The Art of Storytelling
In this episode of Selling the Sandler Way, Dave Mattson, the President and CEO of Sandler Training explores the Sandler Selling Philosophies behind the Sandler Selling System with Paul Lanigan, a Sandler Trainer.
Dave Mattson: Hey, welcome. Today we’re going to talk about a sales topic, and really, probably a great communication topic, one that we may do naturally in our personal lives. But I want us to be aware of that, and transfer that into our sales world. What is it? It’s the art of relating to people. And really, the aspects of sales today are relating to our buyers, our customers, our prospects through the art of stories. So, it’s really the art of storytelling. That’s today’s topic, and it’s geared toward salespeople. If you think about it, you should become an expert at telling stories about you, who you are, versus just pounding your chest saying, “I’m wonderful. I’m great,” because when you do the “I’m wonderful, I’m great” stuff, prospects say to themselves, “Yeah, I’ve heard that before.” That frontal attack of just pure facts and logic doesn’t work, so stories about you are fantastic, stories about the issues that you solve. So, in Sandler language, think about what that would mean. That’s probably pains, right? So, you could be telling stories about issues that you solve for other people. Fantastic. And you could be telling stories about the types of people that you help.
In essence that would be the target market, if you think about it in Sandler terms, right? And you should be great at telling stories about how you work with other people. In essence, that’s the process. And you can come right out and say, “Here are the pains, and you know, here is my target market. Here’s how I work with others.” But it becomes a very “blah, blah, blah” conversation. And you know, Sandler’s very conversational, emotionally based, and if you go back to the original tapes, that you’ve all gotten as a President’s Club member or even if you’re a corporate account, you know, David Sandler live on tape teaches you, shares with you, the Sandler Selling System through the art of stories. And we’re going to go and recall some of those stories today. But there’s a ton of stories on those videos and those audios, and it’s not because David needed to fill time. It’s really because people insert themselves into stories. Think about that for a second. We’re going to learn that today—that people insert themselves into your story. They love it. It’s almost as if they’re playing the character that you’re describing. They can relate to it. You can see people smiling, their heads going up and down. Very easy for them to transfer. Why is that? Well, because when you tell stories, all of their own history, whatever’s been happening to them, resurfaces immediately, right?
So, if you’re telling a third-party story, or if you’re telling a story about either you or your products or problems that they experience, you’re not necessarily saying, “Hey, prospect, you’re experiencing this.” You’re telling a story of a like situation, where they’re having a problem, and people will insert themselves into that very, very quickly by saying, “Absolutely, that’s happening to me,” or “No, that’s not happening to me.” And here is what’s happening because they love to edit stories as well. So, if you’re going to be really good at Sandler, and make it conversational, you’re going to have a master’s degree in storytelling.
Now, that doesn’t mean you’re blowing facts and figures, you know, out of the water and that you’re telling little white lies. That’s not the purpose of this particular program. The purpose of this program is how to relate complicated issues very simply in a first call, how to bond with people very quickly if you’re in a personal situation. Think about this when you meet old friends. Inevitably in that conversation, somebody will say, “Hey, do you remember when we did this, or we did that?” And all of a sudden, you can see the body language changes for everybody. Why is that? Because when you do the, “Hey, do you remember when we did this?” the person you’re talking to time-travels. They go back in time. They’re reliving what you’re describing without you having to go through all the details, and they are right there in that moment.
And so, what we do all the time in our personal lives is what I want you to do on purpose all the time in our sales process. So, to help us do that today, we’ve got a very special guest from Ireland, Paul Lanigan. Paul Lanigan is a top-notch salesperson. This guy is awesome at what he does. He spent an exorbitant amount of time teaching salespeople how to up their game, and executives how to improve their own effectiveness as well as the efficiency of their teams. So, we’re going to look at this art of telling stories and engaging other people in a conversation with Paul Lanigan today. So, we’re in for a special treat. Paul, thanks for calling. Paul, how are you?
Paul Lanigan: I’m good. Thanks, Dave, and yourself?
Dave Mattson: I’m doing well.
Paul Lanigan: I’m enjoying your story here. I’m loving it.
Dave Mattson: Hey, you know, Paul, you’ve been doing this a long time. I’ve seen your work. You’re a master at what you do. And the reason why I thought this was a good topic for us is because I want your insights. If maybe you can start us off today by your insights on how important you think storytelling is to the sales process or the salesperson.
Paul Lanigan: I think, it’s the missing link. I say it is the missing link. It’s been there a long time. I just don’t think people give enough regard to it. It is the easiest way to engage the prospect’s emotion. And we all know people buy emotionally. So, if you want to engage them if you want to be memorable, here’s an important fact. London School of Economics did a survey recently, and they found that retention was 65-70% when information was presented in a story as opposed to 5-10 % when presented as fact. So why is that? It is because we’ve engaged the other person’s emotions. And if you, like all the important things in our life, all of the events that we remember—we remember because there was some emotional context, good or bad to those events. For long-term memory, we need emotions. To engage our prospects, we have to get emotionally involved. The best way to do that is to tell stories.
Dave Mattson: Well, you know, Paul, I mean, if I take that survey for a second, and I’m assuming it doesn’t matter where that survey was held, it’s probably true across, you know, cultural lines, geographic lines. The power of story and that high retention rate alone should be enough for salespeople to say, “Well, wait a minute now, you know, am I doing that?” But if you think back to all the stories that our parents told us, the things that we’re supposed to remember to become good human beings and good parents, and all the fables, right, they’re all story based. Are they not—the fables and all those things that we learned as kids—the things that were shaping us as human beings? They’re all in story form to support what you just said.
Paul Lanigan: Well, I think you’ve hit an important point. I believe, as humans, that we are pre-programmed to relate to stories, in the same way as a salmon can spawn in a river here in the west of Ireland, make its way all the way across to North America and back again as an adult to spawn and to lay eggs in the exact same river and find all the obstacles in the way—that seems to be programming in the DNA. I believe we also relate to good stories because if you think about it, long before the printing press existed, long before we were able to write information down, people passed on information from one generation to the next via stories. All our ancestors did it, all the religious prophets told stories and not just that, but their key messages were passed on from generation to generation via story. So, it’s innate in how we receive and give information.
Dave Mattson: Yeah. I mean, it’s powerful. And as you started talking about it, I was thinking back to … It is so true. Cultures for, you know, generations upon generations, really shared all the information about their particular culture from one generation to the next through stories. And you know, I think we do stories in a way, and this is going to be a bit tongue in cheek, but if you think about what CRM is—CRM is really trying to take the story out of the sales process from salespeople to management. I mean, they just want facts. Where are you with the profits? What’s going on? And from that perspective, it’s really good. I mean that’s, you know, why sometimes we resist CRM, and there are accountability and responsibility that’s all patched into there. But it takes all of the story part out of it. There are a time and place for stories. Certainly not, you know, when you’re doing account management, but when you’re trying to engage, as you said, right on the button, emotional engagement of our prospect—that’s the way to go. Paul, we only have a couple of seconds here before the break, but you know, think about salespeople on that first call. You’ve got to do an awful lot of work—don’t you Paul?—on a first call to break down that buyer/seller barrier, so people feel comfortable sharing.
Paul Lanigan: Absolutely. Initial bonding and rapport. What better way is there to do that than telling stories, so you can get some commonality so that you can connect with their priorities, their issues? To do that via a story, it’s very relaxed. You set the context; you set the atmosphere for the engagement. You’ve got their attention. There’s that two-way flow of information. That’s so important to getting it off on the right footing and establishing not just the hard facts of the opportunity, but the important aspects of the relationship. And that’s done best by telling stories.
Dave Mattson: Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you more. I think it’s one of those things that we do, as we’re going to find out throughout today’s program. We do storytelling naturally. And you put a lot of weight on stories. If you even think about your organization, when you’ve heard about something that happened in 1932, when you worked with that group within the company, someone says, “Oh, you don’t want to work with that group. They’re going to mess up your sales.” But you’ve never actually seen it happen. You don’t even know anyone that it’s happened to. But the fable continues within the organization, that you don’t want to bring in service too fast. And you know, companies fight this culture all the time.
So, it’s very powerful, both positive and negative, within an organization. What we’re going to do today with Paul Lanigan, is to help you turn the tide, turn the spigot, so it becomes a positive so that you can increase your sales. And you know, companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars every single year on product training and a lot of different ways to help you as a professional salesperson to sharpen your tools. But one of the things that we do naturally, in our personal life, is to teach our children the same thing that we were taught, by our parents when we were children—to tell stories and pass on what’s important to be a good human being.
But also, what’s important to our family, whatever your family history is, was always done typically from one generation to another through stories. And when we get into sales, all a sudden, this robot part of you kicks in. PowerPoint, death by PowerPoint. You know, you show up at a meeting. You’ve got to get the prospect Velcro because they can strap themselves into the chair since it’s going to be a long day at the watering hole. I mean, we just do stuff that is so counterintuitive. If you imagine—if we told our kids all the things that we wanted them to do as they were growing up through PowerPoint or just, you know, up the slide deck of some sort, you know, they would all be in jail. I mean, in essence, that message would not get transferred. But we do that in sales.
So, today with Paul Lanigan, we’re talking about the art of engaging and passing on what may sometimes be a complicated issue through a very simple story. And then people can kind of fill in the blanks because what you’re doing is you’re tapping into their data bank. You’re tapping into their memory bank, with them reliving similar types of situations. And you don’t have to go through the minutia. And they love you for it, right? You can have shorter conversations to the point and get people on board. And boy, I’ll tell you right—once you get the hang of it, it’s a powerful, powerful tool. So, Paul, we’ve got a lot to cover, take us in a direction. I know you teach this a lot to your group when it comes to this topic.
Paul Lanigan: Well, Dave, just listening to you reminded me of a film. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, the Steven Spielberg film Amistad. It’s an amazing story. It involves the giants of history and the playing out of this crucial event in American history during the abolition of slavery. In the film, for your listeners who have seen it, you know, it centers on the attempts of a few good men, and they’re fighting against all the odds, you know, to have this particular group of slaves freed from captivity. And the chief defense attorney, in this case is former U.S. President, John Quincy Adams. And he’s played by, if I remember correctly, the same guy who played Hannibal Lector and Anthony Hopkins.
Dave Mattson: Correct.
Paul Lanigan: And he’s been asked by another member of the defense team on this strategy how he’s going to win the case in court to have these guys freed. And he says, “Forget about the facts, boy. Forget about the facts. It’s the best story that will win. We need a really good story.” And that hit home to me—that in any strategy, and in any buyer/seller dialogue, it’s not about the facts. The facts aren’t important. Another way of looking at a story is that a story consists of facts wrapped up in emotion. What we’ve got to do is set the context for that emotion. So, you know, how we do that in a setting scenario will depend on the situation. You know, we have 30-second stories.
Those of you who are familiar with the 30-second commercial will know that. And that’s where you tell a little mini-story, a little mini-commercial in 30 seconds. We may have another story. A prospect asked, “Well, why should we do business with you?” Well, you can sit there, and you can give them the 50,000 reasons why they should do business, or you could tell them a little story about why other companies do business with you and the value they see in the relationship. Which do you think is more believable—your reasons for doing business, or somebody else’s reasons for doing business? Particularly, when it’s wrapped up in an engaging story where you’ve talked about the kind of problems and challenges that other organizations had, what you did to come in and try and help them, the obstacles you overcame and the benefits that they derive to the results, that essentially is a fantastic business story, a wonderful presentation. One of which, of course, the prospect never ever sees.
Dave Mattson: Yeah, you know, it’s so funny. Companies want—they use the word “case studies,” right, Paul? I mean, at the end of the day, that is their attempt to say, “Well, tell us what you do and how you’ve done it for others. And we can insert ourselves into the case study.” I think at some level; they become frustrated with the traditional salesperson. And they’ve asked in so many words, “Tell us a story.” It’s called the case study. I mean, in essence, isn’t that the same thing they’re asking for?
Paul Lanigan: That’s essentially a far more powerful tool, from one human to another than when it’s in a document. But certainly, if it’s well written, it encapsulates all those details, wraps it up in emotion and looks at the challenges, the obstacles that were overcome and who the hero is. And that’s the other thing. You said that you know, prospects will insert themselves into it. Well, if they get inserted in, and they’re the hero, well, they are going to feel a whole lot better about doing business, too. So, you’re absolutely right. That’s exactly what a well-written case study can do. And the truth is for most salespeople, particularly if you work for a large company, there are, you know, so many case studies that exist, whether you have them on your website or talk to all the salespeople, you can build your own library of case studies. So, no matter what situation you’re in, you have a story to relate to your prospect of how their situation is going to be better once they’ve done business with you.
Dave Mattson: Yeah.
Paul Lanigan: And you know, you can tell somebody, “Hey, trust me. This is what we’re going to do for you.” But that just doesn’t engage the emotions the same way as the story. It certainly is not going to be retained the same way as a story. It’s not as believable as a story. So, I just believe, you know … And it makes selling so much easier when you can tell stories and relate to your prospect’s pains through metaphors, third-party stories, and case studies. It’s just that it’s a much more fun place to be. It’s not just more effective, but it’s much more fun.
Dave Mattson: Well, you know, people buy from other people, and they are going to buy from people who they feel comfortable with. And to your point, when you’re telling a story, the anxiety is certainly lower on both sides, right? And they’re going to be engaged. It’s an emotional process. So inevitably, they’re going to have a higher probability of liking you versus this intellectual conversation. You know, I’m going to go back to two things that you said because I think if we’re out there as Sandler-trained salespeople, we need to really pay attention to some of the subtleties that you just said. One was the case studies. You can certainly go into your own website, look up case studies, listen to people at your sales meetings, and do all those things. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to memorize the case study. You’ve got to read it and internalize it, but also break it into chunks because that one case study may be dozens of little stories like, “Okay, what was the target market? All right, what were the problems that were being solved? Who actually in the company bought this? What were some of the challenges?”
You can come up with 5, 10, or 15 questions that this case study will answer in all the case studies that you probably already have published. But those little snippets are things that you can bring into a conversation in front of a live person—that really gives it a punch. So, when we teach this at President’s Club, people always say, “Oh my gosh. I don’t want to memorize all those.” You don’t have to memorize them. You have to understand them. You have to have the ability to recall them. We’re going to talk about that in a couple of minutes. But at the end of the day, you don’t have to be a walking encyclopedia of case studies. And the other thing that, Paul, you said right on, is that 30-second commercial: “So, why should I do business with you?”
You certainly can defend, defend, defend, which never works. Or you could tell a little third-party story, like, “Hey, I’m not really sure, but what I do know is, here’s the types of people that we work with and really some of the results that they experience,” and then, boom, tell a story, and how powerful is that? You’re right on. We have to look at the storytelling in a lot of different ways. Yes, form relationships, but yes, also for us too, it’s important to answer tough questions that don’t relate too much. Because it’s that stall that the prospect puts up, that kind of stall, like, “You guys are too expensive,” or “Hey, why would I do business with you?” But they don’t expect you to come back in a story form. So, I think that alone is disarming.
Paul Lanigan: Absolutely. In fact, there’s something else. You don’t have to be alone telling a story. You can bring some of your own heroes into it. One of my favorite ones, and it’s a pertinent one when talking about money or certainly overcoming those objections, is: “You’re too expensive. My favorite one is X, and I don’t know where I heard it.” And that’s another important point of the story—that it doesn’t make a difference where the source is. People don’t care. But it’s about Chuck Yeager. And again, for your listeners, who may not know who Chuck Yeager is—Chuck Yeager is an American Air Force hero. He was the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound. And he was also one of those early test pilots. Now, this guy has won more medals of honor than I’ve had hot dinners. He’s won several medals of honor from various U.S. Presidents. He was one of the early test pilots, and this was in a time when people didn’t know what was going to happen to you when you flew supersonic.
They didn’t know whether you were going to disappear into another dimension, or whether you would disintegrate. So, here’s a guy getting into this plane. How brave do you have to be to go and put yourself in the line of fire like that? And he has been interviewed some years ago on NBC, and it was in the Arizona desert. And in the background was all of these retired Air Force planes. And that was the setting for the interview. And the interview was recalling Mr. Yeager’s past successes and talking about the fears of being a test pilot, and the interviewer said, “You know, was there any of this that kept you awake at night? What are the kinds of things that bother you?”
And Mr. Yeager turned to the camera and said, “There’s only one thing that ever kept me awake at night.” And as he did, he looked around at the planes behind him, and he pointed and said, “The only thing that ever kept me awake at night was the thought that anything in any part of those planes went to the cheapest bidder.” Now there is a very powerful story you can tell where you want to distance yourself from being the cheapest. You want to transmit a message that cheap isn’t good, that you are taking a risk if you’re going with a cheaper solution. What better way to do it? Can you think of a better way to bring somebody like Chuck Yeager into that story with you?
Dave Mattson: No. I mean, that’s perfect, right? Total credibility. Unrelated topic, which I found … I love your insight. I think when you have an unrelated topic, it’s almost easier to make your point because they have to agree with the unrelated topic. The Chuck Yeager story has nothing to do with whatever you’re selling—widgets. But you would have to say, “Well, that makes a lot of sense.” And if that makes a lot of sense, then psychologically you’re making a bridge to what you’re talking about. And so, therefore, it must make a lot of sense in this particular situation as well. That’s the little hidden psychology that goes beyond the storytelling. If you tell something and it makes a lot of sense, then this must make sense, too, because they bridge that. That is so cool. The other thing unrelated –
Paul Lanigan: For example, in psychology, there’s a term called a “delusion effect.” And it’s used if you want to break down a stereotype. And we all know that we deal with stereotypes. Our prospect has a stereotype of the salesperson, and it’s rarely very positive. And one of the ways to attack this stereotype is to share more about yourself without making it a “me, me, me” story. But if you can tell a story about yourself and insert yourself into that story, you can break that stereotype. You can also address other key points. This is why I love stories. You can kill several birds with one stone. You can break the salesperson’s stereotype. You can also address … For example, I’ll give you one. A prospect is looking at you, your service, your product, and is struggling to differentiate. Why you? And you are more expensive than the competition. You can share a story. I’m going to give you my favorite one. A few weekends ago I was in Paris with my wife, just the weekend together, and we were leaving. And I would normally—from the hotel, I would take a cab to the airport. It’s typically about $75. I didn’t know there was a metro service to the airport but found out about during this particular weekend, and the metro service was $10. Now here I am. I’m facing a choice—$75 bucks in a taxi, or $10 if I take the metro.
Dave Mattson: And so, Paul, we learned indirectly that you can always keep people waiting at the edge of the cliff when you cut them off mid-story. Now people want to hear the story. You had a fantastic story, so carry us away.
Paul Lanigan: Your timing was perfect. You just demonstrated the exact point—how many PowerPoint presentations have you watched where you wanted to see the end of it? That’s true. With a story, you always have to hear the end. Anyway, we were in Paris. I had a decision to make—$75 in a cab, or $10 on the metro. The metro is only around the corner from the hotel. So, I come out in the morning, have my direction, have my plan. I’m carrying this case, I’m passed by this row of cabs, and it’s raining. Now, if you’ve ever had to pass by a row of cabs when it’s raining, it’s not comfortable, right? Because it seems like that row goes on forever. You shouldn’t be taking a cab; get to the metro. Well nobody told me that I had to go down several flights of stairs. Try doing that with kind of a heavy case. Then I get into the metro. The metro arrives after 10 minutes of waiting. The doors close on me as I’m trying to get through. I have several people come over, pulling the doors apart to try to help me into the main cabin of this metro. I get there, and of course, the metro is full. So, I’m standing the whole way.
And then, of course, I have to catch, you know, the collection. So, I get out and have to go through these little turnstiles in this main railway station in Paris. And of course, again the case won’t fit through the little turnstiles, so I have to lift it up and shuffle my way through this little turnstile to get it to the other side. Again, there’s another wait. The train comes, same story. I have to stand half an hour all the way through Paris while I’m knocked around as we stop at every little stop along the way. Get out, and of course what I was told was it went to Terminal 3 in Paris, but I’m going to Terminal 1. Now, I need to go and find that little local looping train that goes around the airport, and get on that, get off that. And of course, the escalator is out of order, so now we have to climb dragging this case all the way up the stairs. It took me two hours to get what’s probably a 25-minute journey in a cab. And the lesson I learned on that is cheaper always has a price.
There’s always a cheaper alternative, but it always comes with a price. And that again is my purpose with the story—to convey to somebody that, “Yeah, you have choices, Mr. Prospect. You can go with this, or you can go with that option. However, there’s always a hidden cost. There’s always an unplanned downside that you hadn’t anticipated. And do you really want to take that option?” The only other way to do that is to tell the prospect, “Hey, Mr. Prospect, you don’t want to do that. You’re going to have problems. You’re going to have challenges with that.”
That’s not going to work out for you. Now you’re just setting yourself up to be knocked by the prospect. It’s far better to do it as a story. And again, you bond because people want to hear this. But the important thing is what’s inferred by the prospect—not what you say, but the meaning that’s inferred. It’s like … There’s a great saying by a lady called Hannah Arendt, and it’s, “Stories reveal meaning without the error of defining it.” And if we think about that for a moment, I think it’s quite powerful. Stories reveal meaning without the error of defining it because guess who gets the meaning, you or the prospect? The prospect, right?
Dave Mattson: That’s so true. I mean, as you’re talking, and you start to think about it, you could have pulled out five or six different lessons from that one story, right? But the prospect just points out the one that’s either on the top of mind and/or several others. And I think if somebody starts pushing back on budget, as an example, or, you know, brings up that the competitor’s price is lower, and then you go into a story, I do believe it’s so powerful. Even listening to you tell the story, we’ve all been in circumstances like that, where we’ve done something, and it didn’t have anything to do with price, but certainly we were trying to save a buck—which in essence wasn’t that much money—and we did something that turned out to be the long way around, more painful. But still listening to the repercussions from those involved, whether it’s family members, your wife, or you know, people within the company—all that stuff, on many different levels, starts to pop up, and the cool thing is that different emotions pop up at different parts of the story, which can be used all the time.
I mean, you’re really shaping how you want people to respond through the story because you can even tie the story at the end. You say, “Hey, look, do you want to take the subway, or do you want to take a taxi? I mean, it’s your choice. I’ll help you either way, but which one are you going to do?” You can tie in your qualifying question, Paul, or you lead on by using the analogy of the story. So, you can weave that in in a number of different ways. I mean, it’s just … It’s fantastic. We could have … And let me ask you if you think it makes sense. Salespeople who say, “Look, I’m not a story guy.” You know I’m introverted, right? My personality is introverted by nature. I can’t remember a joke if there is one. For the last ten years I probably have said that every time I hear a nice, good, clean joke that I could use at a seminar, you know what? That’s the one I’m going to remember.
That’s the one because I’m good for one. I can only remember one. And of course, I forget it. But I always think, “Okay that’s the one.” But when it comes to stories, it’s really … You’re pulling something out that you want to talk about that is topical. You don’t have to have a whole repertoire of stories, but I do know, what I’ve done in the past is that I’ve got a playbook. You know, when I’m in a seminar, and I’m training, I’ll actually have a group of stories that I’m going to bring up to illustrate the point, whatever the point happens to be at that particular time. But that way, you know, I’ve got those stories that I know had a good impact, and I think that playbook has helped. Do you suggest, or do you think it’s a good idea that salespeople over time say, “You know what? These are good basic themes that I need to make sure that I hit upon,” and kind of create a playbook for themselves, or is that overkill?
Paul Lanigan: It’s not overkill. No, and, absolutely it’s part of the journaling—keeping a diary on a CRM or whatever method they want to record these things, it’s absolutely … You know, it’s not a recording. It’s looking out for them and spotting them and then, you know, taking down the highlights, taking the notes. People keep a personal blog—use that. But just, it’s in the telling. Once they’ve told it a few times, it’s embedded in them deeply. It’s just, you know, you said it earlier. You don’t have to remember all of the nuances, all of the details. There’s only three things you have to remember. One is the setting or the context for the story. And if you think about it from the prospect’s point of view, that is your starting point. That’s where you’re starting the story. So, you put the prospect at a particular place in time, in a situation. So that’s the setting.
The next part of the story then is the situation. It might be in a situation you are facing, or a customer of yours was facing, you know. That’s the plot or the background or the challenges that we’re facing. And you can describe that. And then, the third element is the solution. These are the three elements of storytelling. Get the setting, the situation, and how you solved it—that’s the solution. And you just take down those three points for the various stories you come across. And by the way, they don’t have to be yours. You can take somebody else’s. A colleague of mine was in front of a bank manager. She was selling, I should say, to a bank. She was selling software to a large bank here in Ireland. And they were complaining saying, “We’re paying too much. You know, we only use a little piece of the software. You know, can we have a little piece of the price instead?” And she turns to me, and she says, “I’ve got a five-bedroom house. I think my mortgage is actually with this bank. I’ve got five bedrooms, and I’ve got three other rooms, but I only live in two of them. Does that mean, I can have a reduction on my mortgage?”
And that’s all she had to say, and they stopped right in their tracks. They laughed and said, “Yeah, you’re right!” So, by using that as a metaphor, by using her situation with her house, the fact that she had this big house, but she didn’t live in all of it—does that mean she could reduce the cost of the house? No, it doesn’t because they understood that intuitively. And so, therefore, their objection to price stopped. Again, you know, this is an example of a story I’ve taken from somebody else. I didn’t experience that, but you can retell somebody else’s. You can blend it with some of your own experience, and tell it as your own, so long as you just remember those three things. What’s the setting or the context? What’s the situation that you are facing? What was the solution? And you’ve got a great story there.
Dave Mattson: Yeah. I mean, how true. Think about that. First of all, when it comes to stories, and we all know this, you always give somebody credit for the first time you tell it. Well, I’ve heard this from a colleague there. But the second time, you get partial credit. By the third time, it’s yours, right? It just becomes part of you. And you used a technique, which I want to point out to our listeners, that is very powerful. And here’s what it is. If you tell a story, you relate your current conversation to their business and how they do business with their prospects and customers. They automatically see that what they’re asking you is typically not the best interest of all. Now, what happens? Well, think about this. The bank is pounding on this particular person for a discount, which makes sense. That’s what banks do; that’s what prospects do. Everybody has a role. Got that part.
But she is telling … Instead of telling a story, you know, about some unrelated issue, she actually told a story that had to do with how the bank does business with its customers. And they automatically say to themselves, “Oh yeah. That can’t happen. That’s not good.” And so, because they can see it’s relevant to them, they tied it from the current situation—which had nothing to do with their business—into their business by using a customer-type approach. That is very slick. That’s very powerful. I believe when you tell stories, you use analogies of what you’re talking about and how that relates to how they do business with their customers. They get what you’re saying a lot faster. That happens to do with price objection. That has to do with stalling on decisions.
That has to do with roadblocking decision makers because when they’re selling their stuff, even if you’re not talking to salespeople, they have to have access to people to make sure that they diagnose the right problem and that they absolutely make sure they stay profitable. So, what you did there subtly is very cool. So, as a salesperson, I want to make sure that you understand that when you’re talking to people and they push back, put it back into their world, and you’re less apt to get pushback because they understand how important it is. So, Paul, let’s go to, if we can, the context, situation, and solution for a second. And I know we’re up to almost our break here. Before we do our last segment together, when it comes to that, I can almost mix and match my context, situation, and solution. And even if I had a story where let’s just say, I took a case study, and I know the solution and the situation, I can put the context, almost really pulling it out of the air, and it’s not wrong. I’m just putting a context, which is similar to those people who I’m sitting in front of, and that’s okay there.
Paul Lanigan: That’s exactly it. From your engagement with the prospect, you get a sense of their world, and that is what you use to set the context, so they’re looking at it … It’s almost like they’re looking in a mirror and they go, “Yeah, that’s where I am. That’s exactly it.” So, you’re right. That’s it in context.
Dave Mattson: Yes. That’s important. You want to create the mirror effect. And you know, Paul said it best. When you’re talking about context, situation, and solution, make sure your story mirrors who you’re in front of. And so, when we’re dealing with different decision makers within an organization, if you’re in front of a person who is a sales manager, then you’re going to tell context-situation-solution stories that have to do with that particular person’s role. When you’re in front of a CEO, a managing director, then you’re going to tell stories that are relevant to them. You make a mistake when you think that one story fits everybody. And if you talk to an owner as if you’re talking to a sales manager, they say, “Ah, this guy’s in front of the wrong person. I’ll put him in front of the person to whom that story would make sense.” So, adjust your stories based on who you are in front of. And if you go back, and Paul, jump in and think of some of the ones that you remember, certainly David Sandler has taught all of us the Sandler Selling System through a series of stories.
Think about the “Nancy and the Seagulls” story, which was about bringing in features and benefits of your product that may not be important to your prospect, and you’ve got to test it out, right? You don’t want to paint a seagull. So, David Sandler told that whole story about “Nancy and the Seagulls” and the fear of cold calling. When he told the story 84 times and just failed miserably 84 times, he went back and, you know, debriefed and figured it out and did all those things. Even with pain, when people are talking about price, he would tell the “Ambulance Story.” When people show up on the side of the highway with a white coat on, you never ask for their degree because you’re emotionally involved. And he would just tell a lot of analogies, a lot of stories. And there were just thousands of them. Wasn’t that true, Paul, throughout the whole program?
Paul Lanigan: I’ll tell you what. That’s what got me involved in the whole area of storytelling. I’ve never seen it in selling before. I remember my very first time coming to Baltimore to take a class in Sandler sales. And I’d never been involved in it before that, and I was coming from Ireland to take this class. And I sent an email. I can’t remember the name of the chap who booked me onto this course, but I said, “Look I’m going to be coming over on this long plane journey. Can you send me something in advance, maybe some tapes I can listen to, so I can prepare for the classroom?” Sure enough, the guy sent me some tapes, and it was David Sandler telling stories.
I didn’t actually listen to them on the plane. There’s another story there, but we don’t have time for it. I remember that I flew into New York and I was taking the train from Penn Station in New York to Penn Station in Baltimore. It must’ve been about 5:30 in the morning, and it was mid to late December. As the light came up, it was all these boathouses along the river, of course, bedecked with all the Christmas lights and holiday lights. It was foggy outside the window. I remember putting my headphones on and listening to Sandler tell stories. And I was like, “Oh my God, that’s so true. Oh, my God, I wish I’d known that before.” And it was just one story after the other. I’ll tell you that train journey went by in about five minutes. I remember so much of it, and it was because of the stories.
Dave Mattson: It is so true. I think even, you know, going back to your earlier point, for many of us when we first got involved to become a Sandler trainer, we used David’s stories and then through time, just like you used the France story, you had your own stories. But initially, to your earlier point, it’s okay to use other people’s stories. When you go back to You Can’t Teach a Kid How To Ride a Bike at a Seminar, which is the book that David Sandler wrote explaining the Sandler Selling System, that honestly is 186 pages of one big story. Each chapter is broken into a story about how he figured out reversing pain, fulfillment, whatever. You can pick a topic. It all started off with a story. I had heard year after year, Paul, that was an awesome book. Or I’ve got my Sandler shirt on and I’m on a plane, people comment, “Hey, the seagull story or the ball bearing story!,” or “Hey, I remember, you know, those guys in the submarine with the water coming in the compartment,” and that’s how Sandler explained the Sandler Submarine. People remember the stories. It’s just mind-boggling how powerful they are.
Paul Lanigan: I’ve heard the exact same thing with people coming to me months, maybe even years later, saying, “Oh, I remember that,” and it’s not just a story they remember. They also remember the key points, the key message that you are conveying in the story, and not just … And it has an effect on people. It gets underneath the radar screen, and it gets deep into their psyche. It’s almost like—if you’ve seen the film Inception, it’s almost like that, that you’re going into the subconscious and the story is like a Trojan horse. And you’re using it to embed key messages, like if you were to say them out loud, “Hey, we’re the best,” or “We’ve got a lot of experience in your industry,” or “Our return on investment is fantastic,” they hear that and go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever.” But when you can tell them a story, it becomes relevant. It becomes meaningful and memorable. So, what can we say?
Dave Mattson: Yeah, I tell you. You’re doing pre-call planning. I believe one of the things that we can do as salespeople is if you have some difficult areas that you need to discuss, and you know there’s always one … I find when I’m in these meetings, you know if there’s a sensitive topic, everyone kind of looks over to me and says, “Okay, I guess you’re handling that one today.” And I’m always like, “Okay, well, how did I end up with the short end of the stick?” But you know, I’ve always—and I’d love your feedback—I’ve always held the prospect, or the customer on whatever that topic was, and I did it through a story. And inevitably, when people are walking out, they say, “Well, that went pretty well actually,” or I can’t even believe they thanked you for that” or whatever the case may be. But it was the story. And I think, when you’re doing pre-call planning, if there are some things that you need to address, or you know that these are the top two or three questions they’re going to ask, you can start thinking about the types of stories that make sense, using those three things that Paul talked about to make sure that the context is proper. The situation is there, and the solution is consistent with what we would like to have happened as an outcome because you’re almost predicting future events by using the story of something that’s happened in the past. And that is very cool.
Paul Lanigan: It’s a great way of preventing things that you don’t want to happen as well. For example, in negotiations, it is a great tactic that a lot of buyers use fait accompli where they will go … And for example, you’ve agreed to a price with them, and they’ll send you through a purchase order with maybe a 5% discount already embedded in it. You know, early settlement discount they’ll call it, and then you have a choice: do I take it, or do I risk sending it back? Well, a great way to prevent that is to tell a story up front and say to them, “You know, Mr. Prospect, you’ll never guess what happened to me the other day. I was with a customer of mine, and you know what they did? They did this, and they tried this, and of course, we had to start all over again because, of course, that’s what we had agreed.”
So, you take that setting, the situation that you’re facing, and you told them how it ended. And of course, what you’re really telling them is, “Don’t try this with me because it’s going to be a lot of hassle. We’re going to have to start all over again.” But you do that without being confrontational about it. And that’s another way you can use stories—to bring the future back to the present. Wrap it up in a story, particularly if it’s something you want to prevent. And another way of what we call, you know, “defusing the bomb before it goes off.”
Dave Mattson: Yeah, I mean absolutely. The pressure is the situation of the story, which has nothing to do with you or the person that you’re talking to, so it almost is a diffusion, as you said, of all of the direct conflicts that could potentially be there, or the emotion from a negative standpoint. I mean, I think we’ve talked about stories you’ve said now a couple of different times. We’ve used the word analogies; we’ve used the word metaphors. In your mind, do they sit in the same way, or are they interchangeable?
Paul Lanigan: Well, I think they’re all part of storytelling. You know, a story can be an analogy. It can be, “This is like something else,” or you can use a metaphor and again, you describe something “as if.” So, they can be part of storytelling for sure, but they don’t have to be there. I mean, a story can be completely something that was factually correct—how you experience it, or how somebody has experienced it. I think it’s when you’re trying to simplify something; you’ll use analogies and metaphors. What you’re trying to do there is related to what the prospect already knows. So, they don’t have to make that giant leap to where you are starting from. You start from something that they already understand, and that to me is the purpose of analogies. They can be used standalone or certainly, I think, they are part of all great stories. That’s for sure.
Dave Mattson: Yeah, I do, too. Hey, listen, I know, we’re coming up. We’ve got a couple of minutes left. Is there anything that we want to make sure we go back and hit, or something that we haven’t talked about that we want to make sure that we dig into on this particular topic?
Paul Lanigan: I think there’s just one more thing that was on my mind as we spoke, and it takes me back. I remember when I was a teenager, my father gave me a present of his old camera, and at the time, I was just trying to use this thing and take pictures, but nothing ever seemed to work well. I mean, I take the shot and underexpose, or people’s heads would be cut off. Even when I can get the technical bit right, I could never make the pictures clear and ever jump out. Nobody ever paid any attention to them. And it was only years later that I discovered what all the great photographers do is, their pictures tell a story. You know, a picture paints a thousand words.
Therefore, a good picture is a thousand words’ story. We’re looking at that, and now as I’ve taken up the hobby again, I realized that you know, the storytelling goes way beyond the art of selling. One of the things we’ve got to do in selling is take that concept that stories are part of our lives. Everywhere we look, what’s memorable is part of the story. We need to ask ourselves, “What story is our prospect trying to tell?” Every prospect is part of their own story. And I think, if we can be a key actor in their story and the successful ending of their movie, there’s always a role for us. They’ll always call on us, and we’ll always get that starring role. So, I think something that’s important to remember that we haven’t spoken about yet, is not just our own stories, but figure out what our prospect’s story is. What does that look like? Help them achieve their own story.
Dave Mattson: Yeah. I mean, I think that is so true, and I’m glad you brought that up. I mean, even when they’re trying to struggle—and we all know that prospects struggle sometimes trying to figure out how to put into words the issues that they’re facing or situations that are going on internally—if you can help them do that through storytelling and through analogies and metaphors, boy, I’ll tell you, you can have people let out a huge sigh of relief, and your credibility, Paul, goes through the roof. Because we know what they inevitably say is, “Man, you really understand what’s going on here.”
And all you did is use a simple analogy or a metaphor to put into a very simple sentence what they were struggling to say or the point they were trying to get to because they’re verbalizing it often times for the very first time. And you look like a genius again because they’re emotionally involved; you’re not. It’s almost like a psychologist. As David Sandler always said, Sales is a Broadway play put on by a psychologist.” Well, the reason for that is they get, to sum up and make some interpretations based on the story that you’re telling. And psychologists are awesome at that, and really, in essence, that’s what you do and should be doing on a sales call. So, point well taken.
Hey, Paul, tons of stuff today. I really appreciate it. I know you’re in Ireland doing a fantastic job over there, and I appreciate all the insights that you shared with us today.
Paul Lanigan: Pleasure’s all mine, Dave.
Dave Mattson: So, group, hey, listen. Think about what we do as professional salespeople. You know in a very short amount of time, we’ve got to establish trust. We’re supposed to make sure that the buyer shares their pains. We’ve got to make sure that they’re comfortable owning their own issues. You also have to figure out what the budget and decision process are. Often times, the person you’re talking to may play a part of the process, but he certainly may not be the only decision maker. And you’ve got to have them comfortable enough to co-create a solution. There’s a lot of stuff going on.
It’s almost like a surgeon on the battlefield, right? They certainly don’t have the best conditions out there to assess all the situations and do what’s necessary. So, they’ve got to ask good questions to better understand the situation. They’ve got to make quick recommendations, and they have to implement the solution and then follow up on that. And that’s really what we are. We are sales surgeons. If you think about all the things that you’re supposed to do on a call, that first call. Stories, analogies, and metaphors will help you operate in a very difficult situation, which is this world of sales, and it becomes more effective and more efficient. So, go out and try one. Until next time, good selling.
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