GUEST: Harry Maziar, author of Story Selling: Sage Advice and Common Sense About Sales and Success
Storytelling is one of the first forms of communication to have existed. It’s one that’s intimately human.
It has the power for connection few other forms provide, yet it’s often misunderstood and rarely executed well.
So how does one understand the power of story and leverage it in sales? How does it support the belief that sales is an honorable profession? How does it help you become memorable?
We interviewed Harry Maziar, author of Story Selling: Sage Advice and Common Sense About Sales and Success, to hear some of his own stories. He’s a hilarious orator, a quote machine, and an incredible storyteller.
Here’s some of the best advice he shared about storytelling in sales.
Top 4 Elements of a Good Story
You know a good story when you hear it. But most people are at a loss for how to use them.
The best stories include at least these four elements:
- Relevance - The story has to have some semblance of association with what you’re trying to accomplish.
- Surprises - Like a joke that jumps out at you, people will latch onto stories with surprise finishes.
- Relatability - Those stories that people can relate to are the ones that ring truest.
- Motivation - People want to be moved. Stories touch the human spirit—they always have.
If you can build these four things into your speeches or stories, you can hold an audience or listener captive.
How to Teach Storytelling When It Doesn’t Come Naturally
If you have tens, hundreds, or thousands of salespeople in your organization, they’re not all going to be natural storytellers. So how do you teach them to tell great stories?
You do it by telling stories to them. They will learn through your example.
In Harry’s previous organization, he wrote a sales letter to thousands of people every week. That letter talked about price increases and new product introductions, of course, but the first page of it was always a story.
Sometimes the stories were historical, sometimes patriotic, sometimes cute and clever, but there was something to get the reader’s attention before diving into the humdrum updates.
At the end, he always added something called a “Harry’s Hint.” The hints were clever and pithy, and they caught on like fire:
- “Luck is always against those who depend on it.”
- “No one ever listened himself out of a sale.”
- “Self-discipline is the original do-it-yourself job.”
- “Many aspire to success, but few are willing to perspire for it.”
- “If you’re angling for success, the most important angle is the try-angle.”
The Hints created an atmosphere of low-key approachability. Many of the reps used to say they ignored the whole body of the letter and went right to the Hints.
Harry’s team had to go before senior management twice a year, and he wanted them to be relaxed.
“Selling products is not a life or death matter,” he used to tell them, tongue firmly in cheek. “It’s much more important than that.”
You want to create an environment that encourages people to be themselves, to “leave the uptight at the door.” This goes for both conversations with senior management and customers.
In fairness, one size does not fit all. Some people aren’t glib or quick on their feet, but they can still be very successful salespeople. They do it with product knowledge, with hard work, with customer care and concern. There are lots of ways to be successful.
“It’s easy to be successful. The trouble is, so few people really try.”
Why “Good Enough” Never Is
Speaking of success . . . salespeople often miss out on it because of the limited belief of being “good enough.” There’s a problem with that phrase, though:
"If better is possible, good is not enough."
The old saying, “Change is not always better, but better is always change” rings true. You can’t get better without change.
People who recognize that “good enough never is” know that they have to
- Learn more
- Get up earlier
- Stay out late
- Work hard
- Be more concerned with their customers
- Know what competitors are doing
- Know why people should buy from me
“Good salespeople don’t sell; they help customers buy.”
There’s a dramatic difference in those two viewpoints.
You’ve got to be better than anticipated. If you help customers buy, you’re appreciated and welcomed into their family.
“Good enough” won’t accomplish that.
The Best Story in Story Selling
Harry’s favorite story from writing the book came from a time when he and his wife were driving with their oldest grandchild, who was eating an apple.
“Pop, why is my apple turning brown?” the kid asked.
Harry explained that after you bite into the apple, oxygen is introduced and enzymes react to form compounds that create a sort of rust on the surface, making it appear brown.
After a long pause, his grandson said, “Pop, are you talking to me?”
Great wisdom from a child. There’s a wonderful line from the movie Cool Hand Luke: “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”
You have to talk to customers in terms they understand. You can’t be too technical or try to show how smart you are. You have to relate. Harry summed it up in a great phrase that salespeople would do well to remember: “People only hear what they understand.”
This post is based on a podcast interview with Harry Maziar, author of Story Selling: Sage Advice and Common Sense About Sales and Success. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to B2B Revenue Executive Experience.
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