Incorporating Narrative into Your Sales Pitch

When was the last time you heard a great story? Maybe you found one in the pages of a good book or behind a screen. However, it may surprise you to find that the greatest tales are not reserved for those spaces alone. After all, when was the last time you told a story?

It probably wasn’t long ago. It may have been a recounting of your weekend to your friend at the water cooler, an e-mail to your grandma, or an anecdote you like to tell at parties.

The truth is, narrative is woven into our everything we do. Even who we are at our core is tied to the grand metanarrative of our lives. We can’t avoid stories, and we wouldn’t want to. There’s just something about narrative that appeals to the human psyche.

Narrative has a way of capturing people’s attention, thus storytelling is a valuable skill, even in sales. Andy Raskin specializes in “strategic story training,” and using a sales deck from Zuora, he writes about how the best sales pitches use narrative structure to their advantage. If we consider the model that he suggests in tandem with the basics of narrative structure, we find valuable material for a more dynamic, convincing sales pitch.

Phase 1: Set the Scene

You probably heard the term “exposition” used in standard literature classes, and a similar set-up applies for a sales pitch. Most sales pitches tend to use a problem-solution model, but that doesn’t make for much of a story, does it? It doesn’t hold attention very long.

For example, in Gotham City, crime is clearly a problem and Batman is, for all intents and purposes, the solution. But if those movies and comics merely presented trouble in Gotham and then panned to Batman taking out the bad guys, the franchise would be very short lived. If a superhero story was just a presented problem and subsequent solution, we’d probably grow bored after the third Spider-Man remake or the umpteenth reiteration of The Avengers. But because of those characters, and most importantly their context, we stick around.

So, the problem-solution model is just not a recipe for a captivating story; There has to be some exposition. Our description of the climate in which we are selling should, in Raskin’s words, “create big stakes and huge urgency for your prospect.”

Raskin says this can be accomplished by naming a “big, relevant change in the world.” When you do, you’re not just jumping to conflict right away. You’re presenting the context for yourself and your client, opening their minds to how change is affecting them so they will be invited to respond.

Phase 2: Character Development

Raskin says that once you have established the context of big changes occurring, you should “show there will be winners and losers.” In storytelling, it’s kind of like establishing your characters.

We often see that in a context of change, the characters most resistant to transformation are the ones that get left behind, the ones we write off as “the sticklers,” if not the bad guys. As Raskin explains, businesses will “tend to avoid possible loss by sticking to the status quo,” so it becomes the sales rep’s job to establish that the status quo is no longer adequate.

And isn’t that how every great story begins, with a disruption of the status quo? A transition of authority in Wakanda? Getting bit by a radioactive spider?

And with this disruption come the winners and losers. Those who use their powers for good or for evil. Those who adapt to the changes or suffer trying to twist fate.

Phase 3: Establish the Mission

Raskin calls this, “teasing the Promised Land.” Essentially, you’re presenting the clients–the heroes of the story–with their mission. He explains that this is not simply possession of your product or service. The Promised Land is the “new future state” of life with that product or service.

This mission, as you present, it should be impossible to accomplish without assistance. The Hero’s Journey model of narrative would present these as challenges, with sages and mentors as helpers. So, once you’ve painted a picture of this grand, almost insurmountable mission, and what life could be like beyond it, then you can introduce yourself into the company story.

Phase 4: Offer Your “Magic Gifts”

Now comes the fun part. You’re a wizard, sales rep! Or a wise talking tree, or a good witch with a blessing, or Obi-Wan swooping in to help defeat the Empire.

Your product or solution is what will help the hero get to the Promised Land and accomplish their goal. That’s leaps and bounds more interesting than “I see you have a problem, let me fix it.”

Phase 5: Show You Can Make Your Story a Reality

If there’s anything we’ve learned from stories, it’s not to blindly trust the talking tree or old man with a cloak on. No, you have to prove that you have what it takes, almost a mission in its own regard. Raskin writes that “the most effective type of evidence is a success story that you’ve already helped someone else.”

We need to look no further than the popularity of customer reviews to consider the relevance of that point. But still, we listen to the talking tree when she tells us that she said the same words to our ancestors, or the cloaked man when he tells tales of fighting his own battles.

What’s Your Story?

Narrative is a powerful tool, and by creating a narrative that incorporates both prospects and yourself as part of the story, you can create a sales deck that isn’t just another pitch. No matter how eloquent you consider yourself, narrative is already a part of your life and can become a part of your business too.