Engage Customers With Stories

The economist Steven Levitt and a journalist Dubner teamed up to write stories around various concepts of macro economics under the title Freakonomics and became best selling authors. According to them stories are valuable because a story exerts a power beyond the obvious. Stories also appeal to all of us and capture the attention we desire.

Although this article is not about the power of storytelling, let me ask how many of us remember our companies’ values and vision? When your organisation decides to undergo a value alignment, how can you best plan the same? By printing a brochure? Storytelling is the best mode to make people remember something as vision and values.

The power of stories is even more relevant in the digital age for building business. Most marketing and sales executives are in the dark when it comes to engaging customers in a meaningful dialogue in the virtual space How can sales people create a compelling story for sealing more contracts with their customers?

As most of the business-to-business marketing is conducted today via phone and emails, majority of the sales people feel inadequate and do not have the right tools to seal a deal in the virtual environment. The sales function is really different over the phone and via the web than it is face-to-face. This implies that sales people need to be able to deliver information and great presentations in a virtual environment.

When one is engaging prospects in person there’s a lot of movement and she can create a lot of engagement just by, who she is and the presence that she creates. There are many trained sales people who have great in-room presence, but there is little training involving how to engage prospects when they can’t see you, just staring at a screen and how to keep them from multi-tasking while trying to engage them. As a result, the sales executive’s messages and tools must change. For example, instead of using powerpoint presentations with slides that change every 2-5 minutes, the slides should build dynamically. Every statement and main point a sales person makes should be reflected on the screen. The slide should change every 15-30 seconds in order to keep the customer focused on the screen.

Likewise, over the phone, sales people need to ask the prospect to grab a paper, take a pen, and sketch or write things out so he can create engagement. So, the prospect may be writing down certain numbers and equations or drawing certain pictures with bubbles or boxes so they’re engaged in the conversation, and that requires a new message to actually develop that kind of storyline. Most B2B organisations have a sales training division that is charged with getting salespeople skilled to perform better. In addition, marketing departments typically provide training on specific messaging as it relates to new products and services. So what has to happen in organisations is that the skillsets you’re training your salespeople on, for the environment they’re selling in, actually has to match with the content that’s being created to equip sales people to have that conversation. If the content being created is the same traditional PowerPoint decks that don’t work in virtual environments, you’re going to have a misfire.

The other thing to consider is that most virtual conversations happen in the early stage of a sale cycle. That requires a different kind of conversation. Here, you’re trying to convince somebody they should actually do something different and create a deal, so your deal creation messaging and skills are often different than deal closing messaging and skills. You have to have a plan that encompasses both, deal creation on the virtual side and traditional deal closing in later stages.

Most organisations don’t think of the sales function in terms of different environments with different needs. They just build some tools and figure that a good sales representative will figure out how to use them. These organisations haven’t stepped back and thought about the experience from the customer perspective. Many organisations think of content they’re creating in terms of the written word. Since most B2B content is being created in the form of PowerPoint or white papers, it is not being translated to the spoken word, which is required in virtual environments. Being able to say something with conviction and confidence that sounds right to the listener is much different than a message that’s produced for a written format.

Individuals responsible for creating sales tools need to work directly with sales professionals to provide content that meets the needs of specific environments.

You need to pre-build the tools. For example, if you want to make presentations look like the sales executive is sketching things, use handwriting fonts and other illustrative techniques. Create PowerPoint presentations that include micro-builds and allow the sales executive to simply click to tell the story. The scripting should include clicks and the advancements that are clearly identified. In that way, sales people know the right messages will come at the right time; the activity will be engaging and they can feel confident they can focus on the sales message instead of the technology.

(The writer spearheads execution and innovation for clients @CustomerLab)