerful because they transport us into other people’s worlds but, in doing that, they change the way our brains work and potentially change our brain chemistry. That is what it means to be a social creature.”

In a nutshell, a killer story is full of visual and sense-based detail and moves in real time. I like to call it “making a movie with words.” It engages the recipient in a special way.

Think like a Marketer; Sell like a Superstar. Combine compelling facts with attractive sales stories, and you have got a winning recipe to increase sales.

“Stories, especially metaphors, work on the subconscious mind,” says Erik Luhrs, author of “Be Do Sale” and the man behind the GURUS Selling System website. “In sales situations, stories allow the subconscious mind of the prospect to truly ‘get’ and see the valuable application of the solution.” He adds that this is because neuro-linguistic programming shows that “all humans run 99 percent subconsciously and only one percent consciously.”

Metaphors help our brains experience a story, as if we were living it ourselves. Listening to a powerpoint presentation where a presenter is dutifully reading off bullet points, for example, will activate the language processing parts of your brain, where you decode words into meaning. That is it, nothing else happens.

But things change dramatically when you are listening to a story. Researchers found that not only are the language processing parts of our brain activated, but also other areas of the brain, what we would use if actually experiencing the events of the story light up too.

But also there is a flip side that illustrates a hard truth in sales: “It is not just storytelling that sells but its relevance to target clients’ matters a lot. You have to understand what the other person is doing and you really have to do their homework. If someone told me a story and it had nothing to do with what I care about, it is a waste of time. But if it is a shared connection, or something I am looking to achieve with my company, then that is the key to it.


Storytelling is on its way to become a buzzword like “innovation,” “collaboration,” or “disruption” that seems to lose value every time someone in business uses it. Of course the ability to tell a coherent, entertaining, persuasive story is a must for salespeople, but the advice often from sales, “experts” who have a three-, four-, or six-step plan they want to sell you, tends to range from the generic to the condescending.

And by that I mean condescending to both the salesperson and the customer. The advice often assumes the salesperson needs the most rudimentary storytelling tips ( have a solid beginning, middle and end) hence the customer will buy anything so long as you hand him or her a competent story about yourself. Almost all the advice I read suggests that salespeople tell personal stories: just ‘walk’ people (step-by-step) through a painful problem you went through and how you achieved the result your readers are looking for.

Personal stories most of time do not sell. Counting on it is a wrong idea. It is not about you. One of the worst things salespeople can do is tell stories that put the focus on themselves. Of course, salespeople or not, we all want to tell stories that move people and influence them. Evolutionary psychologists tell us it is a basic need. Stories move people better than bullet points, spreadsheets, or comparative metrics. Stories, as long as they are a healthy combination of authority and vulnerability, bring people closer together.

But if you are telling a story, make it a story about the customer, not the product or service you are trying to sell: even if the product or service is you. Do not tell a story about how the product or service is great or how the product or service can make the customer great. Instead, put yourself in your customers’ shoes. What do they want? If your product or service helps them get there, talk to them about what it is like to get there and be there. Are you confident that using your product or service will help your customer be great? Show it.

So how does my story of writing this article end? That is not worth a hoot. Here is the golden coin: Find your story. Write it. Hone it to perfection by rewriting it. Run it by an ally. Now, commit it to memory. Connect it to your product or service and make it personal, not contrived. Then tell it. And see what a difference it makes.







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