Sales Training is like Storytelling

Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.” Acclaimed creative writing teacher Robert McKee is considered by many to be the modern father of storytelling in film. McKee is just another story guru in a line ranging from Aristotle to Joseph Campbell, whose work on the hero’s journey has inspired thousands of books and film. However, the power of story isn’t solely applicable in media—it has the power to transform entire businesses.

Donald Miller’s new book, Building a StoryBrand, is the latest to champion the power of story for application in business. While Miller largely focuses on marketing, the implications of story for training a sales team leapt off the page. Using Miller’s framework, here’s how thinking about story can transform your sales training:

Your customer is the hero

Every great story has hero, with clear needs and wants. Brands, organizations, and salespeople often make the mistake of painting a product or solution as the hero. Don’t fall into that trap! Remember that every customer is unique, with specific concerns and goals. Don’t treat them to a one-size fits all solution or byline—a story about everybody is a story about nobody. Teach sales reps to ask great questions to learn about the customer, in order to learn what makes them tick.

Your hero has a problem

Every character wants something. One key skill of a great salesperson is discovering what problem the customer is trying to solve. Usually, this manifests at three levels:

  1. External problem—Surface-level issues often arise immediately when talking to a prospect. They might need a tool to manage contacts, deliver advertisements, or train employees.
  2. Internal problem—Under every external problem is an inner conflict. This might include frustration with the current tool, internal processes, or status quo. Make sure salespeople practice the art of digging deeper with prospects in order to uncover the internal issue.
  3. Philosophical problem—The best salespeople have the ability to identify larger, systemic issues at work. Show the prospect how their life, and the lives of their team, can be deeply improved by the tool. Sell this deeper value—not just surface-level solutions.

The salesperson is the guide

Every great character has a guide—think Gandalf, Dumbledore, Obi-Wan Kenobi, etc. Train salespeople to think of themselves, and the company they represent, as the guide who helps a character solve their problem. The best sales guides demonstrate empathy (they understand how a prospect feels) and authority (they display experience at solving a problem).

Have a plan

Many salespeople are great at connecting with customers. Now that a relationship has been established between the hero and the guide, offer a plan. The plan should be simple, typically three steps, and should tell the prospect how this product solves their issues. It could be based on value statements (i.e. faster X, more Y, better Z) or tactical steps (i.e. first do A, then focus on B, which will lead to C).

Salespeople should practice and rehearse delivering their plan with peers and managers when training. Connection isn’t enough—it takes time and effort to clearly explain a product and how it can address the customer’s problem. Doing this excellently is the most complex part of the sales process, and naturally leads to the big finale…

Call the customer to action

This is the moment of truth—the salesperson must ask the customer to do something. Overt asks might be challenging for new sales reps, so making an ask should be a key component of sales training. Asks come in two primary forms, direct asks (“Will you buy our tool?”) or transitional asks (“Would you like to set up a demo?”). It’s important for a salesperson to learn when to use each strategy, and to do it clearly and confidently.

Talk about both failure and success

At the end of a great story, one of two things happens. Either the customer succeeds and solves their problem, or they fail and things stay the same. Lace both of these elements into conversations with prospects. From the standpoint of failure, let the prospect know what’s on the line. Make sure they know that if they don’t make a purchase, they will be missing out on an opportunity. Also, reiterate what radical success looks like. Remind the customer how much better their team or life will be once they make a purchase.

It’s easy to provide uninspiring sales training—just offer reps a large binder, a boring seminar, or a slew of disorganized Google docs. Instead, think about the rep’s training, and their journey with customers, as a story. Championing the customer as the hero of an epic story—where sales reps are the guide to greatness—will lead to infinitely more closed deals, happier customers, and engaged employees. It won’t be a story that happens once upon a time, it will be one that delivers results over and over again.

Make your training epic with Lessonly

Every sales and support team encounters significant challenges with training at scale. Lessonly’s team training software helps more than 500 companies learn, practice, and perform. Want to transform your training program, improve productivity, and empower your team? Take a tour of Lessonly today.

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