The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

In sales, storytelling is our ability to express ourselves in a way that is engaging and persuasive. We capture the attention of the buyer because we have taken the client to a world unexpected. This might be because the real essence of their problem has just been revealed to them. The salesperson who can marshal the discussion to elucidate the hidden insights for the client is the storyteller par excellence.

The content of the story can also be a description of a better place than where the client finds themselves today. This discussion shows the path forward for the client to realize their goals. To understand this better place requires the salesperson to set up a dialogue, where the questions asked elicit a story from the client about what success would look like. Examples of cases in which this solution has worked before must be brought to life if the storytelling is to have impact. The ability to vividly describe this better place is what separates the average salesperson from the master.

The delivery of this story is not just constant babbling, but rather a narrative that is punctuated by periods of silence. The client is given the chance to talk without having their sentences finished for them, or interrupted by a segue, observation, joke, or distraction. Often, salespeople are loquacious and ill-disciplined. They are in love with the beauty of their words. Counterintuitively, being a skilled storyteller also requires the salesperson’s patience as they encourage the client to tell their own story.

The words chosen are important. The majority of the conversation should consist of the client speaking, thus the quota of words allowed for the master salesperson are limited. They only use clear and concise constructs because they know they need to give up the floor to the client as much as possible. Short sentences of inquiry, which draw out rich information, are the golden path to sales success. It sounds like a snap, but to do this takes a lot of practice.

When the client hesitates, pauses for more insight or information, or outright rejects what they are being told, the salesperson’s level of communication skill really becomes apparent. The balance between speaking to add light and employing silence to gauge reaction is a critical facility.

When a salesperson hits resistance, there is a natural tendency to want to pour it on to overwhelm the client and their objection with a thunderstorm of data, facts, and statistics. They want to dominate the discussion through sheer force of personality. This is never going to fly. “A person convinced against their will is of the same opinion still” is an old saw that we salespeople forget at our peril.

Our way of telling the story makes a huge difference. We need to be matching the personality of the person we are talking to, including their energy level, pacing, the degree of detail they require. All of this must go into the mix of telling the story. If they are a very detail-oriented person, then we need to get with the program. If they are action-orientated, we must become the same. We like to do business with people we like and we like people who are on our wavelength.

In sales we need to foster the ability to be on as many wavelengths as possible. Our clients will be of various styles so we need to move graciously between each, without losing our core beliefs in what we are doing. The telling of stories draws out the situational truths needed to understand the correct and best solution for the client. It also means the capacity to package our solution in a way that it is highly appealing to our buyer. This storytelling skill separates the professional from the dilettante. By the way, nobody wants to buy from an amateur, so let’s become more professional and tell our story well for the client.

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Being a skilled storyteller also requires the salesperson’s patience as they encourage the client to tell their own story.