The greatest challenge of selling is making emotional connection with the buyer. The seller and buyer are thus emotionally disconnected at the beginning of the sales cycle, regardless of the intention of the seller. The seller may truly have the buyer's best interests at heart, but the buyer is unlikely to believe that until the seller has found some way to prove that he or she is trustworthy.
In this post, I will reveal an incredibly powerful technique for creating a emotional connection between the buyer and seller, based upon some highly original research by sales trainer extraordinaire Mike Bosworth and his business partner sales trainer Ben Zoldan. You probably know Mike as the world-famous proponent of "Solution Selling" (and his bestselling book of the same name).
If you're ready to learn something really new, different and powerful, hit the "NEXT" button below...
IMPORTANT: Enjoy this post? Then you'll probably enjoy my new book How to Say It: Business to Business Selling available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound.
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Step #1: Understand Why Buyers Are Resistant
When buyers agree to have a conversation with a sales professional, they see the situation through a set of questions that must be answered before any kind of business arrangement takes place. The first set of questions are as follows:
- Who is this person?
- What does this person want?
- Is this person trustworthy?
- Can this person help me?
- Will that help be worth what it will cost me?
- Who is this person? Answered by a business card, slide or statement of the seller's name and job title.
- What do they want? Answered by the implicit understanding that, because they are in sales, the person wants to sell them something.
- Is this person trustworthy? Answered, typically, by referring to the brand image of the firm employing the sales person. (e.g. "Acme is known for dependability.")
Because of this, most buyers remain skeptical of a sales professional long into the sales cycle. This creates a lot of problems, particularly when salespeople start probing by asking questions, because most people don't want to answer questions for people they don't trust. And it's even worse if the seller launches into a sales pitch.
Rather than taking the standard "salesman" approach of either pitching or interrogating, the top salespeople are likely to approach a sales conversation very differently.
They are far more likely to introduce themselves with a story about how they got into sales or something that happened to them on the way to the meeting. What's more, the story will be told in a way that emphasizes the humanity of the seller, thereby signaling to the potential buyer that this person can be trusted because he or she is "just like me... a human being."
Similarly, when talking about the firm they represent, top sales people do not just rehearse a corporate history or provide some financial data, and then give a list of existing customers. Instead, they tend to tell a story about a customer, and what happened as the result of working with their firm.
The biggest difference between average salespeople and the best salespeople, however, is in explaining how the customer will use their offering. While the average salesperson lists out features and benefits to communicate "how you can use my offering," the best sales people LISTEN to the customer's story and then RETELL that story, but with the seller's offering playing an important, new role in that story.
In short, the very best sales pros are storytellers. However (and here's the important part), they tell stories in a very particular way. The best sales pros tell stories that follow a pattern that is thousands of years old, even though the specific elements of the story may deal with the newest technology.
It's that pattern that turns a story from a mere anecdote into something that creates an emotional connection. Now, chances are that you're a bit skeptical yourself at this point. However, turns out that there's a lot of science behind this concept. Read on, because now you're going to learn something really important.
The human brain is hardwired to listen to stories and incorporate what's learned from them. This has been true since the days when early humans used manganese and iron oxides to depict stories of animals on cave walls.
The art of storytelling emerged along with the growth of the neocortex, a brain structure that, in terms of its enormous relative size, is huge compared to that of all other animals. The neocortex, in fact, is what makes us human. This enormous structure is separated into two halves or hemispheres.
The left hemisphere is primarily concerned with linear reasoning functions of language such as grammar and word production, numerical computation (exact calculation, numerical comparison, estimation), and direct fact retrieval.
The right hemisphere is primarily concerned with the holistic reasoning functions of language such as intonation and emphasis, approximate calculations and estimations, as well as pragmatic and contextual understanding (i.e. "common sense.")
The left hemisphere tends to emotionally neutral. It is constantly picking out bits of information and filing them away. It wants and need more information and will become skeptical if those facts are not present in the story.
The right hemisphere, by contrast, is kicked into overdrive when it hears a good story. It picks up on non-verbal signals from the storyteller, compares the story to social norms, fills in the gaps with intuition, and passes emotions down to the limbic system, translating them from a higher to a lower level (e.g. creating a connection between love and sex.)
From the above it should be clear why traditional sales methods don't work. Almost all of them depend almost entirely upon information - features, functions, benefits, etc. These are, in general, only meaningful to the left hemisphere of the neo cortex, and simply serve to create more demand for more information.
Stories, on the other hand, appeal to the right hemisphere, which is the part of the brain that actually makes a decision to trust (and later a buying decision). This is not to say that stories should be information free! The left hemisphere must be given its due.
However, in order get the rest of brain involved in the decision, there must be emotional content and an emotional connection between the buyer and the seller. Since both are human beings, the best way to create that connection is through a story.
However, not all stories are created equal. Stories that create an emotional connection follow a particular pattern that is thousands of years old, even if the specifics of the story are about brand-new technology. If you're interested in learning this pattern, read on.
From time immemorial, every great story that creates an emotional connection shares four phases or parts, which comprise what's called a narrative arc:
Phase #1: The Setting.
The setting defines the time and place as well as the person or people who will be involved in the story. To be emotionally compelling, however, the listener must be able to see himself or herself in the role of the people in the story.
Phase #2: The Complication:
Once the story is set up, and the main characters begin their journey, something happens that keeps them from getting there.
Complications are not merely challenges or obstacles. A complication has emotional color, which proceeds from a limitation or flaw that the main character possesses. That limitation performs an essential function - it allows the listener to see himself or herself as the main character.
It's the imperfections in the character that make it interesting and compelling to watch the character overcome the challenges. To illustrate this, contrast the following two statements:
- Rep #1: "This customer was experiencing a one month delay in getting critical parts, creating delays in shipping their own products to their own customers."
- Rep #2: "This customer had a paper-based system for ordering parts, that had worked for decades and which they really liked, but it just wasn't fast enough to get parts into their shop in time to make the shipment dates that their own customer were demanding.
Phase #3: The Turning Point.
This is the moment when the meaning behind the story becomes clear. Often it takes place when the main complication is overcome, but it can also take place as the result of an unexpected event or appearance of an unexpected person.
In business stories, the turning point is usually when a decision is made that prompts change. Often that decision is to buy something, but it can just as easily be the realization of the importance of a problem, which then spawns the desire to buy. It is the "aha!" moment in which the business situation becomes clear.
As with the previous phases, the power of the turning point lies in its emotional impact and that is greatly dependent upon how the teller encapsulates it. For example:
- Rep #1: When they saw how much money they were losing, they understood that they needed to update their systems.
- Rep #2: So I put up a slide showing how much money they were losing, and a hush came over the room. And then the CEO says, really quietly: "Guys, we gotta fix this."
Phase #4: The resolution.
This is the final stage of the story where it becomes clear what happened as the result of the realization that took place turning point. It usually provides some sort of "lesson" that can be learned from the story. For example:
- Rep #1: We installed a new inventory control system, and they experienced a 25% decrease in shipment time to their own customers, creating a 10% increase in yearly revenue.
- Rep #2: We sat down with them and figured out a system that would solve the problem. Six months after we installed it, I get a call from the CEO. He said: "I just want to thank you. We were going to lose our biggest customer, and now they've just upped for another two years of shipments."
In sales situations, there a four generic stories that you'll need to build:
- Who I Represent
- Who I Am
- Who I Have Helped
- Lessons Learned
Step #1: Jot down your desired purpose - what you want the prospect to think about the company you represent after you've told the story.
Step #2: Jot down the ending of the appropriate story. In your mind, go through the various stories about your company that you've heard over the years, and try to select one that best fits that desired conclusion. Write down the ending or resolution of the story. This should be easy once you've selected the story, because you probably already think about the story in terms of how it ended.
Step #3: Jot down the beginning of the story. This should also be easy because once you know the ending of the story, there's a "natural" beginning that makes sense in the context of that ending.
Step #4: Jot down what happened. Briefly, what challenges came up what opportunities opened... the complications of the story.
Step #5: Jot down the turning point. This is where HOW those challenges were faced or HOW those opportunities were addressed.
Once you've completed that process, use the following questionnaire to "audit" your story, to make sure that you've included all the relevant facts:
- What is the setting?
- Who is the main character?
- How did it start?
- What challenge did he/she confront?
- What is the main character's flaw?
- How did the main character resist change?
- What prompted the main character to change?
- How did he overcome the confrontation?
- What was the resolution?
Repeat this process for the four types of stories that you'll need in sales situations.
If you've been following the post so far, you now have a set of business stories that have a narrative arc and contain some compelling emotions. The trick now is to learn to tell them in different situations.
Essentially, you need a short version and a long version of each story. You use the short version when it's just part of a quick conversation, and the longer version during a more formal sales presentation.
For example, suppose you want to make the point (the PURPOSE) that your company is truly committed to supporting its customers, and the story you've selected is a time when everybody on the team pitched in to solve a problem for an important customer.
Here is the short version:
I firmly believe that we have the best support in the business. Let me tell you a story. One time we had a customer call us on a Friday night and, even though it was a holiday weekend, everybody, including our CEO stayed there all night until the customer system came up. They're one of our biggest customers today.Here is the long version:
Let me tell you a story about how committed we are to 24/7 service and support. A while back, it was Friday on a holiday weekend. Everyone had been working straight-out for months on a new product release, and everyone was looking forward to some serious time off.Needless to say, either of these stories is ENORMOUSLY more effective at making the point about your company's commitment to service than simply claiming 24/7 support or slapping down a set of statistics that will simply be forgotten in 2 minutes.
Suddenly we get this call. One of our largest customer systems was down, not because of anything we did, but because the customer made a backup error. This was not good news because getting their system fixed would mean that half the staff would have to work through the weekend.
Anyway, at the meeting to figure out who'd get stuck with the job, this junior engineer raised his hand and said: I'll stay, and then some of the senior guys committed, too, and then the CEO, who had a big vacation scheduled, said that he'd stay and bring pizza and do what he could to help, if it meant that we'd get the customer system up before Monday.
Sure enough, everyone pitched in and we got the system up and running. Next morning the customer called the CEO and apologized for screwing up, and the upshot was they ended up ordering additional capacity, so that they're now one of our largest customers.
If you tell such a story well, you will be remembered as "the guy who works for that company that works on weekends to make sure their customers are happy." And if that happens, you're probably going to make the sale. Trust me on this.
The steps in this post only brush the surface of this really quite astounding breakthrough in sales training. Mike Bosworth and Ben Zoldan are currently running seminars that train this technique in depth and which are having an enormous impact on the organizations using it.