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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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Make sure you check out Mumbai traffic while you are here…unfortunately there is no way to capture the terror of driving over here on film, but more often than not, these trucks and cars are just an inch or two from my car.  In fact, my driver did actually run into a taxi on this trip.  They just waved to each other and we continued on our way.  I was glad it was no the cement mixer pictured in the video!

Yesterday we wrapped up our final day of training – working on presentations.  By having one of the class attendees present their normal product pitch, we were able to draw a stark contrast between it and educational marketing approaches.  Using the stories, house & cloud presentation (described in the book available on the right-hand side bar of this blog), and our new executive level presentation, each attendee spent the day working on platform skills, presentation style, and perfecting their delivery to build confidence when presenting to higher level clients.

One important point here.  Most great speakers I know can point back to their beginnings and will admit that their early presentations were not good.  They practiced, recorded themselves, received feedback, and practiced more, until they were great.  Sales people should do the same.  You only get one shot with a high-level execute, so make sure you’re message and presentation is great before you get there.  There just isn’t any excuse not to.

© 2011, David Stelzl

Walking along the Arabian Sea

Yesterday we completed day 2 of the Making Money with Security workshop – working on messaging.  Wherever I go, there seems to be a disconnect between marketing and sales…at some point in the value proposition development portion of my workshop, I ask someone to show me what they would deliver if given a high level appointment today to talk about security, and what their company can offer.  There is always a hesitation – no one wants to stand up and show me.  Why?  Usually it is because after a day and a half of discussion on messaging, they realize their presentation does not contain the elements of a great security approach.  Marketing has delivered a set of slides with talking points that are all about them and their product.  There is nothing new, nothing educational,…nothing amazing.  No call to action other than – let us know if we can help.  Nothing to cause the meeting attendees concern within their own business and approach.  Yet every day companies like RSA, Microsoft, the Income Tax division of India, etc. are defeated by cyber criminals.  There is an urgency; why can’t we demonstrate this in our messaging?

© 2011, David Stelzl

By David Stelzl

Here is the Playback link from a webinar I presented yesterday on Effective Demand Generation (CLICK)!  (Sponsored by Cisco Systems)

A few highlights:

1. We started out reviewing key marketing concepts. The fact is, old school marketing doesn’t work and CIOs are tired of the same old lines every sales person uses when following traditional sales training methodologies.

2. Events are one of three key platforms for marketing.  I mention all three, but then dive deep into 7 principles of effective demand generation marketing events.

3. I gave sample topics that work along with recommendations on types of speakers you should be considering for this type of event.

4. We discussed who needs to be there and how to get them there.

5. I detailed the follow up process which actually starts at the event and continues as reps go out, not only following up on those who attended, but leveraging that same event to access hundreds or thousands of additional qualified buyers.

The link does require you to register with Cisco, but I’d encourage you to do so – this information is an essential part of growing your business over the next 12 months.  Let me know how its working and how I can help.

© 2011, David Stelzl

Content and Finesse

February 23, 2011 — Leave a comment

I’ve seen presentations given by less charismatic people, but with very strong content, and then from others with less content but very strong presentation skills.  Content is king!  But a poor presenter can destroy great content; on the other hand, a great presenter with a hollow message comes over as shallow, and full of hype. Both are a waste of time.

If you lack content, get some.  Educational content delivers value while product knowledge is free online.  Personal viewpoints and stories give listeners new perspective and move them to action, where sound bites by themselves, while establishing credibility, rarely lead to change.  Leave selling to commercials and become an educator.  Spend time understanding the needs out there, discover lasting answers, and then find ways to communicate truth around the mental roadblocks of your listeners.  Become a catalyst; an agent of change.  Develop a concern for those you call on and then spend your time finding ways to improve your clients’ position.

Then as you reach out to different prospects, focus on becoming an excellent communicator.  With an urgent message in hand, you may find people are still loath to take action – it’s your job to find out how to move people to action when the need is real.

© 2011, David Stelzl

Is Webex a good tool for selling over the phone?

Some sales calls lend themselves to Webex or some other form of web collaboration software.  For the same reason I don’t really like PowerPoint for an initial sales call, when Webex is used to show PowerPoint on a long distance sales call, I find it takes away from the interactive experience I am looking for.  On the other hand, if you are at the point of demonstrating a software product (meaning you have a software product to sell), it may do the trick.

The secret to success is in knowing when and how to use it.  If you have a product you intend to demo, using Webex can be highly productive and cost effective.  Once again, shooting from the hip is bound to result in lost sales.  On the other hand, if your call is qualified, you have the right people on the call, and your product is attention grabbing in a demo, you have the foundation for success.  But you still need a well thought-out sales strategy.  Starting with success stories is the best way to go, then having already understood the company’s core needs, come prepared to demo just those attributes that matter.  Like radio, dead air time is dead.  It’s not like being there, so you can’t afford dead air while you navigate through countless software menus looking for something to show them.  In fact, in my opinion, sales teams that rely on these remote communication tools require more training and practice than those who sell in person.  Without the personal touch, your presentation must be executed flawlessly with a strong follow-up plan.

© 2011, David Stelzl

Presenting by Phone

February 18, 2011 — Leave a comment

RSA is over and I’m headed home.  While here  I thought of one more important presentation topic, so continuing from the whiteboard and PowerPoint posts last week, here is an important add-on.

Sometimes you just can’t be there in person, so what do you do?  I am not a fan of cold calling when it comes to high-involvement selling, however learning to use the phone is key when it comes to saving time.  Especially when you cover a large geography.  I cover the world with just one rep – me.

Like most, I hate cold calling, but if the call is set up through email or a referral, it’s no longer cold.  The problem is, people lose their focus on the phone, so you can’t really present anything.  Keep your descriptions short, use a story to draw them in, and predict objections to staying on the phone.    But you need more.

Here’s a simple strategy that I’ve found to be effective.  Since most of the people I schedule a call with are sitting in front of their computer of laptop at the time of the call, taking them to a website that has been set up correctly (meaning it has good content and graphics) is a great way to engage emotionally.  I have descriptions of what I am doing with customer testimonies on the side bar.  Without having to set up Webex and do a slide show or demo, I am able to take them to a page that outlines or pictures what I am talking about.  This allows me to systematically walk through my value, filling in the gaps with a story or two, to show how I have delivered value to others.

Become great at phone selling and you’ll save an incredible amount of time.  An on-sight meeting may take two or three hours with travel, waiting, meeting, leaving, and driving back to the office, and that’s best case, in town.  The phone might take thirty minutes to an hour tops. And that’s only if they are really interested.

© 2011, David Stelzl