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Storytelling Drives Results in Sales and Marketing

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This post is part of Prezi’s #PreziCast series – a four-part webinar series where we host the best-and-brightest minds to discuss the 2018 State of Attention Report – and what it means for B2B sales and marketing professionals.

Prezi recently conducted a survey of over 2,000 B2B professionals on the ways in which they consume and engage with content and presentations, publishing the results in the 2018 State of Attention Report.

What they found was that buyers need compelling stories from your brand to stay engaged throughout the marketing and sales funnel.

How Storytelling Applies to B2B Sales and Marketing

In our first #PreziCast episode, we invited SalesStack CEO Chris Ortolano to host legendary sales consultants Marylou Tyler and Nigel Green, along with Prezi Director of Brand Marketing, Stefanie Grossman, to discuss the essence of storytelling in B2B sales and marketing — from why everyone can (and should) do it, to how to do it right.

Watch the full replay of the webinar here, and read along with the transcript, which highlights the most important discussion points from our conversation.

Act I. Meet the Panelists

Marylou Tyler is the Founder of Strategic Pipeline, a Fortune 1000 outbound sales process improvement consulting group. Her client list includes Apple, Bose, Gartner, and many more. With over 25 years of sales process consulting work, she has codified a 7-step approach in her most recent book, Predictable Prospecting, which follows Predictable Revenue, another bestseller.

With Predictable Prospecting, Marylou introduces Compel-with-Content, a framework for composing emails that uses a more persuasive storytelling approach than the standard emails commonly used in most prospecting sequences.

According to Marylou, Compel-with-Content was born as a result of the frustration we’ve all experienced from receiving messages that fall flat, add no value to our day, and feel slimy or spammy in nature.

Marylou wanted to develop a simple structure we, (non-writers) could follow to address the 3 big questions in our prospects’ minds:

  • Why should I change?
  • Why Now?
  • Why You?

Crafting visual stories, one pain point at a time, transforms our reader, our listener, or the person we’ve cold-called from their current, closed state of mind into one that is more open and ready to explore new tools.

Nigel Green is the Founder of Evergreen, a Sales and Marketing Consultancy, and has assumed leadership roles at companies like Foundations Recovery Network, Ascension, StoryBrand, and Relode. He has had an amazing career as an expert sales process consultant.

According to Nigel, the market has never been more competitive. And, we would think that, because customers have access to data, only the best products would have a chance of being sold in today’s market.

That’s not entirely true. People don’t buy the best products, but the ones they can understand the fastest. Story is the best way to engage a potential buyer.

Here’s where most sellers get it wrong: they try and tell their product’s story or their company’s story. The only story that sells your product is the story that places your offering in the prospect’s story.

Stefanie (Grossman) Eastman is Director of Marketing at Prezi, where she is responsible for all aspects of brand including brand strategy and positioning. Prior to her current role, she worked at Popchips, Revlon, and Dannon leading customer specific marketing strategies to drive growth and revenue.

Stefanie’s team here at Prezi recently published the 2018 State of Attention report, which finds that, contrary to Microsoft’s findings in 2014 that buyers have shorter attention spans than goldfish, nothing could be further from the truth.

Prezi’s report affirms that business professionals have much longer attention spans than the 8 seconds those outdated and incorrect findings claimed – they’re just more selective about what they engage with, who they pay attention to, and how they consume content. Most importantly, respondents indicated that storytelling is the key to engaging and holding buyer attention.

Act II. How to Use Storytelling to Build Buyer Awareness

The first thing to do is recognize where people are in the pipeline. With cold prospects, you’re bumping into people who are probably wondering who you are, what you sell, and why they should care.

We may also be engaging with people we have attracted via inbound channels. Theoretically, these people should know about the product, and know a little bit about how it can address the problem they have might have.

Marylou’s Technique: Flip the Case Study On Its Side

An important first step to assessing the terms of engagement with the client: discern the problems and obstacles driving them up a wall.

Pro-Tip: You can learn a lot about a B2B buyer based on doing basic research on social media. LinkedIn can give you insights such as job title, industry, or geography, as well as information on how the company itself is doing, then quickly whittle down the potentially relevant content

We need to figure out the stories that are most compelling to our buyer — that is, the ones that feature a ‘hero’ who is the most like them, facing the same obstacles they are facing, and overcoming the exact problems currently driving them crazy.

From there, we need to get specific proof points that show we can solve their obstacles and get them the outcomes they want.

Marylou’s Technique: Use Specific Pain Points in Email Sequence.

Marylou recommends using an 8-touch email format — each with a different pain point — to find the trigger that makes prospects jolt up in their computer and say – wow, these guys are talking about me.

Then, within the email, provide a white paper or infographic call-to-action that inspires prospects to learn more.

Marylou’s Technique: Interview Sales Reps To Write Conversational Emails

Salespeople are notorious for refusing to think of themselves as writers. But they will have no problem saying they are the master of the sales conversation.

Marylou recommends having salespeople do a quick conversational opening, recording it, transcribing it, and editing it down into email format.

There are 3 specific customer story types to use in your email:

  • Customer With the Highest Revenue
  • Customer With the Best Outcomes
  • Customer That Fits the Ideal Client Profile

Act III. How to Tell Stories that Captivate Your Audience

The first thing that prospects tend to ask salespeople is, “What do you do?”

And in response, salespeople tend to start talking about their business. “My grandfather started this company 50 years ago,” or, “We won this great award.” That doesn’t help you or your prospect to understand how a partnership as buyer and seller is mutually beneficial.

What salespeople should be doing is steering the conversation towards the buyer’s problems, and how their business offerings can solve them.

Nigel’s Technique: Use a Three-Part Framework for Storytelling

Nigel has a three-part framework that puts the ball in the customer’s court and gets them to open up to you about the problems they are facing.

  1. What is the problem?
  2. What is your solution?
  3. What is the reward for the customer?

Example One: You own a pet store. Pet owners are concerned with what their pets are eating. That’s the problem. The solution is “We source all our food from local vendors to make sure your pets are happy and healthy.” The reward is “You have peace of mind as a pet owner.”

Example Two: You work for a financial services company. The problem you’re solving is that most people can’t wrap their heads around their financial future. The solution is “We put all your relevant financial metrics on a single dashboard you can easily view.” The reward for the customer is that they get peace of mind about their financial future.

Stefanie’s Technique: Use Story to Get Clients to Open Up

A great way to spark conversation is to tell a story. Stefanie advises using story to get prospects to tell their story, citing an example of a Prezi customer who sold concrete (his main value prop being that his concrete lasts longer than anyone else’s).

This Prezi client often tells his potential buyers stories about his passion for sustainable concrete engineering, contrasting disintegrating modern concrete structures with ancient Roman concrete buildings still standing today. This approach encourages prospects to open up about their story, their problems and fears, and explore why they are interested in buying your product or service.

Marylou’s Technique: Pre-plan to Understand Client Stories

You’ve heard the term, “you need to walk in the shoes of your prospect.” Marylou recommends spending time in a planning session to figure out what is causing prospect frustration.

You have to look at the daily activities of your prospect. Typically, prospects have 3 problems:

  1. Starting a job.
  2. Getting a job done.
  3. Getting a job done with quality.

You have to discover where there is the source of the frustration. Alongside these challenges, there are also gains that you can discover.

Digging into the day in the life of a prospect as if you are them helps you understand where to focus your energy when describing the challenges your business can solve for them. That’s what’s going to pique their interest.

Also, many salespeople are guilty of making prospects work to figure out what their own problem is. Story helps to open up their mind about their problem and expand their awareness of their own challenges.

Nigel’s Technique: Dig Into Feelings and Sense of Injustice

Once you’re meeting with a prospect, they are interested in two things:

  1. How the problem makes them feel.
  2. Why it’s an injustice in their world.

When we talk about the problem and the backstory, we must remember that our prospects are anchored by thoughts like, “My problem makes me feel uncomfortable or insecure,” or “Maybe if I work with this company, it will fix my problem and make everything right in the world.”

We have to remember, people don’t buy things just because there’s a problem. They buy things because of how the problem makes them feel, or the injustice associated with the problem, and the idea that buying your product or service will relieve the negative emotions, vulnerabilities, or insecurities associated with that problem.

Act IV. How to Use Stories to Share Insights

By the time you have a meeting with a prospect, they have hopefully learned a ton about your business.

The worst thing you can come in and do is start repeating information they already know. The prospect is coming to the meeting to gain further information and to make a decision. You need to come in and share what they don’t know, in order to help them make that decision.

 

The buyer is in a particular state and they need to convert. You need to look at compelling events and factors that differentiate you from the plethora of other competitors and competing interests in their life in general.

This is a nice time to explode the shared pains of the story. Make it authentic, make it you. We still buy from people at the end of the day. As Nigel said, there’s a comfort when you trust the people you’re buying from.

Sure, the product may not have all the bells and whistles you’re looking for, or there may be a little bit of a success path to go through, but you want the buyer to trust that you can get them there.

One of the things that leads to emotional connection is to have something in common or something to share. If we can go into a conversation trying to recognize that our buyer is the expert of their own problem, and that it’s our job to unite them around that problem, that’s how you get the emotional buy-in that leads to a purchase.

Related: Be Afraid of These Surprising Sales Stats

Prezi uses conversational storytelling with cinematic structure and dynamic visuals to reinforce what we’re saying. They have done a lot of research to prove that one of the worst things you can do in a presentation is start reading bullet points off a slide — not only does it make you look less confident and knowledgeable, but your audience is going to try to read them too. And, because you can’t read and listen simultaneously without losing information from both sides, you’re risking disengagement and forgettability

We do this all the time in our personal lives. We come home from work, ask and answer each other’s questions, and tell stories, whether it’s to our spouse or our colleagues at Happy Hour.

Act V. How Story Gets Executive Buy-In

The most important thing you can do is tell compelling stories of customers who have used your product or service to move along the path of success, and reach the pot of gold on the other side of the rainbow.

If a C-Suite thinks its team doesn’t have the bandwidth or the budget to make the purchase, hearing success stories from customers who have faced similar challenges or obstacles can change their minds.

There is an element in every good story called “The Plan.” And sprinkling that into your client testimonials can create velocity in your deals. If you can show the specific steps a client took to gain success with your product or service, then that accelerates your cycle and leads to more closed deals.

You don’t have to be in the entertainment industry to tell great stories, but you do have to keep in mind that the best business stories demonstrate positive change and growth.

Remember the construction client who uses our platform to deliver compelling stories? He sells concrete. And he sells a lot of it because he tells great client success stories with engaging narrative and dynamic visuals.

Download the 2018 State of Attention Report

Want to learn how to capture and hold buyer attention throughout the sales funnel? The 2018 State of Attention Report has the answers you’re looking for (bonus: it’s based on empirical research).

Download the full ebook here. Happy selling!

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