Published on December 7th, 2017
Storytelling has always been a passion of mine.
It started way back in high school when I was the editor of the school paper. I even had a couple stints at a local Polish American newspaper and WIVB-TV in Buffalo, New York, before I graduated.
These internships made me realize just how much I loved finding, writing, and telling stories. So, when the time came, I enrolled in the Journalism program at Emerson College in Boston, MA. (#1 Journalism school in the country, woot!)
But as you’ll see today, my job title doesn’t include journalist, editor, or even the word content. Over the years, I have found myself in a sales role, but I’ve also learned that my storytelling skills are as essential to sales as they would be to any literary career I could’ve entered.
Let me explain.
The Speed of Meaningful Conversations
In my opinion, there’s no better way to learn how to become a storyteller than journalism school.
The program started with writing for print, then moved onto radio (which was awesome because that involved not only editing copy but editing recorded audio interviews) and then moved onto TV, which meant also being a master at shooting video and editing video.
In broadcast, the goal was to tell a compelling story in about a minute and 30 seconds, and sometimes, only 30 seconds or less, but real, meaningful conversations and interviews don’t happen in a minute and 30 seconds or less. That would be weird.
They take place over the course of 30 minutes, an hour, and sometimes even more, depending on the story. All of that talking equaled pages and pages of notes and an enormous amount of raw audio and video that needed to be turned into a nice sound-bitable package with the key attention-grabbing facts as the headline and the most important part of the story -- the lead.
Folks on TV make it seem so easy, and for creatives it often is, but it’s safe to say that whether I was writing for newspaper, radio, or TV, honing in on the lead and the most relevant facts and communicating those in the order that would make the most logical sense took a lot of skill.
As I’m sure many of you marketers know, quality content takes time.
Now, class aside, Emerson had great connections, so I was able to participate in work-intensive internships at CNN, WHDH-TV Boston, and Entertainment Tonight where I did a lot of interviewing and writing for reporters, and bonus - they actually used some of my stories.
When it came down to it though, I didn’t want the life of starting out as a journalist making about $18,000 in market 200+ -- AKA middle of nowhere USA. (Nor could I afford it.)
So, my journalism professor introduced me to the owner of a local radio station in Marshfield, MA called WATD (call letters literally stand for We’re At The Dump - which is a story for another time) who was looking for a new salesperson.
Long story short, I took the job selling radio commercials to local business owners for about $25 per spot in Boston’s South Shore because the owner offered me a respectable starting salary and also promised I could report for fun in my free time, so it was a win-win.
Selling or Storytelling?
Before long, I found myself reporting, being the talent for live broadcasts, and managing the station’s website in my spare time on the weekends.
However, what I ended up learning was that no matter if I was wearing my free-time “reporter hat” or my full-time “saleslady hat,”essentially I spent my days telling stories.
In talking to the local business owners, learning about their goals, planning their campaigns and promotions, and writing their commercials, I was helping them tell their story - which also happened to help them generate new customers.
THAT type of storytelling was so much more rewarding to me than writing a news story for the sake of writing a news story.
My parents, who essentially refinanced their home to get me through school, have always kind of looked at me and said “So all that school for nothing, huh?” but I wholeheartedly disagree.
It wasn’t for nothing at all. I was able to take all of that knowledge and help tell a business’ story. To me, that's a dream come true.
People Buy Stories, Not Products
The businesses I’ve worked with over the years have been great at telling me what they do or how their product works - which in the world of SaaS, for example, can be very technical and let’s face it, not very exciting stuff.
Oftentimes, businesses make this technical focus the center of their marketing strategy and sure, it might work for them for awhile, but what I’ve found is when a business focuses on this type of bottom-of-the-funnel banter, they miss out on generating interest from prospects who are much earlier on in their buyer’s journey.
They miss the real story they facilitate with their product or service. I, along with the IMPACT team, help find and tell that story.
As marketers or salespeople, we need to focus on the value and benefits that we bring to the table, the actions that we help put into motion with our offering. Your story is made of the emotional, intangible results, not just the cold, hard facts and features.
It is this story that people buy, not just products. It is this story that I use as a salesperson to attract customers and to help those customers attract their own.
Immerse Yourself in Sales and Service
The best way to start drafting your story is to focus on your customers, prospects, and churned customers.
If you are a marketer, I recommend you sit in with your sales and services teams if you have them. Even if it’s just one person who sells and manages your customers, that person has invaluable information that will become the heart of your story.
Seek out answers to all of these questions:
- Are prospects aware that a solution like yours exists?
- If they’re aware, how do they typically find you?
- When they come to you, what are their pain points?
- When they come to you, what questions do they ask you?
- Why do they choose you over competitors?
- Why do you lose to competitors?
- What value/benefit do you offer your customers?
- What are the typical success or outcomes your customer’s achieve by using your products/ services?
- If you’re a marketer, have you sat in on sales calls and demos?
- Do you understand the emotions/feelings of buyers?
- If you’re a marketer, have you sat in on services calls? Do you understand what it’s like to be a user of your product?
- What types of results does a customer typically achieve after implementing your solution?
- What are the biggest reasons for customer churn? How are you addressing it?
The answers to these questions are far more valuable than simply communicating product details to your prospects.
The answers are the emotional, intangibles that will guide you to a story that resonates with prospects at any stage of their buyer’s journey.
A Page Out of Journalism School
Here is where my journalism skills and love for helping businesses comes full circle - why I love my job so much. It all boils down to telling a story in 30 seconds or less.
By now, you’ve spent the time with your sales and services team (or person) and you have answers to the questions above. You have at least a few pages of notes.
So, what’s your lead? What are the supporting details about your solution and value that are most important to your prospects?
Write them down in order in bullet points and open up another browser tab. Look at your homepage above the fold (don’t cheat and scroll.)
Is your lead anywhere in sight? What about the supporting details you have bulleted out? Are they anywhere to be seen? Do the images you see on your homepage match that emotion or value? Can your prospects tell if you are able to solve their biggest challenges in 30 seconds?
If you see them, great job. You are telling a clear story that matches the emotions of your prospects and experiences of your customers. If you don’t see your lead or any of your bullet points, it’s time to get to work by aligning your website and content with your new story.
Don’t Do Nothing
It’s tempting to skip over the hard work of developing and implementing your business’ story.
The truth is, any variety of or iterations of tactics can bring you traffic, leads, and sales, even with the wrong messaging, but if you’re not telling the right story, you’ll get the wrong results.
You’ll bring the wrong people in the door and they’ll likely turnover quickly. Your story not only helps you sell, it helps you sell to the right people and grow your organization long-term.