Storytelling is, quite literally, the most ancient form of teaching, entertaining, documenting, and selling. Have you ever met a successful sales person? They are, without a doubt, the best storytellers I know. People can remember stories for generations. Stories elicit an emotional response that resonates with the listener, and the listener thinks about the story long after the conversation is over. This is why storytelling is such a magical tool for selling—enabling your sellers (and your partners’ sellers) to tell your solution story is an impactful and compelling way to engage your target customers with a message that will resonate even after you leave the meeting. It helps your sellers establish trust, provide context, and make recommendations based on real-life examples and stories customers can relate to … rather than simply trying to pitch a product feature or benefit.
Before you can tell an impactful story, you have to deeply understand your audience—and your solution. This brings me to the definition of “solution” … With the recent emergence of SaaS and ISV applications, and companies looking to partner with larger service providers that have established sales channels, there’s a lot of buzz about packaging “solutions” to sell via cloud-based marketplaces. Unfortunately, the term “solution” is used interchangeably with the concept of “bundles” or “packaged offerings” or even “value-added services.” The concept is that a software application is packaged with a service offering and referred to as a “solution” or “offering.” While these packaged software and service offerings may indeed solve customer business challenges, the art of positioning the offering as a “solution” is where the concept unravels.
What pains are you solving?
In order to call it a “solution,” it’s important to position the offering as a solution to specific business pains. The paradigm shift here is to move away from pitching the offering’s features and benefits and hoping the customer can imagine how it could fit within their organization. Instead, building a solution requires that you deeply understand your target audience, identify their key pains, and do the imaginative work to message and position your offering as a solution to their challenges—in a way that elicits an emotional response that they will remember long after your conversation ends. Tell the story of how your solution can change the customer’s business for the better, and let them imagine the impact your solution could have not only on their business, but on their lives.
Here’s an example of pitching a simple piece of fruit—an apple—as a product …
Features and benefits
- Full of healthy antioxidants
- Good source of fiber
- Low in calories
- Full of vitamins, including: A, B6, and C
- Source of potassium, phosphorus, calcium, manganese, magnesium, iron, and zinc
- Helps aid weight loss
- Facilitates digestion
- Controls blood sugar levels
- Lowers cholesterol levels
- Improves eyesight
- Helps prevent cancer
- Useful in treating anemia
But if you are selling an apple as a solution, you first need to identify your audience, understand their pains, and then articulate the apple as a solution to the customer’s pains.
Parents of school-aged children
Preparing healthy school lunches is time-consuming and stressful every morning. Apples require no preparation and can easily be included in your child’s lunch, providing nutritious daily servings of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Which means you can rest assured your children are full and receiving the nutrition they need to thrive. You know what they say about “an apple a day …”
Industrial food services
Providing fresh fruits and vegetables is challenging because many of these foods perish before they can be prepared, leading to excessive waste. Apples have a refrigerated lifespan of up to two months, and they can be prepared in hundreds of different ways, making them a low-cost, low-risk, highly versatile fresh fruit option. Which means you can breathe easily knowing that your investments are paying off and your patrons are enjoying creative, nutritious meals.
Food packaging contributes significantly to municipal solid waste that results in a devastating impact to our environment. Apples can be picked and eaten directly from the tree. They require no packaging to deliver to the end consumer. Plus apple cores can be composted and help improve the soil for growing additional, natural crops. Which means not only are you eating something good, you’re doing something good for the Earth when you select an apple for a snack!
How does storytelling help me accelerate sales?
Deeply understanding your target market (and your partner’s target market) helps you position your product or service as a solution to the customer’s pains, which helps you gain a competitive advantage over all of the other products or services in the market that are pitching their features and benefits while making the customer connect the dots between their challenges and how the products could potentially help their businesses. It not only takes the guess work out of the customer’s decision-making process, but helps you demonstrate a deep understanding of their business, become a trusted advisor, and position yourself as a subject matter expert—which your competitors may not be capable of doing.
Working closely with your partners to identify and segment your target market will also help you collaboratively develop additional features and benefits to solve specific customer needs, thereby improving your joint story for your intended audience. Consider how you might position your solution for doctors’ offices vs. ice cream manufacturers. Could your solution serve both distinctly different audiences? Perhaps. Do doctors and ice cream manufacturers speak the same language when it comes to selecting a new product or service offering? Do they have the same needs? The same implementations? Not likely. If your sellers are properly trained and enabled to tell the stories that resonate with different audiences and can demonstrate knowledge of the business pains, clearly articulating how your offering solves those business pains, the propensity for your sellers to close the sale is significantly higher.
To summarize, be careful that you are not using the term “solution” when you really mean “packaged offering,” and be sure that when you are delivering a solution, you fully understand the problem you are solving. Work with your partners to develop a robust, industry-leading, business-changing solution to disrupt your customer’s market—and then tell the story your customers are waiting to hear.