Human beings are storytellers. We tell stories because we respond to stories. It’s been so since the dawn of history.
In western civilization, we have received many of our great stories, myths, legends and cultural archetypes from stories memorized and passed down from generation to generation around campfires, dating back to pre-literate times.
The tragic form goes back to Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. The yardstick of friendship is the Epic of Gilgamesh. The Old Testament contains a history of generations passed down to us from pre-literate societies. And in the New Testament, Jesus frequently spoke to His followers in terms of stories, or parables, which have stuck with us to this day.
As children we grew up learning from the lessons of Aesop’s Fables, Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So Stories” and Br’er Rabbit – though often retold in the form of Warner Brothers cartoons.
It’s the same in other cultures, too: Visit the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii and you’ll get a glimpse of the vast history passed down from the Ancient Hawaiians and other Polynesian seafarers, long before the development of written language there. But we have thousands of stories, myths, legends and oral histories of the great ali’i (chiefs) and kings, and heroes who lived and died long before the arrival of Captain Cook in the Sandwich Islands in 1776. The various tribes of Native Americans all have their own stories handed down in their own communities, also enduring over centuries despite only recently developing written language in many cases.
Joseph Campbell wrote extensively about the unifying elements of myths and their enduring value around the world, most notably in his 1949 book The Hero With a Thousand Faces.
Even the Trekkies get it: The episode “Darmok” explores the power of shared mythology by dropping Captain Picard into a society that communicates entirely in cultural metaphor.
Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.
So are stories important? Yes!
After all, what are case studies, but client experiences turned into stories – with an emphasis on translating those stories into benefits.
And is your story important? Yes!
And so is theirs.
A good story is also useful for developing feelings of goodwill. There is a science behind it: Stories are known to cause the brain to release oxytocin, a powerful neuropeptide associated with enhancing social connection and bonding, and modulating fear and depression.
This doesn’t mean you need to wax rhapsodic about who you are and why you are here all the time. Ultimately, it’s about how you can benefit the client.
Your story is also a big part of what separates you from the competition. No competitor has quite the same story, and no competitor ever will.
Your website is a great place to share your story. You can put it in an “about me” section on your website, or you can make a brief video or podcast.
You don’t want to use much valuable face-to-face time with the client on your own story. That’s for getting to know the client. But if they don’t get it from your website, sharing your own story face-to-face can be an effective way to break the ice, lower prospect’s defensive shields of skepticism and suspicion, stimulate the release of oxytocin, and begin developing a bond with the client that you can then use to establish and deepen a feeling of trust.
Set up the ‘Pivot’
Concluding your story can serve as the pivot point to get them to tell their story – and that’s how you’ll learn about their problems, pain points, motivations and other information critical to helping you serve their needs.
And that’s what it’s all about, right?
Defeating the ‘Curse of Knowledge’
When it comes to financial advisors, telling our story in human terms also serves a very valuable purpose: It saves us from ourselves.
Many of us came into this field because we like numbers and finance. We are naturally attracted to it. And too often we fall into the trap of talking about numbers, annuity features, ROI net of expenses and surrender periods, when we should be talking about people.
I call it “The Curse of Knowledge.” We know so much about our products and services that we get in our own way.
So here are some tips for using our story, along with stories about our clients, to set yourself up for success:
Put your Who I Am story on your website. Give it its own tab, and call it “About me,” or “About <yourname>. “
Make it a simple story – the power of simple stories cannot be overstated.
Focus your story on why you became an advisor. For example, one advisor we know loved math as a child – but the reason she became an advisor and got into estate planning was because her childhood friend was accidentally disinherited after her father died, her mother remarried a man with other children, and then both her mother and stepfather died.
Tie in your story specifically to client benefits. You might consider developing a story-benefit matrix, similar to a features-benefit matrix.
Get the prospect or listener leaning forward in the seat. Observe body language. When you get positive indicators, that’s not necessarily a signal to keep going. That’s an indication that you’re ready to transition to the client’s That’s when you pivot. “So what about you? What was the last straw that finally led you to call someone like me?” You’ll get a story. And chances are good you’ll get a client.
If you’re losing your prospect in the math and in product features, bring it back to a story. Engage the right brain. The right story at the right time can tip the decision in your direction.
If the math is clear, and the client really should act, but is still reluctant to pull the trigger, you need to engage their creative and emotional side. Pull back and hammer it home with an analogy, story or parable.
Constantly connect your story to client benefits.
AND MOST IMPORTANTLY:
Know when to shut up and listen!
Most advisors rely on facts and logic. We’re trained that way by corporate trainers who are themselves trained to use facts and logic. And you need them. But you need to bring the prospect over to your side of the table first.
Fail that, and you may have talked them into a sale with another advisor.
They’ll do business with someone, eventually. But you want them to do business with you. And the reason they will do business with you is because they like you, relate to you and trust you.
It’s stories, not facts and figures that will make that possible.
It’s also what will enable you to keep them as clients when the competition slips them their card at a cocktail party and starts marketing to them. And they will.
You also need a solid vocabulary of parables, vignettes, case studies and analogies, too – to deploy when you start feeling the prospect slip away, or to bring the client toward the close.
All these things are important. But your ‘Who I Am’ story is the cornerstone of that whole process. Without that, you may not get a chance to share the other stories with them.