Getting your buyers to tell stories can give you insight into how to sell to them more effectively. Here are five ways to get your buyers to tell you their stories.
Your first objective in a sales call shouldn’t be to tell any of your stories. It should be to get the buyer to tell you their stories. If you don’t hear their stories first, how will you know which of your stories to tell?
You wouldn’t trust a doctor who wrote you a prescription without listening to you explain your problem, would you? Of course not. Then why would a buyer accept the recommendation of a salesperson who did the same thing?
And if you’re unsure about what kind of stories you should want to hear from your prospects, here are the three most productive ones you should be asking for:
A personal story – so you can get to know them better
A story about their biggest problem – so you’ll know what kind of help they need
A story about how their favorite supplier became their favorite supplier – so you can become their favorite supplier
Now, getting your buyers to talk is easy. Getting them to tell you stories requires a little more work. And you should want them to actually tell you stories not just talk, and for many of the same reasons why you should be telling stories to them:
- It’ll help you relax and listen better
- It’ll help you build a better relationship with them
- It’ll help you better remember what they say, plus
- When the story they tell is about the problem they’re facing, it helps you understand the context so you’ll have a better idea of the opportunity you’re up against.
So, here are five tactics being used by successful salespeople to get their buyers to tell stories:
Shut Up and Listen
That’s probably the most obvious but underutilized tactic to get stories out of buyers. Human beings abhor silence in a conversation like nature abhors a vacuum. We’re desperate to fill the void with something. So, if you can resist the temptation for that something to be your voice, you have a near certain chance of that something being the buyer’s voice.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
For example, “What’s your number one problem area right now?” is a closed-ended question. The answer would be given in the form of a word or two, like “inventory” or “warehousing.” Compare that to an open-ended question like this: “How did you find out that your biggest problem was your biggest problem?” That question is more likely to elicit a story: “Oh, that would have been last month when our biggest customer placed an emergency order and we couldn’t find the parts they needed in the warehouse. So, we scheduled a special production run and expedited the parts to them at a huge expense. Then we ended up finding the parts they needed in the warehouse right where they should have been all along.” See, now you really know the problem you’re up against.
Ask about Specific Events in Time
For example, “Tell me about how you ended up in your current job,” or “What led up to losing your last major customer?” Do you see how it would be impossible to answer those questions without telling a story?
Use “Problem Prompts”
That means ask about specific problems you think your prospects might have with their current supplier. For example, if you ask, “Have you ever noticed that your Internet slows down after dinner?” your prospect is likely to launch into a story about the last time their internet connection slowed down after dinner.
If All Else Fails, Tell Your Stories First
If you want to get buyers to tell personal stories about where they grew up, you tell a personal story about where you grew up. If you want them to tell a story about a problem they’re having with their computer, you tell a story about a problem you’re having with your computer. You know this works because it works on you.
When people tell you a story, the most likely thing that’s running through your head is “Hey, something like that happened to me once,” and now you can’t wait to tell them about it. Just remember, when the buyer interrupts and starts telling you her story, refer back to tactic #1 – shut up and listen.
If you’re interested in becoming a better storyteller yourself, check out our Influencing through Storytelling course and our Storytelling for Salespeople course where we can come into your organization and help you build this powerful, critical skill.
Paul Smith is a former director and 20-year veteran of the Procter & Gamble Company, and one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s the bestselling author of three books on harnessing the power of storytelling for some of the most important work we do as humans: Lead with a Story, Parenting with a Story, and Sell with a Story. Paul is also the primary architect of a thoughtLEADERS courses on Influencing through Storytelling and Storytelling for Salespeople.
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