How to Turn a Sales Conversation into a Shared Story

Here’s the essence of today’s article: Your customer doesn’t want to hear your story, so don’t tell it to her. Talk about her, not you. During conversation, weave relevant parts of your story into her story. Let a shared story emerge, in which your ability to help her is integrated into her personal narrative.

Talk about your customer… not about what you are selling

Are you sitting down? Ready for the truth? Your customer doesn’t care that much about you and your story. Ok, sure, your customer may like you a lot, but not nearly as much as she likes herself.

If your customer is much more interested in herself than in you and what you are selling, what should you be talking about, her or you? Hmmm…

The 95% rule

Here’s a good rule of thumb to follow: As a sales conversation is developing, ensure that 95% of the conversation is about your customer, and only 5% about you and what you are selling. This will keep your customer engaged and interested in you.

So how do I get my message across if we’re only talking about her?

Here is one of the most important principles of ditching the pitch: In order for a customer to become interested in your story, you must weave little pieces of your story into her story. Gently. Slowly. Only when it’s relevant.

Keep the conversation 95% focused on your customer, bringing pieces of your story into the conversation so subtly that it never feels like you are talking about what you have to sell. As you do this, your customer will begin to see how you can work together. You will become part of her story. Then, she will be ready to listen to you.

The little pieces of your story

In previous articles I have encouraged you to tear up your sales pitch into little pieces… but not to throw those pieces away.

You may have a great story to tell, but you can’t tell it all at once. Imagine that you have torn up your sales pitch and put all of its little pieces into your pocket. As your customer tells you about what she cares about, you can pull the relevant piece of your story out and carefully splice it into the conversation.

For example, let’s imagine that you sell some sort of high-tech laser equipment that uses leading-edge technology, is fast, is extremely accurate and includes a service contract. The pitch you’ve been using for years dedicates a certain amount of time to each of these features, and you always explain them in the order described above.

Now, imagine that you tear up this pitch, and keep all of its little pieces in your pocket. If, through your conversation (which is 95% about your customer), you hear that your customer values accuracy above everything else, you can gently weave into the conversation ways that your product can help his factory production improve its accuracy.

If he then starts to tell you about how his current equipment tends to lose its accuracy over time, causing breakdowns in his production, you will find a good opportunity to bring your after-sales service contract into the conversation. You will do this not by pitching him on your service contract but by relating your offering to his need for maintaining the equipment’s accuracy.

Don’t rush the story

As you are listening to your customer, you will inevitably identify many ways you can help her. It will be tempting to pull all of the pieces of your story out at once, because you will know how each of them can help her.

Don’t.

Patience!

Patience is one of the most important habits to practice when you ditch the pitch. As I wrote in this article, Don’t Load the Slingshotit is critical to avoid dumping too much information on your customer at one time. If you do this, the conversation will stop being about your customer and will start being about what you are selling. Your solutions will likely overwhelm the customer.

Leave things in your pocket

Your job is not to tell your entire story. It is to help your customer come to understand a shared story, in which your ability to help her is integrated into her personal narrative. Even if you are patient and have a long conversation with a customer, resist the temptation to bring out little pieces of your story that aren’t relevant. They may be important to you, but they won’t be important to your customer.

What’s the result if you practice the habits described in this article? Your customer will much more likely to see how you can work together than if you had made a sales pitch. She will understand a shared story, in which your story is integrated into hers.

No matter whether you are an accomplished salesperson, a sales novice, or a non-sales executive who has to persuade people as part of your job, the habits included will help you improve your ability to engage and persuade your customers.

Ditch the pitch!

Steve Yastrow

 

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