October 25, 2016
by Carla Johnson
The biggest beef I hear from sales teams or sales-driven organizations is that they can’t get people to pay attention, make decisions or quit product comparisons.
This is a huge red flag for a common illness. These companies are caught in the commodity trap.
The commodity trap snaps up brands when they sell on product rather than value. Despite how well the company is branded with an amazing story, when the rubber hits the road and it’s time for someone to buy something, the actual interactions with people aren’t different, unique or valuable. When that’s the case, buyers look at for what makes one company different from another – that’s price.
There’s only one way to get out of the commodity trap and that’s to disrupt your buyer’s thinking process and show them – not tell them – that you’re different.
A good sales person knows how to talk. A great sales person knows how to inspire through stories. Here are seven ways that your sales team can tap the power of storytelling to get out of the commodity trap, stand out from everyone else vying for attention, and move sales conversations along faster and smoother:
Take yourself out of the story.
Selling is hard on the ego. It takes a big ego to go out again and again and face rejection. That’s a great quality to have as a sales person because it’s what you need to stay resilient when you keep getting doors slammed in your face. The down side it that ego usually bubbles over into how you talk to customers and prospects. It’s all about you, how you solve customer problems and how you make customers successful. My apologies if I’m the first one to tell you this, but that makes you a bore. To tell a great story you have to take you out of the center of the conversation because people don’t care about how great you are. They care about how to solve their problems.
Make it about your customer.
Sales people want to sell products and many can’t get their conversations beyond exactly that. Talking about features and functions is a big comfort zone. But buyers don’t care about the details if they don’t trust that you understand their business. Customers want to solve their You have to be able to have in-depth business conversations if you want to be a better sales person. You can’t tell a story about a topic if you aren’t intimately familiar with that topic. Get to know your customer’s business and stories will begin to reveal themselves.
Use all three acts.
Classic storytelling includes three acts – setup, challenge and solution. Most sales people start with the solution and leave it at that. Here’s how we fixed other people’s problems…wanna buy from us? Every act has a purpose and they work together to create a memorable story. The setup puts things in context so your buyer can understand if you’re talking about people like her. The challenge lets her understand that there were hurdles to maneuver. How have others buyers succeeded? And then, and only then, should you reveal the solution. When you set up the first two acts successfully, then your customer or prospect wants to hear how you solved the problem.
Throughout life we’re conditioned to avoid conflict, right? Mind your manners. Don’t interrupt. Be polite. Don’t upset your customer. But stories are different. It’s the conflict that makes it interesting and builds tension. One way sales people get caught in a commodity trap is that they aren’t willing to include conflict and struggle in their stories. It makes them uncomfortable to talk about because they want to focus on how great they are at solving problems. Being the knight riding in on the white horse. But there has to be a battle first before anyone shows up and saves the day.
Help them see a better future.
Stories move people to action when they help people envision a brighter tomorrow. We assume that we lose a sale because the buyer picked a competitor over us. That’s not the case in more situations than not. In fact, according to Corporate Visions, 60% of B2B sales end in no decision. That means that the prospect couldn’t see the value in going through the pain of making a change. As a sales person, it’s your job to help people believe by creating a successful future and help them see themselves squarely in the center of it.
Make the story personal.
The old adage that people buy on emotion and justify by fact is true. The only way you’ll get people to think emotionally is by telling stories that make decisions personal to their situation. Third party stories are great for this, because they help you suggest to your customer or prospect the next step they should take without coming out and telling them exactly that. Nobody wants to be told what to do. People want to know what “people like me” did in situations like this. Add detail and emotion about the struggle that someone else went through and that makes a story personal for your audience.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
Practice won’t make you perfect but it will greatly improve your comfort level, inventory of material and habit of telling stories. Nicely, you don’t have to wait until you’re in front of a potential deal to practice. You can set time apart with others on your team or even use personal situations and social networking as opportunities to practice on unsuspecting victims. The biggest thing to remember is that you’re the only one who knows if you didn’t tell a story just right. Don’t let it trip you up and don’t get discouraged. Learn from each story you tell and then pick one thing to focus on improving the next time.
Are you caught in commodity conversations? Then let’s talk about your situation and how we might be able to help.
Photo credit: Flickr user r-hol
About Carla Johnson
Consistently recognized as one of the top influencers in content marketing,as well as one of the top 25 in B2B marketing and one of the Top 50 Women in Marketing, Carla’s latest book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing, teaches marketers how to develop, manage and lead the creation of valuable experiences in their organizations. Carla serves on the Executive Board and as the Vice Chair for the Business Marketing Association (a division of the ANA) and is an instructor for the Content Marketing Institute and the Digital Analytics Association. Carla also contributes to industry wide news outlets, forums and conferences on the future of marketing, leading through innovation, and the power of storytelling.