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The Story is Your Bridge to Success

Earlier this week I had lunch with my friend Bill Whitley.  Bill works with property casualty companies like Nationwide and State Farm to equip their sale people with a stronger message – in the same way that I work with high-tech sales and marketing people.

If anyone’s product has commoditized, it’s property casualty insurance!  You’ve heard the ads – “I saved money on my car insurance.”  It’s all about price…and when it’s all about price, what if you just can’t beat your competition’s price?

What’s his strategy?  Stories…

Stories can be compelling and powerful… everyone loves a great story.  In fact, in my own business, the great speakers are really just great story tellers.  I’ve said to my wife a number of times, I’d have a lot more business if I could experience a crash in the Himalayas and manage to crawl out of the mountains with just the shirt on my back…of course that might be a little extreme.

The same is true with your presentation.  As Bill and I talked about presentations, he simply said, “You’ve got to start out with things they are already thinking about, hook them into your presentation with a short, grabbing opening, and then launch into a story…”  The story creates the bridge between their busy day, and the information you’re about to give them.  Open with a story and you’ll have a lot more of their attention.

Here are five reasons why you should master storytelling:

1)      Stories create relationship. When it’s about you—be it about having kids, your early business challenges, a client you worked with to solve a problem, a challenging real-world experience, etc.… you create a bond with your audience on a whole new level.  Your listener is drawn into your world suddenly…

2)      Stories inspire people to action.  Remember the movie Rocky? I often use this as an example in my sales workshops.  When that movie first came out I lived across the river from the Philadelphia Art Museum.  I can’t tell you how many people starting running the museum stairs – in fact they put a statue of Rocky right at the top (and I was one of those people running the stairs).

3)      Stories are memorable. In Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Made to Stick (Which I recommend reading), they point out that, we remember some of the stories from highschool, but we don’t remember how to balance chemistry formulas – unless we still do this for a living or something.  Stories stick with us because we picture them – and visual things just tend to “Stick” better than other things.

4)      Stories generate discussion. A good story won’t explain everything, but will encourage your listener to ask questions, form thoughts, and create a launching pad for dialogue and idea sharing.

5)      Stories can help you position yourself or pitch a new idea, product or service.  When a speaker practices their speech – they don’t generally run through the entire hour-long keynote.  They practice the stories to generate the greatest impact.  Their story is the key to moving that audience to action.  Often a speaker, in one single 60 minute keynote, will move an entire audience to action…what if you could do that with your next sales meeting?

So how do you become a great story teller?

Read good stories. Read biographies of people who have done great things and listen to speakers tell their stories (TED and YouTube are great for this).  But don’t just listen to the story – listen to the way they tell it to get the greatest impact.  My friend Bill shared with me a simple 5 point outline that goes like this:  There’s a noble person, with a cause, who encounters an obstacle, which they somehow overcome (and if it’s with your help – you’re a hero).  Finally there is a success story.  Notice that Rocky fits perfectly into this outline.

Keep it simple. Don’t make your story too complicated or lengthy.  In the speaker industry we say, “Tighten it up.”  I recommend you record yourself telling your story to see if it’s working.

Concentrate on mastering the opening and closing. Use your strongest material at the beginning and at the end as this is often what the listener will remember.   The close is the most important – without a strong close, people will be staring at each other wondering what’s next.

Pay attention to the details. Details like names and dates bring credibility to the story and make it more real to you listener.  But not too many details – balance is important.  At the end, ask yourself, is the amount of time the story takes, worth the point I am making?

Beware of tangents. If you find a section of your story that strays from your original topic, cut it. Wandering off topic will distract your audience and cause you to lose their attention.

Stick to the facts. The best stories come from real life. When the hero emerges from a fictional tragedy, everyone knows it’s a fairy tale. But when someone really does crawl out of  a plane crash and help others survive, we sit up and listen!

Become a great story teller and you will always have an audience!  Even with your kids!

© 2013, David Stelzl

PS. Learn more about this and other great presentation ideas in my Vendor to Adviser Series.

PSS.  Make sure you are subscribed to this blog to get more on sales and marketing strategy in the high-tech world.

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Where’s the Plan

January 17, 2012 — Leave a comment

I’ve written before, no plan is a plan to fail.  It’s January – the start of the year for many.  And even if your company isn’t on the calendar year, chances are you think about your income that way.  Do you have a plan to grow this year?

Most of the people I ask, don’t really have a plan.  Instead, they have put together a budget (which is not a bad start), which details what will be spent to keep the business running, and calls for a certain quota on sales.  If the sales numbers are not met, the budget will not produce the expected profit.  Half way through the year, managers will be sitting around wondering why they are not hitting their numbers, and hoping to make it up in the second half.  This is not a plan.  This is not a strategy.

Some companies will have an annual kick off meeting.  Many companies are doing that this month.  What will they accomplish?  If they focus on product training, sales number reviews, and parties, I will be a waste of time.  No one will remember these things as the year begins.

This week I am headed out to my company planning meeting.  It’s a time to look back at what was accomplished, what went well, and an honest assessment of what did not go well.  It’s a time to review who performed and who didn’t.  In my case, the number of employees I have makes that easy, but for most, it’s an important and difficult step.  It’s a time to consider what must change in the vision of the company, the mission you carry out, and how you are approaching the market – it’s strategic, not tactical.  This should be taking place on a business level as well as on a personal level.  It involves setting the high level goals with a plan to meet them.  It means going beyond the dream of hitting a certain number and figuring out how it will be met.  It also means getting rid of dead weight – things (or people) that don’t produce fruit.  This year I will spend four days on this process – why?  Because it’s likely the most important thing I do all year to make sure I am headed in the right direction.

© 2012, David Stelzl

“Have you been reading the investing forecasts for next year? The most optimistic forecasts expect more of the same—slow economic growth, a stock market that’s vulnerable to every little hiccup, continued high unemployment and a sluggish housing market.”…Dave Ramsey

I expect Dave is right, however that doesn’t mean your business can’t grow over the next twelve months. Whether you run a company, or sell for one, or are in charge of marketing, there are some simple things you can be doing to continue  steady deliberate growth.  Some things you should be considering before year end:

1. Have a Plan!  Your plan can’t just be, “We need to grow the bottom line,” or “Let’s grow 50% in the coming year.”  I see these kinds of statements all the time, and they don’t materialize.  A plan involves the primary solution areas you will focus on, marketing plans and schedules, and strategy.  Plan out marketing events and campaigns through the year, not just next month’s effort.  Consider training needs as well.  But also look at where time was wasted in 2011, what efforts failed and why, where gross profit was lost and why, what kinds of projects seem most profitable, and what client profiles are working well.  Managers and owners should be scrutinizing the team. Make sure the right people are on board, and trim non-producers.  Also, consider where each player should be focused in the coming year.  This might be a great time to consider doing a joint strategy session – I am scheduling companies right now!

2. Look at your value proposition. It might be time to invest in strategies that are driving business in this economy.  If you have been working on some area for five years and it’s not working, it might be time to move on.  Also, consider your opportunities with security.  Security offerings gave resellers an incredible boost in 2011, while other technology areas did poorly.  Consider attending my online workshop – Making Money with Security (Click for more info), in January…This program has been a game changer for many over the past seven years.

3. Build you consulting capabilities.  Learning to interview, discover, and assess is absolutely a differentiator.  Companies that just “sell products” are in trouble, unless they have something very unique to offer.  I don’t need to name names here – just look around.  If you are a typical reseller, selling the big names, you are likely seeing it too.  Your value must come from your own ability to consult and make application to the products you sell.  Big name manufacturers are not going to drive your profits in 2012.  I just completed an important book, From Vendor to Adviser, this year.  Read it…but also consider getting some training in this area.  I have been running free webinars on topics presented in this book, and have a workshop which will be announced shortly.  The goal being, to bring sales people up to speed on the skills consultants use to sell and fulfill very large projects.  Check it out here…(Click)

Don’t wait until January to plan – remember, a business without a plan, is a plan to fail.

© 2011, David Stelzl

Photo by Hannah Stelzl

I returned from DC last night, having spent the day with a solution provider in the software space.  One thing  that stands out and is worth repeating here is the discovery of a profit multiplier.  According to Jim Collins, every company should have an economic engine, and most resellers can put more on the bottom line if they figure out what the multiplier are and where profits are leaking out.  The comment that triggered our direction should be understood by all resellers, “Thinking your sales  team will double sales this year simply by working harder is tempting by unrealistic.”  I would add, that setting strong financial goals and then hoping to acheive them without a significant change to the way you do business is foolish thinking.

Once identified, we were able to come up with twenty ways to stop the leak.  Not all 20 will prove to be do-able or realistic short term fixes, but 4 or 5 of them stood out clearly as ways to multiply bottom line profits over the next several months.

Isn’t it worth taking some time out of the field to study the business model, identify the levers that multiply the business, and formulate a strategy to get them in motion?  This is what it means to work on the business rather than always working in the business.

© 2011, David Stelzl