How to Engage Your Customer with Your Personal Story with Mike Adams
The Sales Conversation
“Stories are a fundamental part of who we are, but sometimes salespeople are reluctant to include them in their sales strategies. In this episode, we explore why personal stories are essential to your sales approach.”
In this episode, Bruce Scheer talks to Mike Adams about how to use your personal story to create meaningful connections with buyers and open the door to a sales friendship. Mike is the author of Seven Stories Every Salesperson Must Tell and the co-founder and CEO of The Story Leader, a sales consultancy which focuses on teaching sellers how to use stories to improve sales. With nearly 20 years in the industry, he has gained exceptional direct experience with the value of storytelling as a sales art, which he brings to today’s show.
The Importance of your Personal Story for Engaging Buyers
Storytelling is a fundamental part of our humanity. Stories are part of our everyday lives, from books and movies that influence our world to the tales we share among friends and family. Something so essential to our lives can also play a role in the way we approach sales. Indeed, as Mike Adams suggests, most salespeople remember the stories we’ve been told or have experienced over other minute details.
In other words, stories are just as important in your personal life as they are in your sales. Unfortunately, many salespeople are resistant to changing their approaches. After all, they must deal with rejection as a possibility in sales, and the fear of rejection can make the idea of change seem untenable.
However, if the first job of a salesperson is to connect with a potential client, then storytelling is a must-have tool for your sales toolbox. Stories help build friendships with clients, establish credibility and authority, and help drive sales conversations by showing how and why your company operates. They are also common features in the business world. Good salespeople regularly use personal stories, and many salespeople become CEOs or company founders. In fact, roughly 25% of CEOs began in sales.
What can you do to incorporate personal stories into your sales conversations? First, let’s take a quick look at the primary stories in sales.
What are the common story types in sales?
According to Mike Adams, there are seven story types that every salesperson should know:
- Personal Stories explore how you got to where you are in sales, what you do, and why you’re there that day.
- Key Staff Stories introduce a customer to another person in your organization to build that person’s credibility before their sales meeting.
- Company Stories explore how your company was created and why it didn’t fail.
- Insight Stories tap into an aspect of the customer or company that they didn’t know.
- Success Stories explore a successful client’s journey, with attention to how things were before they hired you, the challenges they faced, the action plan you devised, and the subsequent results.
- Value Stories discuss how one of your organization’s leaders responded to a challenge or pressure while adhering to the values of the company.
- Teaching Stories address a seller’s struggle to close a deal by providing them with a story about a similar situation and how it was resolved.
We don’t have the space to cover each of these in depth. Instead, we will focus on the importance of the personal story. However, if you’d like more information on each of these stories, we recommend you read Mike’s book, Seven Stories Every Salesperson Must Tell. There is also a free sales course on The Story Leader, which serves as a companion to the book.
What is a personal story in sales, and why do they matter?
Personal stories focus on your journey as a salesperson. They can establish how you became a salesperson, the route you took to get to the present, why you do what you do, and so on. They are also a way to tell a client that you are experienced without becoming a walking advertisement for yourself. Stories of this type often rely on anecdotes and a willingness to discuss the human qualities of the sales world. To put it another way, personal stories center vulnerability and honesty in a sales conversation.
The goal of personal stories is to encourage an exchange of stories between sellers and customers. These exchanges can give you essential insight into how your clients think about their business or themselves. More importantly, the vulnerability of personal story exchanges builds trust and, ideally, friendship. Since customers and sellers tend not to trust one another, it is often difficult to create those meaningful connections. Personal stories change the relationship you have with a customer, which can help you break through the mistrust and formal nature of a sales conversation.
Additionally, personal stories can result in three positive outcomes:
- The development of authentic connections that are human-to-human rather than brochure-to-brochure
- Reciprocation on the part of the customer
- The increased likelihood that clients will provide truthful responses to your questions
All of these benefits can increase your sales. More importantly, these benefits build long-term relationships with your clients that are more productive for both sides. The stories and friendships you make during your career will also have lasting value.
What are some of the components of personal stories?
Mike Adams suggests that most personal stories should meet the following criteria:
- 3 minutes or less of content
Longer stories tend to include unnecessary details or wander. A 3-minute limitation forces you to create a tight, quick-moving narrative.
- Focused on 3-4 turning point events
Turning point events help explain how you became a salesperson, what led you to become the person you are now, and what you do. They also help establish your credibility as a salesperson by demonstrating experience and history. When deciding on events, focus on the defining moments in your sales career.
- Personal stories must feature a sequence of related events
A standard personal story presents turning point events in a linear and explicitly connected order. In other words, your story must go from A to B, from B to C, and so on.
- Always include dates and places
Including dates and places allows the listener to place themselves in your story. Effectively, you give the listener details that will help them imagine where you were, what you saw, etc. You want your listener to experience you and to know what it is like to be you for a few minutes.
- Don’t focus only on success
Personal stories are meant to be personal. Nobody is perfect. Including events of failure gives the listener an incentive to reciprocate your vulnerability, which can create stronger personal connections with customers.
Remember that engaging stories are not a simple list of events. There must be a natural flow from one thing to the next. Consider mapping your story and writing down the explicit connections between each moment. Doing so will help you visualize your personal story and streamline the narrative.
What holds sellers back from incorporating personal stories into their sales strategies?
Sellers often fear that customers don’t want to hear their stories, perhaps because they are a waste of time or customers want to get down to business. However, Mike Adams argues that sellers should put themselves in the shoes of their customers. From a customer’s perspective, you’re just a person who intends to talk about your products. They don’t know you or know why they should trust you with their business.
However, sellers must start the personal conversations that can cut through a customer’s latent distrust. Personal stories can break the ice and make a real difference in your sales conversations. All we can suggest is that you try!
If you’re interested in hearing Mike’s in-depth analysis of Bruce’s personal story, make sure to listen to the podcast!
- Storytelling is a powerful human quality. Stories are part of our everyday lives and impact our world. In sales, they are essential for building stronger and long-lasting relationships with your clients, which provide numerous benefits for you on a personal and professional level.
- Personal stories can help salespeople break through the initial trust barrier with customers. These types of stories introduce vulnerability into the conversation, which can often build trust and friendship with your customers. Ideally, your customers will respond with their own stories, leading to long-term relationships that are beneficial for all involved.
- We all must learn to beat back the fear of rejection and vulnerability that comes with using personal stories in our sales conversations. One way to do this is to place yourself in the shoes of your customers and consider how they view a sales conversation. You’ll see the value of using personal stories to break the ice!
- Mike’s Links:
- Additional Resources:
- Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play by Mahan Khalsa and Randy Illig
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